Asian carp pose a major risk to Lake Erie's ecosystem. New computer models suggest these invasive fish could soon account for nearly a third of the lake's total fish population, ultimately causing declines in most other fish species, including prized sport and commercial fish such as walleye.

Bighead and silver carp were imported to the southern U.S. from Asia decades ago and have migrated north through the Mississippi River system. These invasive fish are established in watersheds close to the Great Lakes, but not in the lakes themselves, researchers say. Nonetheless, their arrival will likely increase food competition, since they will need to eat the tiny plants and animals native fish currently depend on. In addition to walleye, fish that could take the hardest hit include rainbow trout, gizzard shad and emerald shiners, according to a news release.

Ultimately, Asian carp could account for as much as 34 percent of the overall fish weight in Lake Erie, according to UM projections.

"Fortunately, the percentage would not be as high as it is today in the Illinois River, where Asian carp have caused large changes in the ecosystem and have affected human use of the river," Hyong Zhang, assistant research scientist at UM's Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research in the School of Natural Resources and Environment, said in the release.

Comparatively, previous predictions suggest the impact of Asian carp on the Great Lakes would be minor since these waters are not particularly suitable for the interloper.

"We don't know how these two Asian carp species are going to do in Lake Erie, so we have to incorporate that uncertainty into our model projections," co-author Doran Mason added in the university's release. "It's like using computer models to predict a hurricane's path and intensity and including the margin of error in the forecast."

News from the study wasn't all bad – especially for smallmouth bass who feed on juvenile carp. In fact, researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) suggest smallmouth bass and a few other native fish species who also feed on juvenile carp could see population increases. 

The study was recently published in the journal Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.

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