Great Lakes Region

Figure 1: Asian carp jumping from the Mississippi River near Cape Girardeau, Missouri (Credit: Sara Tripp, Missouri Department of Conservation).

Asian carp in Lake Erie: Impact 

Experts from the Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR), the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), and other major Great Lakes collaborators have predicted that if Asian carp successfully invade Lake Erie, they could potentially account for a third of the total fish weight in the lake. If Asian carp successfully invade Lake Erie, they will compete with native fish by eating their food, as well as become food for other fish-eating fish. The invasion would cause a decline in most other fish species, including walleye, a widely utilized sport and commercial fish. The prediction was determined through a new computer modeling study

 

Impact may not be as extreme 

According to a food-web study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Hongyan Zhang (CIGLR) and other research institutions, the expected decline of fish in Lake Erie will not be as severe as some experts have predicted. In fact, some fish species, such as smallmouth bass, could very likely increase. The food-web based model was the first of its kind to examine the most plausible impacts of bighead and silver carp in the Lake.

 

 

What did the model predict?

Asian carp invasion and fish in Lake Erie Infographic (Credit: NOAA-GLERL).

According to Zhang, the model predicted that Asian carp could eventually account for approximately 34 percent of the total fish weight in Lake Erie. Although the predicted population of Asian carp seems to be rather large, the population will not be as extreme as it is in the Illinois River, where Asian carp have caused tremendous changes in the ecosystem of the river.Other predictions of Asian carp in the Great Lakes have varied from one extreme to the other: either Asian carp could completely destroy Great Lakes fisheries and food webs, or effects would be minor due to the Great Lakes not being a suitable habitat for Asian carp. Results of the model fall between the two extremes.

How does this study differ from any others? (#3)According to Ed Rutherford, a fisheries biologist at GLERL, the study is different due to its focus on the foods webs, as well as uncertainty estimates from experts where model data were not available. According to Doran Mason, a research ecologist at GLERL, the uncertainty modeling is necessary to account for the margin of error in the prediction, similar to uncertainty modeling in a weather forecast.

Where can I learn more?

The published study conducted by Zhang, Rutherford, Mason and others can be accessed for further information: Forecasting the Impacts of Silver and Bighead Carp on the Lake Erie Food Web.

Figure 2: Simplified Lake Erie food web, including Asian carp (Credit: NOAA GLERL).

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