A Multilevel Modeling Approach to Assessing Regional and Local Landscape Features for Lake Classification and Assessment of Fish Growth Rates
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The ecoregion and watershed frameworks are landscape-based classifications that have been used to group waterbodies with respect to measures of community structure; however, they have yet to be evaluated for grouping lakes for demographic characteristics of fish populations. We used a multilevel modeling approach to determine if variability in mean fish length at age could be partitioned by ecoregions and watersheds. For the ecoregions analysis, we then examined if within-ecoregion variability could be explained by local water quality and lake morphometry characteristics. We used data from agency surveys conducted during 1974–1984 for age 2 and 3 fish of seven common warm and coolwater fish species. Variance in mean length at age between ecoregions for all species was not significant, and between-watershed variance estimates were only significant in 3 out of 14 analyses; however, the total amount of variation between watersheds was very small (ranging from 1.8% to 3.7% of the total variance), indicating that ecoregions and watersheds were ineffective in partitioning variability in mean length at age. Within ecoregions, water quality and lake morphometric characteristics accounted for 2%–23% of the variation in mean length at age. Measures of lake productivity were the most common significant covariates, with mean length at age increasing with increasing lake productivity. Much of the variability in mean length at age was not accounted for, suggesting that other local factors such as biotic interactions, fish density, and exploitation are important. The results indicate that the development of an effective regional framework for managing inland lakes will require a substantial effort to understand sources of demographic variability and that managers should not rely solely on ecoregions or watersheds for grouping lakes with similar growth rates.
KeywordsEcoregion Watershed Classification Fish growth Mean length at age Water quality
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