Rainbow Smelt Osmerus mordax are native to northeastern Atlantic and Pacific–Arctic drainages and have been widely introduced throughout North America. In the Great Lakes region, Rainbow Smelt are known predators and competitors of native fish and a primary prey species in pelagic food webs. Despite their widespread distribution, importance as a prey species, and potential to negatively interact with native fish species, there is limited information concerning stock–recruitment relationships for Rainbow Smelt. To better understand recruitment mechanisms, we evaluated potential ecological factors determining recruitment dynamics for Rainbow Smelt in Lake Huron using data from bottom trawl catches. We specifically evaluated influence of stock size, environmental factors (water temperature, lake levels, and precipitation), and salmonine predation on the production of age-0 recruits from 1976 to 2010. Rainbow Smelt recruitment was negatively related to stock size exceeding 10 kg/ha, indicating that compensatory, density-dependent mortality from cannibalism or intraspecific competition was an important factor related to the production of age-0 recruits. Recruitment was positively related to spring precipitation suggesting that the amount of stream-spawning habitat as determined by precipitation was important for the production of strong Rainbow Smelt recruitment. Additionally, density of age-0 Rainbow Smelt was positively related to Lake Trout Salvelinus namaycush abundance. However, spawning stock biomass of Rainbow Smelt, which declined substantially from 1989 to 2010, was negatively associated with Lake Trout catch per effort suggesting predation was an important factor related to the decline of age-2 and older Rainbow Smelt in Lake Huron. As such, we found that recruitment of Rainbow Smelt in Lake Huron was regulated by competition with or cannibalism by older conspecifics, spring precipitation influencing stream spawning habitats, and predation by Lake Trout on age-2 and older Rainbow Smelt.
Additional publication details
Ecological factors affecting Rainbow Smelt recruitment in the main basin of Lake Huron, 1976-2010