Student Summer Scholars




Understanding spatial patterns in freshwater fish communities is critical for the successful management of natural resources as well as a vital component for understanding aquatic ecosystems. Spatial patterns of species similarity of freshwater fish assemblages can be affected by dispersal processes and environmental conditions. We hypothesized that as distance increased between study systems, species similarity would decrease. We sampled 15 drowned river mouths (DRMs) connected to Lake Michigan by conducting 10-minute electrofishing transects (n = 5-6 per DRM) parallel to the shoreline in each DRM to characterize littoral fish assemblages. At each transect, we also characterized environmental conditions (e.g., specific conductivity or number of houses/buildings along shoreline). We captured 3,080 individual fish representing 45 species across the 15 DRMs, with catch among DRMs ranging from 115 to 358 individuals per system and species richness ranging from 11 to 26 species per system. The most abundant species in the catch were yellow perch Perca flavescens (13.9%), pumpkinseed Lepomis gibbosus (10.9%), and bluegill Lepomis macrochirus (9.8%). We found a weak positive correlation between species similarity and distance between each pair of DRMs (R2 = 0.03), which did not support our hypothesis that species similarity would decrease with distance, even though we found evidence of spatial autocorrelation of environmental variables. A potential explanation for our findings is related to gear selectivity associated with boat electrofishing. We suggest that sampling fish with additional gear or approaches is necessary to more rigorously test for the spatial pattern of species similarity among DRMs.