EPA Grant to Fund Great Lakes Food Web Monitoring | Featured story

Fund to help the Great Lakes Food Network

Cornell received a $6,749,825 grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency to continue its lower food web monitoring and research efforts.

The project focuses on zooplankton, mysids (native shrimp-like organisms), and benthic invertebrates (backboneless bottom feeders, including native and exotic mussels).

The five-year competitive grant is funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, launched in 2010, and is part of a larger effort to restore and protect the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater body in the planet. Cornell is collaborating with researchers from the Great Lakes Center at SUNY Buffalo State College. Overall, the funds support the EPA’s Great Lakes Biological Monitoring Program and will implement GLRI’s third action plan to assess the health of the Great Lakes.

The research team will use the EPA’s R/V Lake Guardian research vessel to collect and analyze samples, build long-term datasets, and share them.

“Changes in lake ecosystems can happen very quickly,” said James Watkins, a senior research associate in the Department of Natural Resources and Environment and the grant’s principal investigator. “In 2004, Lake Huron experienced a major fishery collapse related to declines in phytoplankton and lower food web zooplankton. It is therefore very important not only to collect data, but also to disseminate the results quickly to inform those responsible. »

By understanding the current health of the food web, managers can take steps to respond to such changes.

One aspect of the grant will be to monitor invasive species and keep an eye out for new introductions. Over the past 30 years, the bottoms of the Great Lakes have seen increasing numbers of zebra mussels followed by quagga mussels, both of which are invasive species from Europe that arrived on this continent via ballast water discharge. Updated ballast water regulations are helping to reduce new introductions. Abundant mussels filter algae and have disrupted the base of the Great Lakes food web.

The spiny water flea, an abundant and large invasive plankton crustacean introduced in the 1980s, has outcompete the smaller native zooplankton, although researchers have found that some species of fish prey on them. “Our analysts also detected five new introductions of non-native zooplankton species to western Lake Erie since 2017, although none became invasive,” Watkins said.

Researchers sample the five Great Lakes in April and August. Additionally, each year the team will focus on one of the Great Lakes for more in-depth sampling. The research components of the grant include analyzing longer-term datasets, developing plans to improve monitoring, and aiming to research questions specific to each lake’s unique problems. Another major aspect of the grant will be to train new Great Lakes scientists by providing opportunities for technicians, graduate and undergraduate students.

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