Combining historic records and multi-criteria habitat suitability analysis for the potential reintroduction of Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens Rafinesque) into tributaries of Lake Erie
Date of Award
Department Home page
Predicting the location and quality of habitat for imperiled species is an increasingly important application of modeling technology. The Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) is a widely-extirpated fish of the Laurentian Great Lakes whose recovery is dependent on the availability and connectivity of suitable stream habitat today. This is especially true in Lake Erie, where the largest Lake Sturgeon fishery was once found. I predicted that modern habitat suitability would be dependent on land use legacies from the past 200 years, with western Lake Erie tributaries having less suitable habitat compared to the eastern Lake Erie tributaries. I developed a multi-criteria habitat suitability analysis framework that was applied to two different spatial scales (watershed and stream segment) to predict the location and quality of habitat for spawning adults and juveniles in historically-used U.S. tributaries of Lake Erie. I also tested the transferability of the model framework by applying it to a stream where extant Lake Sturgeon spawn currently: the Black River in northern Michigan. My results suggest that a broad range of habitat qualities exist across the study region, with predictions aligning with several smaller-scale habitat suitability projects in the past in several of the watersheds analyzed here. Most low-scoring watersheds were located to the west, while the highest-scoring watersheds were located to the east, as predicted. The model found a high degree of agreement between the watershed scale and reach scale, suggesting that the framework could be applied at either scale accurately depending on input data availability. The model predicted that the Black River watershed is fairly suitable (40-50% suitable) for Lake Sturgeon, which warrants further investigation and ground-truthing of the model’s real-world accuracy given that the Black River is known to be highly suitable for the species. Additional spatially-explicit analysis of these results in the future will aim to reveal patterns in habitat connectivity from river mouth upstream for each watershed. My results can be used on the fine scale by managers seeking to develop local Lake Sturgeon reintroduction and restoration projects but also at the large scale for the purpose of communication and habitat connectivity for the benefit of multiple populations of Lake Sturgeon.
Wirebach, Kylie P.; Pennuto, Christopher; and Gorsky, Dimitry, "Combining historic records and multi-criteria habitat suitability analysis for the potential reintroduction of Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens Rafinesque) into tributaries of Lake Erie" (2022). Biology Theses. 52.