NAS - Nonindigenous Aquatic Species

Neogobius melanostomus
(Round Goby)
Fishes
Exotic
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Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences Archive, University of Michigan, Bugwood.org
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Neogobius melanostomus (Pallas, 1814)

Common name: Round Goby

Synonyms and Other Names: Apollonia melanostoma (Pallas, 1814), Apollonia melanostomus (Pallas, 1814); see Stepien and Tumeo (2006) for name change.

Taxonomy: available through www.itis.govITIS logo

Identification: Distinguishing characteristics have been given by Berg (1949), Miller (1986), Crossman et al. (1992), Marsden and Jude (1995), and Hubbs et al. (2004). Young round gobies are solid slate gray. Older fish are blotched with black and brown and have a white to greenish dorsal fin with a black spot at the posterior base. This goby is very similar to native sculpins but can be distinguished by the presence of fused pelvic fins (sculpins have two separate fins) (Marsden and Jude 1995; Hubbs et al. 2004).

Size: 30.5 cm; 17.8 cm maximum seen in United States

Native Range: Fresh water, prefers brackish (Stepien and Tumeo 2006). Eurasia including Black Sea, Caspian Sea, and Sea of Azov and tributaries (Miller 1986).

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Nonindigenous Occurrences: This species was introduced into the St. Clair River and vicinity on the Michigan-Ontario border where several collections were made in 1990 on both the U.S. and the Canadian side (Jude et al. 1992; D. J. Jude and D. Nelson, personal communication). By 1994 the species had spread to the north end of Lake St. Clair at Anchor Bay. Gobies have been taken inland in the Shiawasse and Flint rivers since August 1996 and June 1997, respectively, and the River Raisin in 1999 (D. Jude, personal communication). In 1998, the goby was reported from numerous places along the eastern shore of Michigan in Lake Huron such as Lexington, Tawas City, and Thunder Bay River (Hintz 2000, A. Hintz, personal communication). Gobies have also been collected in Michigan's upper peninsula at Port Inland and in Little Bay De Noc (G. Madison, personal communication). They have also been collected in the upper peninsula ports of Kipling and Escanaba, and the northeastern port of Charlevoix (Clapp et al. 2001) as well as Lake Michigan and the Saginaw River (Czypinski et al. 2000; Hintz 2000). Established in Muskegon Lake (Alexander 2004). In 1994, the round goby began appearing in southern Lake Michigan near the Calumet-Chicago area of Illinois (T. Cavender, P. Thiel, personal communication). Neogobius melanostomus also has been documented to occur in lower Lake Michigan at the ports of Muskegon, Grand Haven, and Saugatuck (Clapp et al. 2001). In 1999, the goby was near the confluence of the Calumet-Sag Channel and the Chicago Sanitary and Shipping Canal (F. Veraldi, personal communication). Collected in the La Grange reach of the river between Beardstown and Peoria in 2004 (K. Irons, pers. comm.). It was first collected in Indiana from the Grand Calumet River in 1993 (J. Francis, personal communication). The following year it was taken in Hammond Harbor (J. Francis and T. Lauer, personal communication); then in the Port of Indiana and East Chicago in 1996 (J. Francis, personal communication), in Wolf Lake (P. Charlebois, personal communication), and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (Tilmant 1999). Gobies have been reported from Alpena, Arenac, Bay, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Huron, Iosco, Mackinac, Monroe, Ottowa, Saginaw, Schoolcraft, and Wayne Counties, Michigan (Bowen, unpublished data). In 1993, it was collected at Fairport Harbor in Lake Erie, and from the mouth of the Grand River in Lake County, Ohio (Knight 1994). Annual surveys are collecting gobies from Lake Erie at Conneaut, Ashtabula, Cleveland, and Sandusky, Ohio (Czypinski et al. 2002; S. Keppner, personal communication). In 1994, the species was taken from the lake offshore at depths of 70 feet, and reportedly from Lorain Harbor in Lorain County, Ohio, 60 miles west of Fairport, although there are no vouchers to confirm this location (T. Cavender, personal communication). It is established in Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge (USFWS 2005). This species was also collected in the Maumee and Cuyahoga Rivers (Czypinski et al. 2002). The round goby was first reported from Pennsylvania in October 1996, in Lake Erie off Walnut Creek, just west of the city of Erie (C. Murray, personal communication) and later collected in Lake Erie in ruffe surveys (Czypinski et al. 2000; Czypinski et al. 2002). In 2001 and 2002, a study found that several Pennsylvania tributaries of Lake Erie had established populations of round goby: Elk Creek, Twentymile Creek, Walnut Creek, and Sixteen Mile Creek (Phillips et al. 2003). In July 1995, a single individual was collected from Wisconsin waters of the St. Louis Bay, Lake Superior, on the Minnesota-Wisconsin state line in a trawl (T. Busiahn, personal communication); This species was also collected in the St. Louis River estuary from 1999-2001 (Czypinski et al. 2000; Czypinski et al. 2002). In May 1996, the first single adult was taken in Duluth Harbor, Minnesota. By 1999, gobies were found in several other locations within the harbor (D. Jensen, personal communication). There was an unconfirmed report of a round goby in eastern Lake Ontario, New York, during the summer of 1995. Reports of gobies in eastern Lake Erie in Buffalo, New York were confirmed in 1998 (Czypinski et al. 2002; S. Keppner, personal communication). They have been reported in the Erie Canal, Buffalo River, St. Lawrence River, Genesee River, Tonowanda Creek, and Lake Ontario in 2004 and 2005 (Goehle, unpublished data). Gobies have also been found in the Welland Canal near Welland, Ontario, Canada (Anonymous, personal communication). The first confirmed collection of a round goby in Lake Ontario occurred in July 1998. A single fish was collected at Port Dalhousie at the mouth of the Welland Canal in Ontario, Canada (C. Scobie, personal communication). Gobies were collected in Lake Huron in 1994 at Goderich, Ontario. They have since been collected near Bayfield, Grand Bend, and Port Franks, Ontario (A. Dextrase, personal communication). Along the north shore of Lake Erie, gobies have been reported from Colchester, Point Pelee, Port Glasgow, Port Bruce, and Port Burwell, Ontario. A single goby was taken in the St. Lawrence River near Quebec, Quebec in 1997 (L. Lapierre, personal communication). In July 1999, a goby was collected in northeastern Lake Ontario in the Bay of Quinte (R. Dermott, personal communication).

