Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: New York
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Paufve MR, Sethi SA, Weidel BC, Lantry BF, Yule DL, Rudstam LG, Jonas JJ, Berglund E, Connerton MJ, Gorsky D, Herbert M, Smith J. (2022) Diversity in spawning habitat use among Great Lakes Cisco populations. Ecology of Freshwater Fish 31: 379-388.


Cisco (Coregonus artedi) once dominated fish communities in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Restoring the abundance and distribution of this species has emerged as a management priority, yet our understanding of Cisco spawning habitat use is insufficient to characterize habitat needs for these populations and assess whether availability of suitable spawning habitat could be a constraint to recovery. We characterized the distribution of incubating Cisco eggs in situ across gradients of depth and substrate types to describe the spawning habitat used by three Great Lakes populations. In Chaumont Bay, Lake Ontario, eggs were concentrated on shallow bedrock shoals and not found on deeper silt or sand substrate. In contrast, eggs in Thunder Bay, Lake Superior, and Elk Rapids, Lake Michigan, were found on deeper fine grain sediments with low utilization of shallow rocky and cobble habitats. These patterns of egg incubation habitat use suggest a broad spawning habitat niche at the species level but distinct spawning habitat preferences at the population level. While our results indicate some historical diversity in spawning habitat use has been maintained across the species’ range in the Great Lakes, comparisons of contemporary spawning habitat utilization against historical accounts raise questions as to whether some spawning habitat use behaviors may no longer be prevalent within specific lakes. Thus, characterizing the portfolio of spawning strategies remaining within lakes may improve our understanding of habitat needs and identify opportunities to maintain population diversity while supporting Cisco rehabilitation.