Research at the Great Lakes Center focuses on the ecology and ecosystems of the Great Lakes and their tributaries. GLC research scientists, affiliates at Buffalo State University, and collaborators from other institutions bring diverse areas of expertise to the Great Lakes. Such expertise enables scientists to provide policymakers with information, which in turn promotes more informed decisions about ways to protect water quality, support the survival of native species, manage nuisance invasive species, monitor carcinogens in the food web, and many more. Research also contributes to scientific understanding of the complex interactions that occur in aquatic ecosystems around the world.
Much of the research done by GLC scientists is carried out from the Field Station and focuses on aquatic ecology and ecosystems. This includes large multi-agency studies of Lake Erie as well as graduate and undergraduate research projects.
The Great Lakes Center has several monitoring efforts ranging from a continuously monitoring buoy, to a biweekly lower trophic level sample in Lake Erie, to an intensive benthic sampling trip that spans all five Great Lakes.
Some of our research focuses on conservation of threatened freshwater species. Sasha Karatayev and Lyubov Burlakova are working on projects aimed at identifying threatened populations and genetic diversity of native freshwater mussels in Texas. We also completed a project aimed at understanding the habitat use and feeding ecology of the lake sturgeon in the Lower Niagara River.
The Great Lakes Center conducts research to study the effects of species that have already invaded the Great Lakes and their tributaries, as well as to identify species which have the potential to invade. Species of interest include zebra and quagga mussels and their parasites, round gobies, alewives, and Hemimysis anomala.
The EPA Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) Biology Monitoring Program is designed to provide managers access to biological data on zooplankton and benthos to support decision-making. In collaboration with Cornell University, we collect benthos (Buffalo State), zooplankton, and chlorophyll data (Cornell University) across the five Great Lakes from 2012 to 2022, analyze this data, and make it available to environmental and fisheries managers. The project has been renewed through 2028.
Additional research projects include impact of dreissenids on the lower food web, development of remote sensing methods, evaluation of early detection systems for invasives, and evaluation of biotic indices of ecosystem health. The project will be conducted in association with the Cooperative Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI) years in each of the Great Lakes.
Benthic data collected in 2012-2022 have been submitted and approved by the U.S. EPA Great Lakes National Program Office. These data are the basis for individual lake reports as well as reports for the State of the Great Lakes. Seventeen years of GLNPO Biology Monitoring Program benthic data were recently analyzed by Burlakova et al. (Burlakova et al., 2018) to reveal temporal and spatial trends in benthic community structure across the lakes. In 2018, we published a Special Issue containing 18 papers in the Journal of Great Lake Research (“U.S. EPA GLNPO Long-Term Monitoring of the Laurentian Great Lakes: Approaches, achievements and lessons learned,” Eds. Burlakova, L., A. Karatayev, L. Rudstam, and E. Hinchey). Together with our Cornell collaborators, we have published over 45 papers, presented over 120 talks at regional and international meetings, wrote 6 reports and organized 22 special scientific sessions on Great Lakes monitoring at national and international meetings. Some of the publications and reports of the 2014-2021 CSMI benthic surveys are available on the Publications page.
Also, check out this video of a nighttime ponar grab, taken during August 2013 while our researchers were aboard the R/V Lake Guardian. (Video credit: US EPA.)
The Great Lakes Monitoring Program by Great Lakes National Program Office includes both collection of samples from 57 long-term stations sampled every year and a much more detailed survey conducted on each lake every 5 years within Coordinated Science and Monitoring Initiative (CSMI). We participated in these surveys in 2014 (Lake Erie), 2015 (Lake Michigan), 2016 (Lake Superior), 2017 (Lake Huron), 2018 (Lake Ontario), 2019 (Lake Erie), 2021 (Lake Michigan), and 2022 (Superior and Huron). The Lake Michigan survey was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions and collected in 2021 instead. Both Lake Superior and Lake Huron CSMI surveys were collected in 2022.
Read the report on the Publications page.