Ecology: The round goby perches on rocks and other substrates in shallow areas, yet it has also been reported to flourish in a variety of habitat types including open sandy areas and in abundant aquatic macrophytes (Jude and DeBoe 1996; Clapp et al. 2001). This goby also has a well developed sensory system that enhances its ability to detect water movement. This allows it to feed in complete darkness, giving it an advantage over other fish in the same habitat (Wisconsin Sea Grant 2008). The zebra mussel may have facilitated the invasion of the round goby and other Eurasian species by providing an abundant food source (Ricciardi and MacIsaac 2000).

Means of Introduction: Introduced into the Great Lakes from the Black Sea via freighter ballast. Spread to Lake Superior by freighters operating within the Great Lakes.

Status: Already spread to all five Great Lakes, with large populations in Lakes Erie and Ontario. Likely to find suitable habitat throughout Lake Erie and in all Great Lakes waters at depths less than 60 m (USEPA 2008). Established outside of the Great Lakes basin in 1994 (Dennison, personal communication), and in 2010 spread into the lower Illinois River (Irons, personal communication)

Round goby was considered extremely abundant in the St. Clair River in 1994. Short trawls made in Lake Erie in October 1994 turned up 200 individuals. Frequent trawling in 1995 collected over 3,000 individuals near Fairport Harbor, Ohio (Knight, personal communication). Densities in Calumet Harbor exceed 20 per square meter (Marsden and Jude 1995). Gravid females and different size classes have been found in Lake Erie (Cavender, personal communication). In Lake Superior, primarily established in Duluth-Superior Harbor and lower St. Louis River, and absent from the remainder of the western portion of the lake (Bergstrom et al., 2008)

Impact of Introduction: The distribution of the round goby around the inshore areas of the Black and Caspian seas indicates their potential for widespread occupation of inshore habitats with cover, especially plants or rocky rubble, in the lower Great Lakes, yet they can migrate to deeper water 50-60 m in winter (Jude et al., 1992).

The numbers of native fish species have declined in areas where the round goby has become abundant (Crossman et al., 1992). This species has been found to prey on darters, other small fish, and lake trout eggs and fry in laboratory experiments. They also may feed on eggs and fry of sculpins, darters, and logperch (Marsden and Jude, 1995) and have also been found to have a significant overlap in diet preference with many native fish species. French and Jude (2001) suggested that round goby competes with rainbow darters (Etheostoma caeruleum), logperch (Percina caprodes), and northern madtoms (Noturus stigmosus) for small macroinvertebrates; however, Burkett and Jude (2015) found that gobies exhibited little diet overlap with most small benthic fishes.

