WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers at Purdue University are using a robotic submarine and other specialized tools in Lake Michigan to gather biological and environmental data showing how young fish vital to the ecosystem may cope with future climate change.
The researchers are correlating larval fish growth with various factors, including water temperatures near the lakeshore, where wind patterns might be altered by climate change and threaten fish populations, said Tomas Höök, an assistant professor in the Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.
"These larval fish are very vulnerable because they are not fully developed and cannot swim well, so they are really at the mercy of their environment," Höök said. "Growth rates during the larval stage in part determine how well young fish survive to become adults. Rapid growth allows young fish to swim faster and, thereby, avoid predators, consume more food, and actively select warmer, more favorable waters. Otherwise, they can quickly starve to death."
Research has suggested that climate change might alter wind patterns on the Great Lakes. The lake winds are important because they play a key role in the survival of young fish and cause "upwelling events" that ferry cold water and nutrients from lower depths up to the near-shore zone.
"As a result of these upwellings, the fish in that zone see a temperature change of about 5 degrees to 10 degrees Celsius, which has a huge impact on metabolic rates," Höök said.
The Purdue team is studying the larva of yellow perch and alewives in Lake Michigan, near Michigan City, Ind., where both fish are abundant in the lake's near-shore waters. Yellow perch are valued for fishing, while alewives are ecologically critical because they are primary prey for the lake's salmon and trout.
"We need to learn how physical properties change in the near shore and how that influences fish survival," sai
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