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CMU research studies population trends of lake whitefish, cisco

Elizabeth LaPorte

A CMU research team is studying why two species of fish populations are trending in nearly opposite directions – and what this says about changing environmental conditions in lakes.

Lake whitefish has been on decline for the last couple of decades- meanwhile, cisco fish are on the rise.

The two species both spawn and grow up in similar nearshore habitats, so researchers wanted to learn why their populations are changing so differently.

Scott McKnaught is an aquatic ecologist and professor at Central Michigan University. He said the team’s research will contribute to knowledge on environmental changes in nearshore zones – or what’s called the “wadable water” – that isn't well-studied.

“Non-native species have come in and might be causing the decline of lake whitefish," McKanught said. "But we're not really sure which factor it is, so we're trying to address factors related to food and predators and see if one of those may be responsible.”

McKnaught said understanding the drivers of whitefish decline can help develop management strategies to reverse the trend.

“With their populations going down, there's an economic impact... and there’s kind of a social aspect to this, too," he said. "We really want to try and figure out what's going on here so that we can stop, stop the slide, help these populations rebound.”

Teresa Homsi is an environmental reporter and Report for America Corps Member based in northern Michigan for WCMU. She covers rural environmental issues, focused on contamination, conservation, and climate change.