Deepwater sculpin Myoxocephalus thompsonii are an important component of Great Lake's offshore benthic food webs. Recent declines in deepwater sculpin abundance and changes in bathymetric distribution may be associated with changes in the deepwater food web of Lake Huron, particularly, decreased abundance of benthic invertebrates such as Diporeia. To assess how deepwater sculpins have responded to recent changes, we examined a fifteen-year time series of spatial and temporal patterns in abundance as well as the diets of fish collected in bottom trawls during fall of 2003, 2004, and 2005. During 1992–2007, deepwater sculpin abundance declined on a lake-wide scale but the decline in abundance at shallower depths and in the southern portion of Lake Huron was more pronounced. Of the 534 fish examined for diet analysis, 97% had food in the stomach. Mysis, Diporeia, and Chironomidae were consumed frequently, while sphaerid clams, ostracods, fish eggs, and small fish were found in only low numbers. We found an inverse relationship between prevalence of Mysis and Diporeia in diets that reflected geographic and temporal trends in abundance of these invertebrates in Lake Huron. Because deepwater sculpins are an important trophic link in offshore benthic food webs, declines in population abundance and changes in distribution may cascade throughout the food web and impede fish community restoration goals.
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Vol. 35 • No. 3