News articles: Newsletter #21: CSMI Lake Huron survey on Canadian boat
The Great Lakes Center, in collaboration with the U.S. EPA’s Great Lakes Biology Monitoring Program and Office of Research and Development-Great Lakes Toxicology and Ecology Division, has developed a new method for rapid assessment of dreissenid mussel populations in lakes. The method uses a Benthic Imaging System (BIS) to estimate population size of these invaders in near-real time. The BIS consists of Go-Pro cameras and lights mounted to a steel frame that is lowered to the lakebed from a ship. The resulting bottom images are analyzed via imaging software to estimate mussel density and percent coverage. The new method substantially reduces the time required to map distributions of dreissenid mussels across large spatial scales compared to traditional sediment collection methods. This increase in spatial resolution and reporting times of monitoring is especially important considering that the quagga mussel is now the primary regulator of phosphorus cycling in the lower four Great Lakes and their tissues and shells now contain nearly as much phosphorus as the entire water columns of the impacted Great Lakes (Li et. al., 2021). The resulting research paper Rapid assessment of Dreissena population in Lake Erie using underwater videography is published online with @SpringerNature in Hydrobiologia. This method for Dreissena rapid assessment was applied in Lake Michigan in 2021 and will be applied to other Great Lakes in the future as a valuable addition to conventional bottom grab monitoring.
Images from side-looking Benthic Imaging System (BIS) cameras used for rapid assessment of dreissenid populations during CSMI surveys are also used to assess spatial distribution of benthos and Mysis. Communities of benthic macroinvertebrates are among the most useful indicators for biological assessment of environmental and anthropogenic stressors, but both sample processing and species identification are time-intensive, often requiring several years to identify all samples from a large-scale survey. Mapping benthic landscape or “benthoscape” structure and dynamics using underwater video can provide valuable and cost-effective assessment of bottom habitats on large spatial scales with minimal habitat disturbance.
In 2019, during the CSMI benthic survey in Lake Erie, we used this approach to characterize benthic habitats, and then tested whether visual classification could serve as an indicator of hypoxia (Burlakova et al., 2023). We identified four habitat types that differed significantly in near-bottom dissolved oxygen concentration and confirmed that video analysis can provide a quick and reliable method to detect habitats affected by periodic hypoxia. Video identification of benthoscapes may be important for regional monitoring of over 20 hypoxic zones documented in the Great Lakes where the extent and magnitude of hypoxia currently represent a major knowledge gap. We used this method to detect hypoxic habitats in 2022 on Saginaw Bay of Lake Huron, and this year we are planning to apply it in Hamilton Bay of Lake Ontario.
Oneida Lake is the largest and best studied inland lake in New York State, with a strong regional, economic, and recreational importance. Frank Collins Baker, a prominent malacologist, conducted one of the world’s first quantitative benthic studies in 1915–1917, finding that Oneida supported the most diverse molluscan communities in the state. Baker provided a very thorough description of his study in two books (Baker 1916, 1918) and several papers. Subsequent studies replicating Baker’s sampling design were conducted in 1967 (Harman and Forney 1970) at the peak of eutrophication, and in 1992–95, shortly after the invasion of Dreissena in 1991 (Harman 2000). This produced a unique historical dataset enabling a rigorous assessment of changes in the structure and species richness of the molluscs.
In 2012, we conducted a detailed historical analysis of the mollusc community of Oneida Lake based on our comprehensive lake-wide study that year and previous surveys dating back to 1915 (Karatayev et al., 2014). In the early 20th century, the lake had high water clarity, abundant macrophytes and benthic algae, supporting diverse molluscan community with 32 gastropod and 9 unionid species. By the 1960s, lake turbidity increased due to anthropogenic eutrophication, resulting in a 38% decline in species richness and a 95% reduction in abundance of native gastropods grazing on benthic algae. Following the invasion of Dreissena spp. in 1991 and subsequent increases in water clarity, gastropods in the lake dramatically increased, and by 2012, their species richness and abundance reached levels similar to reported in 1915–1917. In contrast, filter-feeding unionids were extirpated by dreissenids.
In 2014, another exotic species was found in Oneida Lake. The round goby is a bottom-feeder fish from Eurasia known to feed on molluscs and may change their community composition, abundance, and distribution. To investigate their impacts on Oneida Lake molluscs, in August 2022 we conducted a detailed survey of molluscs at historic stations of the lower South Bay, the best studied part of Oneida Lake, and we collected and identified over a hundred samples. In July through August 2023, we are planning to expand our survey to the whole lake.
Over 110 lake-wide benthic surveys were conducted on the Laurentian Great Lakes since 1929. However, these studies often are not readily available, and have never been combined in one dataset to preserve historic data. According to our estimations, primary data for at least 20% of all surveys are incomplete or have already been lost. For over three years, the Great Lakes Center has been conducting inventory of benthic surveys for all Great Lakes to create a database with all the available information on species composition, distribution, density, and biomass of benthic invertebrates. Considering the rarity of long-term benthic studies in lake ecosystems, these data set could be useful to explore effects of different environmental factors and exotic species on community organization, for monitoring of water quality, biodiversity, exotic species introduction, fish food base assessment, and other ecosystem services provided by benthic community. Our first complete dataset on the Lake Ontario benthic community includes taxonomic data to the species level for 11 of the surveys and data to the group level for another two surveys covering the last 54 years, and was submitted as a data paper currently in review in Ecology.
