Projected shifts in fish species dominance in Wisconsin lakes under climate change

Gretchen A Hansen, Jordan S. Read, Jonathan F. Hansen, Luke A. Winslow

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130 Scopus citations


Temperate lakes may contain both coolwater fish species such as walleye (Sander vitreus) and warmwater fish species such as largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides). Recent declining walleye and increasing largemouth bass populations have raised questions regarding the future trajectories and management actions for these species. We developed a thermodynamic model of water temperatures driven by downscaled climate data and lake-specific characteristics to estimate daily water temperature profiles for 2148 lakes in Wisconsin, US, under contemporary (1989–2014) and future (2040–2064 and 2065–2089) conditions. We correlated contemporary walleye recruitment and largemouth bass relative abundance to modeled water temperature, lake morphometry, and lake productivity, and projected lake-specific changes in each species under future climate conditions. Walleye recruitment success was negatively related and largemouth bass abundance was positively related to water temperature degree days. Both species exhibited a threshold response at the same degree day value, albeit in opposite directions. Degree days were predicted to increase in the future, although the magnitude of increase varied among lakes, time periods, and global circulation models (GCMs). Under future conditions, we predicted a loss of walleye recruitment in 33–75% of lakes where recruitment is currently supported and a 27–60% increase in the number of lakes suitable for high largemouth bass abundance. The percentage of lakes capable of supporting abundant largemouth bass but failed walleye recruitment was predicted to increase from 58% in contemporary conditions to 86% by mid-century and to 91% of lakes by late century, based on median projections across GCMs. Conversely, the percentage of lakes with successful walleye recruitment and low largemouth bass abundance was predicted to decline from 9% of lakes in contemporary conditions to only 1% of lakes in both future periods. Importantly, we identify up to 85 resilient lakes predicted to continue to support natural walleye recruitment. Management resources could target preserving these resilient walleye populations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1463-1476
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank current and past employees of the Wisconsin DNR, the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, and citizen volunteers of Wisconsin for the data collection and collation that made this project possible. We are grateful to the bass?walleye team for generating a never-ending list of interesting research questions and management applications: Steve Carpenter, Jereme Gaeta, Daisuke Goto, Joe Hennessey, Dan Isermann, Craig Kelling, John Lyons, Eric Pedersen, Andrew Rypel, Greg Sass, Kaitlin Schnell, Tyler Tunney, and Jake Vander Zanden. Thanks to Jennifer Filbert, Alex Latzka, Mona Papes, and Dan Oele for data gathering to support the lake temperature modeling, and to Tom Cichosz, Steve Hewett, and Joe Hennessy for sharing their extensive knowledge of the walleye dataset. GH owes a huge gratitude to John Lyons for support and ideas. Thanks also to Peter Jacobson, Todd Kalish, John Lyons, Jeff Ziegeweid, Kevin Wehrly, and one anonymous reviewer for insightful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. This study was funded by the Department of the Interior Northeast Climate Science Center under the proposal ?An integrated assessment of lake and stream thermal habitat under climate change?, the United States Geological Survey National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center grant 10909172 to the University of Wisconsin?Madison, and the WDNR Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration (Project F-95-P, study SSBW). Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 The Authors. Global Change Biology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Copyright 2017 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Micropterus salmoides
  • Sander vitreus
  • climate projections
  • community composition
  • largemouth bass
  • species distribution model
  • temperate lakes
  • thermal profiles
  • walleye


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