Two species of suckers, white suckers (shown above) and longnose suckers, were chosen for the study because they migrate in large numbers throughout the Great Lakes basin, they’re big enough for volunteers to see from an observation point, and they’re easily distinguished from other fish species.
Data collected by volunteers will be used to test whether water temperature, stream flow, or lunar cycles cue these fishes to initiate their spawning migrations. The data will also be used to document the rolling wave of migrations along a latitudinal gradient from northern Illinois up through Wisconsin and Upper Michigan every year. Finally, data will be used to understand the local impacts of global climate change by comparing current migration timing to historical records from various governmental agencies, including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Shifts in the migration of suckers can affect the predators that rely on them as a food source by changing the dynamics of interactions, and even the timing of nutrient inputs into the streams can affect the entire food web.
Building on citizen science
Shedd’s Conservation Research department anticipates expanding this program in subsequent years to include additional locations and more citizen scientists. Aside from the scientific value of the study, public engagement in this sucker migratory study encourages a conservation ethic among citizens and spurs broader conversations about the diverse and unseen impacts of climate change. In addition, those involved in the study become ambassadors for native species such as suckers, spreading the word on their ecological value and impressive behaviors, including annual migrations.