Asian carp could cause some native Lake Erie fish to decline, if its population invades the lake, study finds.
Asian carps are becoming a major threat for Lake Erie’s local ecosystem.
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A study from Michigan University claims that if the Asian carp’s population grows massively in Lake Erie, it will cause a decline in most other fish species in the region including prized sport and walleye.
Asian carps are heavy bodied fishes that are native to the Indian Subcontinent. Many species of Asian carp are found in foreign territories as well. Seven of them have been introduced into the US in recent decades and are worrying ecologists, biologists and fishers.
For the new study, researchers have used computer modeling to determine the possible impact of bighead carp and silver carp in Lake Erie and found that if these fishes successfully invade the Lake Erie, they will become about a third of the total weight of fish in the lake and could lead to a significant decline in many other fish species like walleye, rainbow trout, gizzard shed and emerald shiners.
The plankton-eating Asian carp is currently established in watersheds close to the Great Lakes, but not in the lakes themselves as of right now.
"Fortunately, the percentage would not be as high as it is today in the Illinois River, where Asian carp have caused large changes in the ecosystem and have affected human use of the river.” Hongyan Zhang, an assistant research scientist from University of Michigan and lead author of the study said.
Many previous studies produced contrasting results. Some suggest that the invasion of Asian carp will negatively affect biodiversity of Lake Erie while some other indicates that the fish can cause minor changes in local ecosystem since waters are not particularly suitable for Asian carp.
The latest research falls somewhere between the two extremes. It not only points to the expected decline in many fish populations since Asian carp would likely compete with native fish by eating their food, but it also hints on the increase in few native fish species such as smallmouth bass as some fish-eating fish will likely eat juvenile Asian carp.
“The study goes beyond previous efforts in two significant ways,” said Ed Rutherford, a fisheries biologist and co-author of the study. “It focuses on the food webs – where model input data were not available – it includes uncertainty estimates from experts.
Researchers also interviewed 11 leading experts of Asian carp biology and Great Lakes ecology and fishers to add element of uncertainty in making predications.
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"We don't know how these two Asian carp species are going to do in Lake Erie, so we have to incorporate that uncertainty into our model projections," said research co-author Doran Mason. "It's like using computer models to predict a hurricane's path and intensity and including the margin of error in the forecast."