Connecting habitat to species abundance: the role of light and temperature on the abundance of walleye in lakes

Shad Mahlum, Kelsey Vitense, Hayley Corson-Dosch, Lindsay Platt, Jordan S. Read, Patrick J. Schmalz, Melissa Treml, Gretchen J.A. Hansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Walleye (Sander vitreus) are an ecologically important species managed for recreational, tribal, and commercial harvest.Walleye prefer cool water and low light conditions, and therefore changing water temperature and clarity potentially impacts walleye habitat and populations across the landscape. Using survey data collected from 1993 to 2018 from 312 lakes in Minnesota, we evaluated the relationship between thermal-optical habitat and the relative abundance of small (0–300 mm),medium (300– 450 mm), and large (450 + mm) walleye. Thermal-optical habitat was positively correlated with the relative abundance of small and medium walleye but not large walleye. Walleye were more abundant in larger, naturally reproducing lakes opposed to smaller, stocked lakes. Thermal-optical habitat changed in 59% of lakes since 1980 (26% increasing and 33% decreasing) and appears to be driven primarily by changes in water clarity and thus optical habitat area. Our study provides important insights into local and regional drivers that influence walleye populations that can be used to assist fisheries managers in setting population goals and managing harvest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)273-286
Number of pages14
JournalCanadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We acknowledge with gratitude the hundreds of MNDNR employees who collected data that form the basis of this research. Special thanks to C. Geving and J. Hansen for assisting with data collation and interpretation. We also acknowledge the input of the MNDNR Fisheries Research Unit for assisting in project development and model interpretation. Also, thanks to Fisheries Systems Ecology Lab members and A. Appling for help with modeling and providing feedback for previous versions of the manuscript. The MNDNR provided funding for KV and SM. This work was supported in part by grant G20AC00096 from the USGS Midwest Climate Adaptation Climate Science Center. GH acknowledges the support of the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch project MIN-41–101. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture or the United States Department of Agriculture but do represent the views of the U.S. Geological Survey. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Finally, we would like to thank the anonymous five reviewers that provided constructive feedback on the manuscript, which greatly improved the overall content of our study.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Copyright remains with the author(s) or their institution(s).


  • Hierarchical models
  • Safe operating space
  • Temperature
  • Thermal-optical habitat
  • Walleye
  • Water clarity


Dive into the research topics of 'Connecting habitat to species abundance: the role of light and temperature on the abundance of walleye in lakes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this