Influences of seasonality and habitat quality on Great Lakes coastal wetland fish community composition and diets

Sara N. Diller, Anna M. Harrison, Kurt P. Kowalski, Valerie J. Brady, Jan J.H. Ciborowski, Matthew J. Cooper, Joshua D. Dumke, Joseph P. Gathman, Carl R. Ruetz, Donald G. Uzarski, Douglas A. Wilcox, Jeffrey S. Schaeffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Great Lakes coastal wetlands (GLCW) have been severely degraded by anthropogenic activity over the last several decades despite their critical role in fish production. Many Great Lakes fish species use coastal wetland habitats for spawning, feeding, shelter, and nurseries throughout the year. The goal of our study was to compare GLCW fish community composition in the spring, summer, and fall months and investigate how water quality relates to fish diversity, the presence of functional groups, and juvenile fish diets. We summarized fish data collected from GLCW across the basin and used the coastal wetland monitoring program’s water quality-land use indicator to quantify water quality. Basin-wide, we found taxonomic and functional group differences in community composition among three sampling seasons, as well as across the range of water quality. Water quality was positively associated with the abundance of small cyprinids and the relative abundance of some habitat and reproductive specialists. Seasonal differences were also observed for many of these functional groups, with more temperature- and pollution-sensitive fishes captured in the spring and more nest-spawning fishes captured in the summer and fall. In our diet study, we found that age-0 fish primarily consumed zooplankton in the fall, whereas age-1 fish primarily consumed macroinvertebrates in the spring. Moreover, wetland quality was positively associated with trichopteran prey abundance. We concluded that taxonomic and functional composition of fish communities in GLCW vary markedly with respect to water quality and season. Thus, a full understanding of communities across a gradient of quality requires multi-season sampling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)439-460
Number of pages22
JournalWetlands Ecology and Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Coastal wetlands
  • Fish diets
  • Fish diversity
  • Functional groups
  • Great lakes
  • Water quality


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