Mottled sculpins (Cottus bairdi) have been particularly affected since the establishment of N. melanostomus (Marsden and Jude 1995). This is almost certainly due to competition with sculpins for spawning sites in large round goby (greater than 100 mm), for space in medium round goby (60-100 mm) and for food in small round goby (less than 60 mm) (Janssen and Jude 2001). Janssen and Jude (2001) argued that the main cause of the dramatic decline in the native mottled sculpin population is due to nesting interference with round goby; the other competition factors having a less severe impact, although they acknowledge the need for further research on food competition. Adults aggressively defend spawning sites and occupy prime spawning areas, keeping natives out (Marsden and Jude 1995; Dubs and Corkum 1996). Laboratory experiments have shown that the more aggressive N. melanostomus will evict C. bairdi from rock shelters that are being used for spawning or daytime predator evasion (Dubs and Corkum 1996). In trials where round gobies were introduced into tanks with mottled sculpin residents, the gobies approached and chased the resident sculpin (Dubs and Corkum 1996). When sculpin were released into resident round goby tanks, the sculpin were chased and bitten (Dubs and Corkum 1996). Sculpin did not exhibit any aggressive behavior towards the round gobies in any scenario (Dubs and Corkum 1996). In Calumet Harbor, there has been an absence of mottled sculpin nests and fish aged 0 since 1994, coinciding with N. melanostomus establishment (Janssen and Jude 2001). Neogobius melanostomus and C. bairdi both take daytime refuge from predators under rocks, emerging to feed nocturnally (Dubs and Corkum 1996). This space competition could displace C. bairdi into deeper and unprotected spaces where they can easily be predated. Competition for food between N. melanostomus and C. bairdi occurs most heavily when they are young (less than 60 mm). This is due to the overlap of an arthropod diet at this age (Janessen and Jude 2001).

The diet of larger round gobies consists mainly of zebra mussels, which no other fish species of the Great Lakes consumes so heavily, allowing round gobies to uniquely exploit a resource that could fuel a population explosion (Vanderploeg et al. 2002). Walleye anglers in Detroit report that at times, all they can catch are gobies, which eagerly attack bait (Marsden and Jude 1995).

The invasion of round gobies into Lake Erie has had very real environmental and economic impacts. The State of Ohio has shut down the smallmouth bass fishery in Lake Erie during the months of May and June. The reason is that high predation rates on nests are affecting smallmouth recruitment. Under normal circumstances male smallmouth bass guard nests and are effective in keeping round gobies away. When males are removed, round gobies immediately invade and have been shown to eat up to 4,000 eggs within 15 minutes. The months of May and June normally account for 50 percent of the total smallmouth catch in Lake Erie so there will be a considerable loss in funds generated by recreational fishers (National Invasive Species Council 2004).

Neogobius melanostomus introductions may also be a vector for the spread of avian botulism. The change in behavior of infected gobies make them preferred prey items to piscivorous birds (Yule et al. 2006). At Lake Erie, botulism infected birds had been feeding more on round goby compared to uninfected birds (Corkum et al. 2004).

Not all impacts of the introduced round goby are negative. Round gobies comprise the majority of the diet for Lake Erie water snakes (Nerodia sipedon insularum), and the abundance of gobies has been credited for the increase in population size, increased growth rates, and larger body size of the snakes (King et al. 2006). Due to their increase in abundance, the Lake Erie water snake was removed from the federal Endangered Species List in 2011. In addition, round gobies provide an abundant food source for several sportfishes including walleye (Taraborelli et al. 2010), yellow perch (Truemper and Lauer 2005), and largemouth/smallmouth bass (Steinhart et al. 2004; Taraborelli et al. 2010).

Increased abundance of round goby in the diet of double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) may reduce chick growth and reproductive success, due to a lower energy density compared to other native fishes (Ruetz et al. 2009), and thus could provide some control over cormorant populations (Van Guilder and Seefelt 2013).

Round Goby may provide an entry point for polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into trophic webs. Macksasitorn et al. (2015) found a weak correlation between sediment and goby tissue PCB concentrations, with smaller gobies having higher PCB concentration.

