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Assessment of larval fish assemblages and nursery habitat in the St. Clair River delta

Tucker, Taaja R., DeBruyne, Robin L., Roseman, Edward F., Larson, Douglas, McNaught, A. Scott
Journal of Great Lakes research 2019 v.45 no.4 pp. 762-776
Catostomidae, Chara, Cladocera, Copepoda, Cyprinidae, Dreissena, Gobiidae, Rotifera, Scirpus, aquatic plants, fish larvae, gears, habitats, light traps, nauplii, river deltas, rivers, surveys, wetlands, zooplankton, Great Lakes
The St. Clair River delta, part of the St. Clair-Detroit River System (SCDRS), is the most fished coastal wetland area in the Laurentian Great Lakes and provides nursery habitat for a variety of fish species; however, few large-scale surveys of larval fish have been performed within the delta since the 1980s. Larval fish, zooplankton, and aquatic plants were sampled at 20 sites from May through July in 2010 and 2011 to characterize shallow channel and backwater delta habitats used by fish. The larval fish assemblage was sampled using active and passive gears (conical nets and light traps) and was dominated by Cyprinidae, Catostomidae, and Gobiidae. The microzooplankton assemblage was composed of rotifers, copepod nauplii, and Dreissena spp. veligers, while the macrozooplankton assemblage was composed of mostly cyclopoids and harpacticoids in May and cladocerans later in the season. Scirpus spp. dominated the plant assemblage in June and was replaced by Chara spp. in July. Seasonal compositional shifts were evident for larval fish, zooplankton, and plant assemblages, and greater densities of microzooplankton and cladocerans were typically found in backwater areas. Assemblage compositions were comparable to those in historical surveys but invasive Gobiidae and Dreissena spp. veligers now represent substantial proportions of the larval fish and zooplankton assemblages, respectively. Due to the high connectivity and advective nature of the SCDRS, understanding the larval fish assemblage dynamics of the delta can help inform estimates of system productivity.