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