USGS - science for a changing world

U.S. Geological Survey - Great Lakes Science Center

Ecological Processes

Interactions between organisms and their environment are dynamic in nearshore environments. Determining gaps in our current knowledge relating to coastal Great Lakes ecosystems and the ecological processes that take place within allows us to target areas in need of additional research. This, in turn, promotes better management of available resources and supports a proactive approach to arising issues that may stress the ecosystem. The USGS-GLSC is examining ecological processes at work in western Lake Erie, Saginaw Bay, and rivermouth ecosystems (such as where the Maumee River empties into Lake Erie) to fill in knowledge gaps and improve ecosystem characterization, monitoring, and prediction efforts, as needed. For example, harmful algal blooms (HABs) are a growing problem in western Lake Erie and researchers are focused on uncovering essential pieces of information that will allow for better bloom forecasting and prevention. Through the USGS-GLSC’s coastal Gap Analysis Program, researchers are working to identify critical coastal habitat and species in need of specific and immediate management efforts. Many of these species in need are fish that utilize coastal habitats for feeding, spawning, or providing protection for juveniles. Known migratory corridors and preferred habitats are being examined so that restoration efforts can be improved and important fish species can be protected.


Harmful algal blooms (HABs) of Microcystis species are a growing problem in western Lake Erie (Bridgman et a

Principal Investigator: Mary Evans

The Maumee River has been designated an Area of Concern (AOC) due to legacy contaminants, sedimentation, and habitat loss that have resulted in beneficial use impairments. Although progress toward delisting has been achieved, some intractable impairments remain, especially in the lower river. Remediation of impairments has been made difficult because no master habitat plan exists to guide restoration and incorporate recent findings on how Great Lakes Rivermouths function. This information is needed to more rapidly achieve delisting, and to apply immediately toward remediation of impairments.

Principal Investigator: Jeff Schaeffer

There is a critical need for science describing rivermouth ecosystems--the places where tributaries meet wetland and coastal processes to form productive freshwater estuaries; these habitats link riverine (landscape) and Great Lakes nearshore (and ultimately deepwater) systems. For example, it is generally agreed that rivermouths are key nurseries for migratory fishes; however this dynamic is poorly understood for most species. Rivermouths are also the hubs of human interaction with the Great Lakes proper, in terms of both impacts and appreciation. Yet despite their ecological and human importance, these key ecosystems are poorly understood and little studied. We are studying Great Lakes Rivermouths to learn about the processes that make them important as sites of fish and wildlife production, with special emphasis on their role in providing ecosystem services that could help coastal communities achieve economic revitalization. Our most important finding to date is that many rivers experience flow reversal during seiches; this moves lake water far upstream and creates a complex mixing zone that provides critical nutrients for the organisms living there. Nutrient availability is likely enhanced by mixing, but also highly dependent on watershed characteristics.

Principal Investigator: Jeff Schaeffer

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