Human-mediated and natural dispersal of an invasive fish in the eastern Great Lakes



The globally invasive Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus) was introduced to the Great Lakes around 1990, spreading widely and becoming the dominant benthic fish in many areas. The speed and scope of this invasion is remarkable and calls into question conventional secondary spread models and scenarios. We utilized nine microsatellites to identify large-scale genetic structure in Round Goby populations in the eastern Great Lakes, and assessed the role of colonization vs. secondary transport and dispersal in developing this structure. We identified three clusters, corresponding with Lake Huron, eastern Lake Erie, and western Lake Erie plus eastern Lake Ontario, along with three highly divergent populations. Bottleneck analysis identified founder effects in two divergent populations. Regression analyses of isolation by distance and allelic richness vs. distance from the initial invasion site were consistent with limited migration. However, some populations in eastern Lake Erie and Lake Ontario showed anomalously low genetic distance from the original site of colonization, consistent with secondary transport of large numbers of individuals via ballast water. We conclude that genetic structure of Round Goby in the Great Lakes principally resulted from long-distance secondary transport via ballast water with additional movement of individual via bait buckets and natural dispersal. The success of Round Gobies represents an interesting model for colonization characterization; however, those same attributes present significant challenges for conservation and fisheries management. Current management likely prevents many new species from arriving in the Great Lakes, but fails to address the transport of species within the lakes after they arrive; this is an issue of clear and pressing importance.

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The authors would like to thank R. Walter and K. McLean for valuable input on early versions of the manuscript. Funding was provided by NSERC Discovery grants to H.J.M. and D.D.H., and a Canada Research Chair to H.J.M. The manuscript was greatly improved by the suggestions of two anonymous reviewers.

Author information


  1. Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, University of Windsor, 401 Sunset Ave., Windsor, ON, N9B 3P4, Canada

    • Mattias L. Johansson
    • , Bradley A. Dufour
    • , Kyle W. Wellband
    • , Lynda D. Corkum
    • , Hugh J. MacIsaac
    •  & Daniel D. Heath


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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Correspondence to Mattias L. Johansson.