Evidence from small lakes suggests that predation on larval ciscoes Coregonus artedi by nonnative rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax can lead to cisco suppression or extirpation. However, evidence from larger lakes has led to equivocal conclusions. In this study, we examine the potential predation effects of rainbow smelt in two adjacent but contrasting embayments in Lake Superior (Thunder and Black bays, Ontario). During May 2006, we sampled the ichthyoplankton, pelagic fish communities, and diet composition of rainbow smelt in both bays. Using acoustics and midwater trawling, we estimated rainbow smelt densities to be 476 ± 34/ha (mean ± SE) in Thunder Bay and 3,435 ± 460/ha in Black Bay. We used a bioenergetics model to estimate the proportion of cisco larvae consumed by rainbow smelt. Our results suggest that predation by rainbow smelt accounts for 15–52% and 37–100% of the mortality of larval ciscoes in Thunder and Black bays, respectively, depending on the predator feeding rate and the scale of predator–prey overlap. We also examined the sensitivity of past conclusions (based on 1974 field collections) to assumptions of temporal overlap between rainbow smelt and larval ciscoes and estimates of rainbow smelt abundance derived from bottom trawl samples. After adjusting these parameters to reflect current understanding, we found that the previous predation estimates may have been conservative. We conclude that rainbow smelt may have been a more important contributor to the demise and slow recovery of ciscoes in Lake Superior than previously thought.
Additional publication details
Reassessment of the predatory effects of rainbow smelt on ciscoes in Lake Superior