Project Title: Short- and Long-Term Effects of Changing Food Quality on Early Life Stages of Walleye in the Western Basin of Lake Erie
Increased nutrient runoff and climatic changes are altering the composition of algae and other primary producers in aquatic systems worldwide. Changes in primary producers have the potential to affect an entire food web by altering the available nutrients. This may particularly impact early life stages due to direct effects on survival and development, but also due to indirect effects that may persist and alter adult survival, growth, or reproductive success. In the western basin of Lake Erie, the algae community is becoming dominated by species with poor fatty acid content such as cyanobacteria. Fatty acids are vital in fish development and reproduction. A decline in available essential fatty acids may greatly affect fishes like walleye, an important predator and sport fish. Our research on the short- and long-term effects of poor food quality at vulnerable early life stages of walleye will allow for better understanding of changes to walleye physiology, walleye populations, and the fish community throughout the western basin of Lake Erie. To examine this question, we are collecting samples from Lake Erie, conducting laboratory experiments, and creating a demographic model of the walleye population.