Turbidity tolerances of Great Lakes coastal wetland fishes

Anett S. Trebitz, John C. Brazner, Valerie J. Brady, Richard Axler, Danny K. Tanner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Despite recent interest in assessing the condition of fish assemblages in Great Lakes coastal wetlands and a concern for increasing turbidity as a major stressor pathway influencing these ecosystems, there is little information on fish tolerance or intolerance to turbidity on which to base wetland assessment metrics. Existing studies have borrowed tolerance designations from the stream literature, but they have not confirmed that the designations apply to Great Lakes wetlands or that designations based on tolerance to degradation in general apply to turbidity in particular. We used a published graphical method to determine turbidity tolerances of Great Lakes fishes based on their pattern of occurrence and relative abundance across coastal wetlands spanning a turbidity gradient. Fish composition data were obtained from fyke-net and electrofishing surveys of 75 wetlands along the U.S. shoreline of the Laurentian Great Lakes, representing a turbidity range of approximately 0-110 nephelometric turbidity units (NTU). Turbidity levels of 10, 25, and 50 NTU (corresponding to the thresholds in use for state water quality criteria) were used to separate fish into tolerance classes. We found that the turbidity tolerances of many species in Great Lakes wetlands differed from the published tolerances to general degradation in streams. Also, the tolerance levels for many species were unclear owing to the species' infrequent occurrence. Although many of the wetlands sampled had quite low turbidity, a large proportion of the fish species were tolerant or moderately tolerant to turbidity and very few were intolerant, suggesting that enumerating intolerant species may not be a useful metric or that the metric should be expanded to include moderately intolerant species. Our study lays the foundation for additional turbidity indicator development efforts for Great Lakes coastal wetlands.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)619-633
Number of pages15
JournalNorth American Journal of Fisheries Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2007

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was made possible through the efforts of many people at USEPA and GLEI who assisted in the field and laboratory and with project logistics; Dan Breneman, Jason Carlson, Jan Ciborowski, Joe Gath-man, Jerry Henneck, Lucinda Johnson, Jen Kaser, Amy Kireta, Mike Knuth, Anh Ly, Mark Pearson, and Greg Peterson were particularly instrumental in the generation of fish and turbidity data. We thank John Morrice and Jack Kelly for helpful conversations; Robert Spehar, Mary Ann Starus, Carl Richards, and several anonymous reviewers for manuscript suggestions; the Bad River Tribe of the Lake Superior Chippewa for permission to sample and for supplementary water quality data; and the many landowners and state agency personnel who helped with wetland access and information. Funding was provided by USEPA directly and via National Center for Environmental Research STAR grant R8286750 to the Great Lakes Ecological Indicators project. This research was approved for publication after review by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, but approval does not signify that the content reflects the views of the USEPA, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.


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