Hypoxia’s impact on pelagic fish populations in lake erie: A tale of two planktivores

Joshua P. Stone, Kevin L. Pangle, Steven A. Pothoven, Henry A. Vanderploeg, Stephen B. Brandt, Tomas O. Höök, Thomas H. Johengen, Stuart A. Ludsin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Whether bottom hypoxia has long-lasting consequences for pelagic fish populations remains speculative for most ecosystems. We explored hypoxia’s influence on two pelagic zooplanktivores in Lake Erie that have different thermal preferences: Cold-water rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax) and warm-water emerald shiners (Notropis atherinoides). To assess acute effects, we combined predictive bioenergetics-based modeling with field collections made across the hypoxic season in central Lake Erie during 2005 and 2007. To assess chronic effects, we related fishery-independent and fishery-dependent catches with hypoxia severity and top predator (walleye, Sander vitreus) abundance during 1986–2014. As our modeling predicted, hypoxia altered rainbow smelt movement and distributions, leading to avoidance of cold, hypoxic bottom waters. In response, diets shifted from benthic to pelagic organisms, and consumption and energetic condition declined. These changes were lacking in emerald shiners. Our long-term analyses showed rainbow smelt abundance and hypoxia to be negatively related and suggested that hypoxia avoidance increases susceptibility to commercial fishing and walleye predation. Collectively, our findings indicate that hypoxia can negatively affect pelagic fish populations over the long term, especially those requiring cold water.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1131-1148
Number of pages18
JournalCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2020


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