Utah Lake Resource Dynamics and Ecosystem Change

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A Utah Lake northern pike donated by an angler… we’re gonna need a bigger tray

Utah Lake, UT is a large, shallow ecosystem that has shifted from historic pristine with a diverse macrophyte assemblage to turbid, eutrophic, and macrophyte depauperate. This ecosystem shift is largely attributed to the introduction of carp in the 1880s, extreme lake level fluctuations due to water withdrawal for agriculture, and increased nutrient inputs from agriculture; multiyear droughts may further exacerbate these compounding issues. The synergistic effect of these issues resulted in the near extinction of June sucker and the subsequent federal listing of ‘endangered’. A whole-lake invasive carp removal began in 2009 as a part of the strategy to improve the water quality and ecosystem function of Utah Lake. We have been working in conjunction with UT-DWR, UT-DWR, the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program, and Central Utah Water Conservancy District to evaluate the effects of the invasive carp removal and multiyear droughts on water quality, with an emphasis on phosphate levels; the macrophyte, zooplankton, macroinvertebrate, and fish communities; and the recovery of endangered June sucker.

The recovery of endangered June sucker were further threatened when non-native northern pike were illegally introduced into Utah Lake. First detected in 2010, observed natural reproduction in 2014 indicates they are here to stay, with a potential to hamper the recovery of June sucker through predation and competition. Our objective is to quantify northern pike predation to assess whether northern pike prey on June sucker, if so, to quantify the magnitude of June sucker predation. Preliminary DNA results of fishes found in Utah Lake northern pike diets have indicated that pike are consuming endangered June sucker.

As a part of our research efforts, the Lake Ecology Laboratory at USU has compiled a bibliography of Utah Lake related publications, which can be found here.