Diet complexity of Lake Michigan salmonines: 2015–2016

Benjamin S. Leonhardt, Austin Happel, Harvey Bootsma, Charles R. Bronte, Sergiusz Czesny, Zachary Feiner, Matthew S. Kornis, Jacques Rinchard, Benjamin Turschak, Tomas Höök

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In Lake Michigan, the unintended introduction of invasive species (e.g., zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha; quagga mussel, D. rostriformis bugensis; round goby, Neogobius melanostomus) and reduced nutrient loading has altered nutrient dynamics, system productivity, and community composition over the past two decades. These factors, together with sustained predation pressure, have contributed to declines of several forage fish species, including alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus), which has dominated diets of the five primary salmonine species of Lake Michigan for the last 50 years. Salmonines that have inflexible, less complex diets may struggle if alewife declines continue. We analyzed stomach contents of salmonines collected throughout the main basin of Lake Michigan in 2015 and 2016 to investigate diet composition, diet diversity, and individual variation of alewife lengths consumed. Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) almost exclusively consumed alewife and had lower diet diversities compared to the other four species, which consumed relatively high frequencies of round goby (brown trout, Salmo trutta; lake trout, Salvelinus namaycush), aquatic invertebrates (coho salmon, Oncorhynchus kisutch) and terrestrial invertebrates (rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss) along with alewife. Although clear spatio-temporal feeding patterns existed, much of the variation in diet composition and diet diversity was expressed at the individual level. Salmonine populations consumed the entire size range of alewife that were available, whereas individual stomachs tended to contain a narrow range of alewife sizes. Due to their reliance on alewife, it is likely that Chinook salmon will be more negatively impacted than other salmonine species if alewife abundance continues to decline in Lake Michigan.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1044-1057
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Great Lakes Research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • Alewife
  • Lake Michigan
  • Salmonines
  • Stomach contents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology


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