Distribution and Abundance of Larval Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) in Stokes Bay, Lake Huron
Lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) are an ecologically, culturally and economically important species throughout the Great Lakes. Studying the larval period of ontogeny is important to increasing knowledge of population dynamics and monitoring ecological changes in lake whitefish populations. Larval lake whitefish have been studied across the Great Lakes since the 1930’s; however, there are major gaps in our understanding of the factors that affect distribution and abundance of larval lake whitefish. The goal of this study was to investigate the distribution and abundance of larval lake whitefish in a Great Lakes embayment, using Stokes Bay, Lake Huron as a case study. Plankton samples and environmental data were collected from mid-spring to early summer during 2011 and 2012. Plankton tows in 2011 (n=71, 21 April-03 June) revealed relatively high densities of larval lake whitefish as compared to other Great Lakes studies. Overall there was little relationship between environmental variables (temperature, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, depth) and larval lake whitefish distribution and abundance. Plankton tows in 2012 (n=25, 25 April-23 May) revealed a virtual absence of larval lake whitefish in Stokes Bay. The apparent 2012 year-class failure was concurrent with unseasonably warm temperatures and reduced ice coverage. Temperature-related hypotheses are evaluated in context with other possible explanations of a general year-class failure of lake whitefish during early life history.