Among the least studied organisms at Queen’s University Biological Station are the lichens. That’s not to say that no one has bothered to look at them; in fact the discovery of a new species of lichen led to it being named after Lake Opinicon. Lecanora opiniconensis was first discovered and named by eminent lichenologist Irwin Brodo while he was visiting the station as a guest lecturer during a population ecology field course in the 1980’s. Brodo told me that when he first discovered this species on Snake Island (in Lake Opinicon) he thought it was an Ontario endemic. He has subsequently found it in the Adirondacks and northern Manitoba. Other workers have found it in the southwestern United States. It’s a small species with apothecia (fruiting bodies) that are only a few millimetres across. It could easily be missed among the colonies of the more abundant and superficially similar scattered rock-posy (Rhizoplaca subdiscrepans). Compared to R. subdiscrepans, the thallus of L. opiniconensis is darker green and the apothecia are non-pruniose. As far I know this lichen is the only organism that has been named after Lake Opinicon.
Throughout July and August, 2011, we conducted a preliminary fish survey of selected lakes and wetlands at QUBS. Our goal was to begin assembling a comprehensive understanding of the distribution of fish species in the major water bodies within the boundaries of QUBS properties. Although the distribution of some fish is well known at QUBS due to past and present research (e.g. northern pike [Esox lucius], sunfish [Lepomis sp.] and largemouth bass [Micropterus salmoides]) as well as recreational angling, our understanding of the distribution of many small fish species (e.g. shiners, minnows, daces [family Cyprinidae]) is very limited.
We surveyed fish communities at QUBS for two major reasons. First, we wanted to document the ichthyofauna at the station to provide baseline data on distribution for future fish researchers who may be looking for study populations in specific habitats. Second, we wanted to be able to compare contemporary species distribution to historic and eventually future records which will help elucidate the ways in which the lake and wetland ecology changes over time.
Our fishing efforts primarily focused on the perimeter of water bodies. We sampled along shorelines in as many types of habitats as possible within each lake or wetland (e.g. among emergent vegetation, logs and weed beds). The sampling techniques we employed were: cat food-baited minnow traps, fyke nets (no bait), and seining. The various trapping techniques produced differing levels of success: minnow traps were largely unsuccessful, fyke nets excelled at capturing larger species, and seining was the most proficient at capturing smaller species. As this was a preliminary survey, we did not standardize our trapping techniques across each of the water bodies, so the relative numbers of captured individuals for each species are not comparable among the different lakes. Here we report only presence/absence data for each of the water bodies surveyed. We also give a brief overview of the geography of each of the surveyed lakes and any known history of research and stocking.
Warner Lake (Mean depth = 2.9 m; Maximum depth = 6.4 m; Surface area = 9.2 ha)
Unlike most lakes at QUBS, no surface water tributaries flow into Warner, instead the lake is replenished by precipitation run off and an underground spring near the lake’s northwest shore. The only outflow from Warner is through a shallow creek that disappears into the bedrock less than 100 m from the lake. In effect Warner is a closed system and it is thought that any fish present in the lake have been introduced. Around the 1950’s and 60’s, Warner Lake was likely stocked with largemouth bass, possibly among other species, by local cottagers (Phelan, pers. comm.). Continued maintenance of the lake’s current water levels relies on the integrity of a beaver dam.
The lack of above ground inflows and outflows means that migration of bass and other species to and from the lake is impeded and as such Warner Lake has been an optimal environment for extensive studies on the stocked largemouth bass. Over the past two decades various research projects have occurred, from nest surveys to the use of an extensive hydrophone acoustic telemetry array to monitor three-dimensional movements and behaviours of bass throughout all seasons. In recent years the hydrophone array has suffered from damage by muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) and technical malfunctions, and is currently not in use. At least one major winter kill has been documented, resulting in the death of most of the lake’s bass. The bass were subsequently restocked. The current largemouth bass population is self-sustaining with untagged adults and young of year (YOY) as well as older fish from past telemetry studies.
Fish diversity is relatively low in Warner Lake with only five species. In addition to largemouth bass, we also captured pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), yellow perch (Perca flavescens), yellow bullhead (Ameiurus natalis) and brown bullhead (A. nebulosus). In a beaver pond ephemerally linked to Warner Lake we captured a stunning 1422 brown bullhead with approximately 97% being YOY in one fyke net. By comparison, we captured only three brown bullheads in the entire main lake.
Lindsay Lake (Mean depth = 4.4 m; Maximum depth = 10.9 m; Surface area = 31.5 ha) Poole Lake (Mean depth = 2.6 m; Maximum depth = 6.5 m; Surface area = 24.2 ha)
Although traditionally considered separate lakes by QUBS researchers, the main basins of Lindsay and Poole are broadly connected through a shallow area of dead standing timber and aquatic vegetation. There is no real barrier to fish movement between the two basins so we treat these lakes together here. Other small wetlands fill some of the bays, particularly on Lindsay Lake and there are a variety of inflows and out flows. Like Warner Lake, Lindsay and Poole have had long term studies and surveys of their largemouth bass populations. In addition there has been work on pumpkinseed and population monitoring of northern pike through pit tagging. These lakes were likely stocked with game fish and feeder fish by cottagers decades ago.
We found nine species, eight of which were common to both lakes. Only banded killifish (Fundulus diaphanous) was captured in Poole Lake and not Lindsay. The species common to both lakes were northern pike, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris), yellow perch, yellow bullhead and brown bullhead.
