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Environmental factors associated with unique lake communities in Maine Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife

Photograph overlooking Crater Lake, one of western Maine’s naturally fishless high elevation lakes.


January 2002 - December 2008


Throughout much of the 20th century, the introduction of game fish to inland waters of the United States and Canada was conducted at a furious pace. The goal of these introductions was generally to enhance game-fishing opportunities. In some cases, lakes and streams with native fish species, such as members of the Cyprinidae, were stocked with other species considered more desirable as game fish. In other cases, lakes and streams that were truly “fishless” were stocked. Until recently, fishless lakes were viewed as having little or no value to society, as indicated by the term “barren” that was widely used to describe them. Over the past several decades, however, there has grown a considerable body of knowledge supporting views of such “barren” water bodies as habitats for uniquely structured animal communities, as excellent trophic habitats for waterfowl, and as landscape-level source habitats for amphibians and other biota.
Over the past several decades, financial support for the documentation and management of the biodiversity and ecological integrity of public lands has increased. This has resulted in considerable effort toward the enumeration, conservation, and restoration of fishless lakes. However, accurate estimates of the number and distribution of these habitats, prior to the widespread stocking efforts of the mid- to late 20th century, are few. Estimates for six of Canada’s western mountain parks indicate that over 20% of their lakes have been altered through introductions of non-native fish. The situation in the United States is more extreme. Fewer than 45% of the 16,000 high lakes in the western mountains remain un-stocked, although 95% were naturally fishless. The rehabilitation of stocked lakes is now a priority for national park management in North America.
Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) has documented at least 30 fishless ponds in Maine; many ponds currently with fish are known to have been fishless prior to stocking. Documented fishless ponds and stocked but previously fishless ponds (and perhaps previously fishless ponds that were stocked and are now populated with naturalized stock) occur throughout the state, many in watershed headwaters. This wide distribution suggests that other fishless ponds likely exist. The ability to predict the likelihood that a particular pond is currently or historically fishless based on its landscape setting and geomorphic features would assist the MDIFW in balancing recreational management objectives with the responsibility to protect unique wildlife habitats. We will sample invertebrates in ponds in selected regions of Maine that are currently “fishfull” and compare those with ponds that have various degrees of fishlessness (naturally and those with a history of stocking). These data will be combined with geomorphic and geographic information to develop GIS-based models predicting locations of ponds that are most likely, naturally fishless. Macrovertebrate indicator species will be used to assess the accuracy of model predictions during subsequent field sampling. We will also develop and apply methodologies to document the historic presence or absence of fish in lakes predicted to be fishless but found to contain fish, to confirm model predictions.
Project objectives are:
1) Determine the effects of the introduction of fish on macroinvertebrate communities of fishless lakes in Maine.
2) Identify attributes of macroinvertebrate communities that indicate fishlessness.
3) Identify geomorphic and geographical factors controlling the distribution and abundance of fishless lakes in Maine.
4) Build GIS-based models predicting the probability that a given lake is fishless.
5) Assess the accuracy of the models using macroinvertebrate indicator species.

Research Products and Activities

Peer Reviewed Publications

  • Schilling, E. G., C. S. Loftin, K. E. DeGoosh, A. D. Huryn, and K. E. Webster. 2008. Predicting the historical distributions of naturally fishless lakes. Freshwater Biology 53:1021-1035.
  • Schilling, E. G., C. S. Loftin, and A. D. Huryn. 2009. Macroinvertebrates as indicators of fish absence in naturally fishless lakes. Freshwater Biology 54:181-202.
  • Schilling, E. G., C. S. Loftin, and A. D. Huryn. 2009. Effects of introduced fish on native macroinvertebrates in two types of historically fishless lakes. Biological Conservation 142:3030-3038.
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  • DeGoosh, K.E. Development and application of a paleolimnological inference model to identify historically fishless lakes in Maine. M.S. thesis, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Maine, C.S. Loftin and K.Webster, co-advisors.
  • Schilling, E.G. 2008. Effects of fish introductions on the geographic distribution and native invertebrate biodiversity of naturally fishless lakes in Maine. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Maine, Orono. 138 pp.


  • Loftin, C.S., E.G. Schilling, and A.D. Huryn. Landscape attributes and invertebrate communities of fishless lakes in Maine: an investigation of an unique aquatic habitat. Presented to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Fisheries Division, 3 September 2003, Orono, ME.
  • Schilling, E.G., C.S. Loftin, and A.D. Huryn. Macroinvertebrate communities of fishless lakes in Maine. Poster presentation at the annual meeting of the North American Benthological Society, Columbia, SC, June 3-7, 2007
  • Schilling, E.G., C.S.Loftin, and A.D. Huryn. Effects of introduced fish on macroinvertebrate communities in historically fishless headwater and kettle lakes. Presentation to the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Wildlife Division Meeting, Bangor ME.

Current Staff

Federal Staff: 95

Masters Students: 239

Phd Students: 142

Post Docs: 53

University Staff: 240

5 Year Summary

Students graduated: 701

Scientific Publications: 1936

Presentations: 4260



  • Cynthia LoftinPrincipal Investigator
  • Emily SchillingStudent
  • Katie DeGooshStudent

Funding Agencies

  • Cooperative Research Unit Program
  • Cooperative Research Units
  • Graduate Student Research Fellowship
  • Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
  • Maine Outdoor heritage Fund


Cooperative Research Units Program Headquarters Cooperators

  1. U.S. Geological Survey