Research Document - 2011/114

Binational Ecological Risk Assessment of Bigheaded Carps (Hypophthalmichthys spp.) for the Great Lakes Basin

By B. Cudmore, N.E. Mandrak, J.M. Dettmers, D.C. Chapman, and C.S. Kolar

Abstract

Bigheaded carps (Bighead and Silver carps) are considered a potential threat to the Great Lakes basin. A binational ecological risk assessment was conducted to provide scientifically defensible advice for managers and decision-makers in Canada and the United States. This risk assessment looked at the likelihood of arrival, survival, establishment, and spread of bigheaded carps to obtain an overall probability of introduction. Arrival routes assessed were physical connections and human-mediated releases. The risk assessment ranked physical connections (specifically the Chicago Area Waterway System) as the most likely route for arrival into the Great Lakes basin. Results of the risk assessment show that there is enough food and habitat for bigheaded carp survival in the Great Lakes, especially in Lake Erie and productive embayments in the other lakes. Analyses of tributaries around the Canadian Great Lakes and the American waters of Lake Erie indicate that there are many suitable tributaries for bigheaded carp spawning. Should bigheaded carps establish in the Great Lakes, their spread would not likely be limited and several ecological consequences can be expected to occur. These consequences include competition for planktonic food leading to reduced growth rates, recruitment and abundance of planktivores. Subsequently this would lead to reduced stocks of piscivores and abundance of fishes with pelagic, early life stages. Overall risk is highest for lakes Michigan, Huron, and Erie, followed by Lake Ontario then Lake Superior. To avoid the trajectory of the invasion process and prevent or minimize anticipated consequences, it is important to continue to focus efforts on reducing the probability of introduction of these species at either the arrival, survival, establishment, or spread stage (depending on location).

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