Long Lake (Mean depth = 6.8 m; Maximum depth = 26 m; Surface area = 15.5 ha)
Long Lake is rather deep for most of its length, with a sudden drop off close to shore which results in a narrow littoral zone in the northern half of the lake. The southern half of Long Lake is very shallow and the bottom is covered in sand and marl-like deposits. There is only one inflow to Long, and that is an intermittent stream which flows from a small pond situated on the ridge east of the lake. There are no major wetlands on the shores of Long Lake. The lake has also been subject to studies of its largemouth bass and bluegill, and was probably stocked.
In Long Lake we found bluntnose minnow (Pimephales notatus), largemouth bass, bluegill, rock bass and yellow perch. Because of the limited littoral zone, we had limited seining opportunities at the north end of the lake. We suspect there are potentially other species of minnow and shiner in the lake that additional seining could reveal.
Round Lake (Mean depth = 12.6m; Maximum depth = 30.1 m; Surface area = 15.0 ha)
Round Lake is the deepest lake at QUBS. It is connected to Garter Lake by a wetland and probably shares much of its ichthyofauna. We did not survey Garter Lake in 2011, but plan to do so next year. The two tributaries of Round Lake are small creeks flowing east from a complex of wetlands along the Cataraqui Trail. Round Lake too has a history of bass and pumpkinseed research and was also probably stocked. There is also ongoing research using mesocosms to test theoretical predictions using populations and communities of Daphnia under natural variation in light and temperature.
Of the water bodies yet sampled Round Lake boasts the most diversity of fish species with 13. We captured bluntnose minnow, blackchin shiner (Notropis heterodon), blacknose shiner (N. heterolepis), banded killifish, northern pike, central mudminnow (Umbra limi; Figure 1), largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, bluegill, rock bass, yellow perch, yellow bullhead and brown bullhead.
Elbow Lake (Mean depth = 3.7 m; Maximum depth = 10.6 m; Surface area = 26.0 ha)
Elbow Lake is located on a property that QUBS manages in partnership with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). The property was once a retreat for employees of the Hewlitt-Packard computer company. It now hosts a five week long summer day camp, the QUBS Eco-Adventure Camp. This lake has had a longer history of recreational use (fishing and otherwise) than the previously mentioned lakes. Hewlett-Packard had a strict catch and release policy for bass fishing; presently QUBS and the NCC do not allow any harvest of any fish species. Among QUBS lakes (aside from Opinicon and the other Rideau Lakes which boarder our properties), Elbow is unique in that it is the only one whose water level is controlled by a man-made dam. Elbow is connected to Spectacle Lake through a shallow wetland and probably shares most if not all of the same fish species but we have yet to thoroughly sample Spectacle Lake. Elbow Lake has been subject to very little research, though some largemouth bass have been fitted with pit tags. The stocking history of this lake is unknown.
In addition to largemouth bass we found banded killifish, black crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus), pumpkinseed and yellow perch.
We sampled a variety of beaver ponds and marshes mainly by seining but occasionally also by deploying minnow traps. All of these wetlands contained northern redbelly dace (Chrosomus eos), whereas the lakes did not. Other species that we captured in wetlands but not in the lakes included brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans) at Barb’s Marsh and Iowa darter (Etheostoma exile) at Lower Poole Pond. On the other hand, all the lakes contained largemouth bass and yellow perch while the wetlands did not. See Table 1 for a complete list of species found in each wetland and lake.
One wetland in particular, Lower Poole Pond (sometimes labeled as Beaver Marsh on QUBS maps) was sampled 21 years ago. Though we did not follow the protocol used by Keast and Fox (1990), our results are interesting to compare to theirs, despite the differences in methodology and the comparatively limited nature of our sampling in Lower Poole Pond. We found blackchin shiner, blacknose shiner, bluntnose minnow, northern redbelly dace, banded killifish, Iowa darter, and pumpkinseed. In 1990, Keast and Fox found those species plus fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas), golden shiner (Notemigonus crysoleucas), central mudminnow, brown bullhead, yellow perch and brook stickleback. Since Keast and Fox (1990), the beaver dam at the south end of Lower Poole Pond has broken and water levels have dropped significantly, and may have influenced the fish composition in the pond. We have yet to find fathead minnow or golden shiner in the QUBS back lakes, but both species do occur in Lake Opinicon.
We now have good survey data for ten water bodies contained within the QUBS properties. We also have extensive records of fish presence/absence for Lake Opinicon (about 30 species) which we do not treat here. This data will soon be provided in an updated QUBS fish species list which can be found at: http://www.queensu.ca/qubs/resources/specieslists.html. When we recommence surveys next summer we will attempt to standardize the sampling techniques between water bodies, resample some lakes and wetlands that we felt were undersampled (e.g. Lower Poole Pond) in 2011 and extend the sampling to additional water bodies at QUBS. Also, sampling Lake Opinicon would provide an excellent data set to compare to the works of the late Allen Keast who worked on the lake extensively before the introduction of Dreissena mussels. We could look at how fish communities and fish diets have changed since the catastrophic habitat change brought on by the invasive mollusks. We are getting closer to our goal of obtaining a complete picture of the fish communities at QUBS, but there is still much work to be done.
Keast A, Fox MG. 1990, Fish community structure, spatial distribution and feeding ecology in a breaver pond. Environmental Biology of Fishes 27:201-214.
Table 1. Fishes encountered when sampling aquatic bodies on QUBS property (X indicates present; H indicates historically found). Click on image for larger version.