As humans develop lake shorelines, several aspects of the terrestrial and aquatic habitats are altered, and these changes have potential effects that can ripple through aquatic food webs (Engel and Pederson 1998, Francis and Schindler 2009). Modifications to habitat structures along with direct human impacts, such as increased angling effort with lakeshore residential development (NRC 1992), may drive changes in game fish ecology. Indeed, altered foraging behavior (Francis and Schindler 2009), spawning behavior (Lawson et al. in press; Reed and Pereira 2009), and even fish growth (Schindler et al. 2000) of some game species have been associated with lakeshore residential development.
In many areas of the United States, such as Wisconsin’s Northern Highland Lake District (NHLD), recreational fisheries are a pillar of local economies (Penaloza 1991, Peterson et al. 2003). Therefore, understanding if and how humans impact these important fisheries is critical. We performed a cross-lakes comparison investigating the relationship between largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) growth rate across both fish length and lakeshore residential development in the NHLD (Gaeta et al. 2011). We determined growth from 473 individuals from 16 study lakes spanning the entire known regional gradient of lakeshore residential development (0-45.8 buildings·km-1). Our analysis identified a significant relationship between largemouth bass size-specific growth rate and lakeshore residential development that varied across fish length (Fig. 1). Specifically, growth rates of small sizes were strongly correlated with lakeshore residential development. The strength of the correlation decreased with length and became increasingly negative for fish larger than 210 mm.
We cannot definitively determine the mechanism driving the relationship between growth and building density because this study was a cross-lakes comparison and not an experiment. However, the observed relationship is likely a function of a combination of release from density-dependent growth, reduced macrophyte cover, and angling-induced selection pressures. Regardless of the mechanism, our findings indicate that a largemouth bass in a highly developed lake will take approximately 1.5 growing seasons longer to enter the fishery (356 mm) than individuals in undeveloped systems (Fig. 2).
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