Early life stage survival often determines fish cohort strength and that survival is affected by habitat conditions. The structure and dynamics of ichthyoplankton assemblages can tell us much about biodiversity and fish population dynamics, but are poorly understood in nearshore areas of the Great Lakes, where most spawning and nursery habitats exist. Ichthyoplankton samples were collected with a neuston net in waters 2–13 m deep weekly or biweekly from mid-April through August, during 3 years (2000–2002) as part of a study of fish assemblages in west-central Lake Erie. A suite of abiotic variables was simultaneously measured to characterize habitat. Cluster and ordination analyses revealed several distinct ichthyoplankton assemblages that changed seasonally. A lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) dominated assemblage appeared first in April. In May, assemblages were dominated by several percid species. Summer assemblages were overwhelmingly dominated by emerald shiner (Notropis atherinoides), with large gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) and alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) components. This seasonal trend in species assemblages was also associated with increasing temperature and water clarity. Water depth and drift processes may also play a role in structuring these assemblages. The most common and widely distributed assemblages were not associated with substratum type, which we characterized as either hard or soft. The timing of hatch and larval growth separated the major groups in time and may have adaptive significance for the members of each major assemblage. The quality and locations (with reference to lake circulation) of spawning and nursery grounds may determine larval success and affect year class strength.
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Vol. 34 • No. 4