EWN Publications

Hemimysis-driven novel ecosystem at a modified rubble-mound breakwater: An Engineering With Nature® Demonstration Project

Eric J. Geisthardt, Burton C. Suedel, and John A. Janssen
April 7, 2021

About This Publication

Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) repairs aging breakwater structures as part of routine maintenance to maintain safe navigation in Great Lakes commercial ports. A USACE repair to an existing breakwater structure in Milwaukee Harbor (WI) implementing Engineering With Nature (EWN) principles created complex rocky habitat by strategically placing cobblesized stone over conventional 5.4 to 9.1 metric ton boulders, thus creating “control” (boulder) and “treatment” (cobble) habitats. We evaluated the resultant nature-based breakwater (NBBW) developing food web versus an adjacent reference site on the same breakwater and determined that, unexpectedly, locally abundant Hemimysis anomala were impacting the food-web dynamics and feeding ecology of fishes occupying the structure. Fish and forage communities were sampled using gillnets, night scuba diving surveys, rock collections, and a novel trap to capture invertebrates. The resultant NBBW became home to a prolific population of nonindigenous Hemimysis, with indications that they were more abundant on cobble versus boulders, based on rainbow smelt feeding. This lithophilic/cave swelling mysid provided an important new food resource in Milwaukee Harbor for two introduced pelagic prey fishes: alewife (Alosa pseudoharengus) and rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax). Gillnetting and night scuba diving surveys confirmed that rainbow smelt preferred to forage on the cobble section (p < 0.05). Hemimysis were also the primary food item consumed by nearshore game fishes such as young-of-the-year (YOY) yellow perch (Perca flavescens), YOY largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), and juvenile rock bass (Ambloplites rupestris). We propose that those breakwaters that harbor abundant Hemimysis constitute novel ecosystems (ecosystems that include both native and non-native biota) that might benefit harbor fisheries if well-managed. This project demonstrated how a low-cost design modification could be applied during the repair of rubble-mound, breakwater structures to achieve benefits beyond safe navigation. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2021;00:1–14. Published 2021. This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.