Benthic nepheloid layers (BNLs) are areas of high turbidity and suspended solids that form near the benthos during summer stratification. BNLs can be several meters thick and are common in the Great Lakes. The suspended sediment and other material that build BNLs can come from a variety of sources, including sediment resuspension, entrainment of spring runoff in the hypolimnion, settling of particles from the epilimnion, and from density currents. Together with Richard Barbiero and James Watkins, we are analyzing GLNPO long-term data to examine relationships between BNL intensity/thickness and benthic invertebrate production, and to compare current BNL intensity and thickness to historical data from studies prior to Dreissena invasion.
The Western New York Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (WNY PRISM) works to address invasive species priorities using a coordinated partnership for which we provide leadership, technical assistance, and opportunities for collaboration. Our goal is to improve, restore, and protect local aquatic and terrestrial resources by improving the effectiveness of invasive species management. This partnership is supported by a NYS DEC Environmental Protection Award through December 2023.
This project is investigating stream drift across an array of streams with or without round goby populations. Seasonal drift collections, benthic invertebrate abundances, and fish community structure are being investigated to assess drift response to goby presence. This project also will examine emergence patterns and riparian spider abundance. Emergence specialist spiders (Tetragnathidae) are known to adjust their feeding locations based, in part, on emergence density. We are exploring whether this behavior is evident in stream sections dominated by round gobies.
Recently, a small pond in the region was invaded by red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii). This invasive crayfish has had significant food web impacts in other locations it has invaded, leading to loss of littoral macrophyte beds and changes in fish communities. We are attempting an intensive trapping campaign to assess changes in population size structure and reproductive phenology.
Halogenated compounds and pharmaceuticals in eggs from piscivorous birds nesting in the Niagara and St. Lawrence Rivers. We measured bioaccumulation and potential impacts to future avian predator populations nesting in the Lower Great Lakes region. We have collected eggs of eight species of nesting piscivorous birds and we are analyzing them to map the prevalence of halogenated contaminants and food web biomagnification in the region.
In this project, we are testing egg development, hatching success, behavioral responses, and metabolomics of fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas) exposed to ambient Niagara River water and urban effluent purified by advanced oxidation products (H2O2, peracetic acid, UV light). Fish at various developmental stages are affected by contaminants not removed by wastewater treatment plants from the effluent and also by the cleansing and purification methods proposed to further increase effluent quality before it enters the Niagara River.
Since the summer of 2011, we have deployed an automatic buoy provided by GLOS (Great Lakes Observation System) into Lake Erie. The buoy is maintained and run through the Great Lakes Center as a part of a regionally distributed network of 19 fixed monitoring buoys that are located throughout the five Great Lakes. The buoy is one of six standard GLOS buoys and the only one located in the Eastern basin of Lake Erie.
The GLOS buoy is deployed 5 miles NNW of Dunkirk in 30 meters of water. The buoy is 16 feet in length, 4 feet in diameter and weighs a little over 650lbs. It collects meteorological information including solar radiation, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity, as well as wave height, direction and period information. The buoy also measures water temperature from the surface to 20m in depth, and dissolved oxygen and conductivity at 20m. Data collected are logged and transmitted via a cellular link back to the Great Lakes Center. The information collected from this buoy and from the whole GLOS system can be used for climate modeling, lake current and energy budget modeling, as well as being useful for the study of nutrient dynamics and fisheries. The system is also useful for commercial and recreational navigation by providing real time information regarding wind and wave conditions.
In the summer of 2012, buoy evidence was used to help explain a fish kill.
We received another year of funding to operate the eastern Lake Erie Buffalo State/Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) buoy, including $5100 for salary recovery and associated fringe costs. This funding comes despite decreased funding opportunities on the heels of a successful 2022 season. Continued success in funding is a result of the fact that we have reliably operated buoys for the GLOS network since 2012. Our buoy is the only GLOS buoy operating in eastern Lake Erie, making it an important source of information for a variety of stakeholders. The GLOS buoy is gaining in popularity and, once again, we expect over 20,000 visits to the GLOS website by users looking to see lake conditions and our buoy data are regularly included on Channel 4 Television News weather reports.
GLOS buoy website (search for Dunkirk Buoy BSC1)
News article: Newsletter #17: Popular GLOS buoy receives an upgrade
Photo galleries: Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) buoy
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