Climate change as a long-term stressor for the fisheries of the Laurentian Great Lakes of North America
Climate and dispersal are the two most commonly cited mechanisms to explain spatial synchrony among time series of animal populations, and climate is typically most important for fishes. Using data from 1978–2006, we quantified the spatial synchrony in recruitment and population catch-per-unit-effort (CPUE) for bloater (Coregonus hoyi) populations across lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron. In this natural field experiment, climate was highly synchronous across lakes but the likelihood of dispersal between lakes differed. When data from all lakes were pooled, modified correlograms revealed spatial synchrony to occur up to 800 km for long-term (data not detrended) trends and up to 600 km for short-term (data detrended by the annual rate of change) trends. This large spatial synchrony more than doubles the scale previously observed in freshwater fish populations, and exceeds the scale found in most marine or estuarine populations. When analyzing the data separately for within- and between-lake pairs, spatial synchrony was always observed within lakes, up to 400 or 600 km. Conversely, between-lake synchrony did not occur among short-term trends, and for long-term trends, the scale of synchrony was highly variable. For recruit CPUE, synchrony occurred up to 600 km between both lakes Michigan and Huron (where dispersal was most likely) and lakes Michigan and Superior (where dispersal was least likely), but failed to occur between lakes Huron and Superior (where dispersal likelihood was intermediate). When considering the scale of putative bloater dispersal and genetic information from previous studies, we concluded that dispersal was likely underlying within-lake synchrony but climate was more likely underlying between-lake synchrony. The broad scale of synchrony in Great Lakes bloater populations increases their probability of extirpation, a timely message for fishery managers given current low levels of bloater abundance.