Can migration mitigate the effects of ecosystem change? Patterns of dispersal, energy acquisition and allocation in Great Lakes lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis)
Rennie, M.D.; Ebener, M.P.; Wagner, T.
Migration can be a behavioural response to poor or declining home range habitat quality and can occur when the costs of migration are overcome by the benefits of encountering higherquality resources elsewhere. Despite dramatic ecosystem-level changes in the benthic food web of the Laurentian Great Lakes since the colonization of dreissenid mussels, coincident changes in condition and growth rates among benthivorous lake whitefish populations have been variable. We hypothesized that this variation could be in part mitigated by differences in migratory habits among populations, where increased migration distance can result in an increased probability of encountering high-quality habitat (relative to the home range). Results from four Great Lakes populations support this hypothesis; relative growth rates increased regularly with migration distance. The population with the largest average migration distance also had the least reduction in size-at-age during a period of significant ecosystem change and among the highest estimated consumption and activity rates. In comparison, the population with the greatest declines in size-at-age was among the least mobile, demonstrating only moderate rates of consumption and activity. The least mobile population of lake whitefish was supported by a remnant Diporeia population and has experienced only moderate temporal growth declines. Our study provides evidence for the potential role of migration in mitigating the effects of ecosystem change on lake whitefish populations.