Nearshore habitat and fish community associations of coaster brook trout in Isle Royale, Lake Superior

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We characterized the nearshore habitat and fish community composition of approximately 300 km of shoreline within and adjacent to the major embayments of Isle Royale, Lake Superior. Sampling yielded 17 species, of which 12 were widespread and represented a common element of the Lake Superior fish community, including cisco Coregonus artedi, lake whitefish C. clupeaformis, round whitefish Prosopium cylindraceum, lake trout Salvelinus namaycush, rainbow smelt Osmerus mordax, lake chub Couesius plumbeus, longnose sucker Catostomus catostomus, white sucker C. commersonii, trout-perch Percopsis omiscomaycus, ninespine stickleback Pungitius pungitius, burbot Lota lota, and slimy sculpin Cottus cognatus. The presence of brook trout S. fontinalis in an embayment was associated with the common species of the Isle Royale nearshore fish community, particularly cisco, longnose sucker, and round whitefish. However, brook trout were present in only five embayments and were common only in Tobin Harbor. Most Isle Royale embayments had broadly overlapping ranges of nearshore habitats. Within embayments, fish were distributed along a habitat gradient from less-protected rocky habitat near the mouth to highly protected habitat with mixed and finer substrates at the head. Embayments with brook trout had greater mean protection from the open lake, greater variation in depth, greater mean cover, and higher mean frequencies of large substrates (cobble, boulder, and bedrock). Within those embayments, brook trout were associated with habitat patches with higher mean frequencies of small substrates (particularly sand and coarse gravel). Within Tobin Harbor, brook trout were associated with midembayment habitat and species assemblages, especially those locations with a mixture of sand, gravel, and cobble substrates, an absence of bedrock, and the presence of round whitefish, white sucker, and trout-perch. Comparison of embayments with the model, Tobin Harbor, showed that six embayments without brook trout had very similar arrays of habitat. However, four embayments with brook trout had relatively different arrays of habitat from Tobin Harbor. These results suggest that there is potential for further recovery of brook trout populations across Isle Royale nearshore habitats. © Copyright by the American Fisheries Society 2008.

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Transactions of the American Fisheries Society