Fall 2016 eNewsletter

Featured Research: Assessing the Risk of Asian Carp Invasion in the Great Lakes


Asian carp could affect the Lake Erie food web in two ways: by competing with native fish by eating their food and becoming food for other predatory fish. Figure credit: C. Darnell, NOAA-GLERL

Asian carp, bighead carp and silver carp, were first brought to the southern United States to aid in the cleaning of fish hatcheries.  Due to flooding and hatchery overflow, Asian carp were accidentally released into waterways and have now been flourishing in the Mississippi River basin for nearly 40 years.  Dr. Hongyan Zhang, CILER Assistant Research Scientist, says that “the biology and ecology of Asian carp make them very successful invaders.”  They compete with native fish by devouring the planktonic food, the microscopic plants and animals at the base of the food web, causing extreme stress and ultimately an environment where the native fish struggle to survive.  Currently, an electric barrier and 47 miles is all that separates Asian carp from entering the Laurentian Great Lakes.

As the invasive Asian carp threatens to invade the Laurentian Great Lakes, Dr. Hongyan Zhang and colleagues have developed a model to predict the effects of Asian carp on the Lake Erie food web.  “Previous studies have looked at habitat suitability for reproduction, feeding and growth of Asian carp in the Great Lakes.  However, we are the first group to use a food web model to estimate Asian carp impacts on Lake Erie fisheries,” states Dr. Zhang.  “We interviewed eleven leading experts on Great Lakes fisheries and Asian carp biology in order to incorporate estimates of uncertainty, such as production, consumption, and potential predators of the Asian carp, into our model.  Additional information and data, such as diet, was collected from ecosystems that have similar conditions as Lake Erie.”


Bighead Carp. Photo credit: H. Zhang

Of the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie is of most concern for invasion due to its abundant spawning habitat, highly productive plankton communities (food source), and connection with watersheds harboring Asian carp.  If Asian carp become established in Lake Erie, Dr. Zhang’s model suggests that in only 20 years Asian carp could reach their peak biomass and compose nearly 30% of the total fish biomass, ultimately causing a decline in  important commercial and sport fisheries. “The potential shift in a fishery that is walleye-dominated to a fishery that is carp-dominated would lower the public’s view on ecosystem health as well,” says Dr. Zhang.

To help inform decisions about Asian carp, these data have been shared with state and federal agencies who are working to control the spread of Asian carp.  “Our study provides information for managers who need to assess the risk of Asian carp invasion into the Great Lakes.  It also provides information for economic analysis of Asian carp impacts,” says Dr. Zhang.  Currently, similar models are being prepared to forecast Asian carp impacts in Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Ontario, which are expected to support the development of state and federal Asian carp management plans.

About the Project

CILER’s funding for this project was from the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), with funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) and NOAA Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research (CSCOR). This project was also partially funded by the National Science Foundation’s Catalyzing New International Collaborations program.

Research team: Hongyan Zhang (CILER; lead scientist for the NSF grant), Lori Ivan (CILER), Dmitry Beletsky (CILER), Doran Mason (GLERL), Ed Rutherford (GLERL), Jason Breck (University of Wisconsin), Marion Wittmann (University of Nevada-Reno), Roger Cooke (Resources for the Future and Delft University), David Lodge (University of Notre Dame; lead PI for the GLIR and CSCOR grant), John Rothlisberger (U.S. Forest Service), Xinhua Zhu (Fisheries and Oceans Canada), Timothy Johnson (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)

Related Articles & Resources

• Zhang, Hongyan, Rutherford, Edward S., Mason, Doran M., Breck, Jason T., Wittmann, Marion E., Cooke, Roger M., Lodge, David M., Rothlisberger, John D., Zhu, Xinhua & Johnson, Timothy B. 2016. Forecasting the Impacts of Silver and Bighead Carp on the Lake Erie Food Web. Transactions of the American Fisheries Society. 145:1. 136-162. (Scientific Article)

* Due to media interest, this article was made available free online.
The Good News and The Bad News About The Potential Invasion of Lake Erie By Asian Carp; American Fisheries Society, 1/12/16

 In the News:

Asian carp could cause some Lake Erie fish to decline, others to increase; Michigan News, 1/4/16
Study: Asian carp could develop huge presence in Lake Erie; The Seattle Times, 1/4/16
Asian Carp Could Dominate Lake Erie, Study Says; The Weather Channel, 1/5/16
Researchers Forecast Impact Of Invasive Asian Carp On Lake Erie’s Native Fish Species; Tech Times, 1/5/16
Asian Carp Could Claim One-Third Of Lake Erie Biomass; Newsweek, 1/6/16
Asian Carp Would Significantly Alter – But Not Destroy – Lake Erie Fisheries; WaterNews, 1/7/16
Impact of Asian carp on Great Lakes could be overestimated; The Michigan Daily, 1/7/16
Forecasting Future of Asian Carp In Great Lakes: An Erie Story; Medill News Service, 1/13/16
All-you-can-eat Asian carp are gluten free; The Times Herald, 1/28/16
Asian carp would damage fish species in Lake Erie; Capital News Service, 2/5/16

Asian Carp studies at GLERL – Understanding the impacts of an invasive species (Factsheet)
 How would an Asian carp invasion affect fish in Lake Erie? (Infographic)
 What if Asian Carp Establish Themselves in the Great Lakes? (Presentation)