Remarks: The diet of round gobies collected in the United States consists of aquatic insects, zebra mussels, and some native snails. Studies have shown a single goby can eat as many as 78 zebra mussels per day. This goby is a very pugnacious fish that feeds voraciously, and, as such, it may prey on the young of other deepwater bottom dwellers such as sculpins, darters, and logperch. Its well-developed lateral line may help it out compete natives for food in the murky Great Lakes waters. Its pugnacious appetite is not reserved solely for other species; round goby males are known to eat other males eggs when they take over a spawning ground (Janssen and Jude 2001, and references within). Adult round goby also have been known to feed on smaller round goby.

Pettitt-Wade et al. (2015) examined trophic niche breadth, plasticity, and overlap between round and tubenose gobies in Lakes Superior and St. Clair using stable isotope analysis. They found a higher isotopic trophic position and generally higher isotopic nichc breadth and plasticity in round gobies, with little overlap between size-matched round and tubenose gobies, and suggested that this increased isotopic niche breadth and plasticity has assisted in the establishement success of round goby in the Great Lakes (widely abundant and distributed vs. low abundance and localized distribution of tubenose goby).

The round goby's aggressive nature may allow individuals to dominate prime spawning sites, making these sites unavailable to natives. There is a long spawning period during which individuals can spawn every 20 days, while they aggressively defend their nests (Jude et al. 1992). Although early researchers expected introduced round gobies to be restricted to near-shore rocky or weedy habitats, the species has since been captured at depths as great as 21.5 m (Cavender, personal communication). Divers have found an unusual characteristic of N. melanostomus. When divers overturn rocks to expose round gobies in their daytime shelters, more round gobies come to the site to feed on exposed prey but also to observe the divers (Janssen and Jude 2001). Yet if a predator approaches, such as a small-mouthed bass (Micropterus dolomieu) or a rock bass (Amploplites rupestris), the gobies will seek shelter (Janssen and Jude 2001).

Although the species exhibits two pigmentation morphs and investigations were planned to determine whether more than one introduction of Neogobius occurred in the Great Lakes (Cavender, personal communication), only N. melanostomus has been observed.

Introduced populations of round gobies in the Great Lakes show reduced diversity and numbers of parasites compared to populations from its native range as well as to native Great Lakes fishes, providing some support for the 'enemy release hypothesis' for invasion success (Kvach and Stepien 2008; Gendron et al. 2012). However, Gendron et al. (2012) found that round gobies from Lake St. Clair (one of the earliest introduced populations) showed an increase in parasite diversity and density over time.

Round gobies have been shown to exhibit phenotypic plasticity in some life history characteristics, such as reproductive traits like number and size of mature oocytes, and this plasticity has been suggested to enhance establishment success at invasion fronts (Hôrková and Kovác 2015).

Coulter et al. (2015) examined the influence of various habitat characteristics (e.g., wetlands vs open water, productivity, zooplankton and fish community diversity) on the abundance of round goby at several sites in Lakes Michigan and Huron, finding that round goby catch per unit effort was generally related to biological productivity but the direction and strength of the relationship varied across sites.

Voucher specimens: Ohio (OSM, UF 98888); Michigan (UMMZ); Illinois (INHS). Indiana (INHS, UMMZ 224874). Voucher specimens from the Canadian side of the St. Clair River (UMMZ 217682, 218279; ROM 60675); Lake Ontario (Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, Peterborough, Ontario).

References: (click for full references)

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FishBase Fact Sheet

Author: Fuller, P., A. Benson, E. Maynard, M. Neilson, J. Larson, and A. Fusaro

Revision Date: 1/7/2016

Citation Information:
Fuller, P., A. Benson, E. Maynard, M. Neilson, J. Larson, and A. Fusaro. 2016. Neogobius melanostomus. USGS Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville, FL.
http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=713 Revision Date: 1/7/2016


This information is preliminary or provisional and is subject to revision. It is being provided to meet the need for timely best science. The information has not received final approval by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and is provided on the condition that neither the USGS nor the U.S. Government shall be held liable for any damages resulting from the authorized or unauthorized use of the information.


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The data represented on this site vary in accuracy, scale, completeness, extent of coverage and origin. It is the user's responsibility to use these data consistent with their intended purpose and within stated limitations. We highly recommend reviewing metadata files prior to interpreting these data.

Citation information: U.S. Geological Survey. [2016]. Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database. Gainesville, Florida. Accessed [5/28/2016].

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