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Lake Erie “Ponarpalooza:” Scientists Conduct Survey of Lake Erie Bottom-Dwelling Organisms

Video capture from Lake Erie
Image from 2019 CSMI Lake Erie Benthos Survey, taken by an underwater video camera, showing the lakebed, 14 meters deep at station 959 in the Central Basin of Lake Erie. You can see sediment bedforms, or ripples and dunes formed by flowing water, and Quagga mussels living on rocks and on native Unionid mussels.

(July 18, 2019) - As part of the 2019 Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI), teams of Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) partners aboard the EPA research vessel Lake Guardian from July 15-23 will monitor and map the distribution of bottom-dwelling organisms, known as benthos, to better understand the health of Lake Erie’s lower food web.

Benthic organisms are critical components of Lake Erie’s food web. They provide food for native fish such as yellow perch, white perch, burbot, white bass and lake whitefish in addition to non-native species including round goby, rainbow smelt and alewife. Benthic organisms include amphipods, which are small crustaceans, mollusks, annelid worms, and insect larvae. Collecting data on the composition and health of the benthic community is essential to understanding how energy and nutrients are cycled throughout the lake, and whether changes to those cycles are occurring. Benthic organisms are also important indicators of ecosystem health, as many benthic species are sensitive to pollution.

On the 2019 CSMI benthos survey, scientists will collect underwater video footage and “grab” samples of the lake bottom sediment via a Ponar grab. Videos and samples will allow the research team to estimate the presence and abundance of bottom-dwelling species, with a special emphasis on the distribution of invasive Quagga mussels. They will compare 2019 data to results from past surveys to understand how the Lake Erie benthic community has changed over time and determine if Quagga mussel abundance, growth and health in Lake Erie are changing at different rates than in the other Great Lakes.

The teams conducting this research are made up of several GLRI partners:

  •     Environmental Protection Agency
  •     National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  •     Buffalo State College
  •     Wright State University
  •     Cornell University
  •     Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education
  •     Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research

Funding for this survey is provided through GLNPO under the GLRI.