Date of this Version
1. Hypoxia occurs seasonally in many stratified coastal marine and freshwater ecosystems when bottom dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations are depleted below 2–3 mg O2 L-1.
2. We evaluated the effects of hypoxia on fish habitat quality in the central basin of Lake Erie from 1987 to 2005, using bioenergetic growth rate potential (GRP) as a proxy for habitat quality. We compared the effect of hypoxia on habitat quality of (i) rainbow smelt, Osmerus mordax mordax Mitchill (young-of-year, YOY, and adult), a cold-water planktivore, (ii) emerald shiner, Notropis atherinoides Rafinesque (adult), a warm-water planktivore, (iii) yellow perch, Perca flavescens Mitchill (YOY and adult), a cool-water benthopelagic omnivore and (iv) round goby Neogobius melanostomus Pallas (adult) a eurythermal benthivore. Annual thermal and DO profiles were generated from 1D thermal and DO hydrodynamics models developed for Lake Erie’s central basin.
3. Hypoxia occurred annually, typically from mid-July to mid-October, which spatially and temporally overlaps with otherwise high benthic habitat quality. Hypoxia reduced the habitat quality across fish species and life stages, but the magnitude of the reduction varied both among and within species because of the differences in tolerance to low DO levels and warm-water temperatures.
4. Across years, trends in habitat quality mirrored trends in phosphorus concentration and water column oxygen demand in central Lake Erie. The per cent reduction in habitat quality owing to hypoxia was greatest for adult rainbow smelt and round goby (mean: -35%), followed by adult emerald shiner (mean: -12%), YOY rainbow smelt (mean: -10%) and YOY and adult yellow perch (mean: -8.5%).
5. Our results highlight the importance of differential spatiotemporally interactive effects of DO and temperature on relative fish habitat quality and quantity. These effects have the potential to influence the performance of individual fish species as well as population dynamics, trophic interactions and fish community structure.