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Plant, animal or microbe: invasive species can cause harm to the environment and economy

August 5, 2019

Quagga mussel group

In our second piece in this three-part series covering Lake Erie, we are discussing the effects of invasive species on the Lake Erie ecosystem. Invasive species are not native to an area and cause harm to the environment or economy. They can be a plant, animal, or even a microbe. More than 180 non-native aquatic species are now living in the Great Lakes.

The invasive species affecting Lake Erie the most are zebra and quagga mussels. These small, fingernail-shaped mollusks made their way to the Great Lakes in the ballast water of ships.

Invasive mussels function like underwater vacuum cleaners, sucking up small organisms, reducing murkiness, and clearing the water. Although clear water may seem "healthier," this clarity allows sunlight to penetrate deep into the water, fueling algae growth. These mussels also know to selectively reject or spit out toxic producing algae in favor of more desirable algae.

At this point, invasive mussels cannot be completely removed from the Great Lakes, but partners in the Invasive Mussel Collaborative including governments, non-government organizations, universities, and businesses are working to manage and control the spread of these species. Much has been learned, but there is still more work to be done. Active research, monitoring, and management programs are underway.

Now that we've covered the basics of algal blooms and their relationship with invasive species, our next piece in the Erie Series will round up actions underway to monitor and restore the system.

In our concluding article to this series, we will discuss what is being done to help improve the Lake Erie ecosystem by Michigan and regional partners.

The first article in this series is available on the MI Environment website.

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