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, 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 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.
Additional research projects include impact of dreissenids on the lower food web, and development of remote sensing methods. 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 2012-2018 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 40 papers, presented >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 2014-2016 CSMI benthic surveys are available on the Publications page.
The Great Lakes Monitoring Program by Great Lakes National Program Office includes both collection of samples from a few (9–16) 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), and 2019 (Lake Erie). The new 2017-2022 EPA funding allowed us to continue these surveys.
Read the report on the Publications page.
In 2018, we conducted one of the largest benthic-oriented surveys in the last decade. During September 2018, we visited 52 stations lake-wide and collected 138 Ponar benthic samples and Ponar video, 52 samples for benthic algae and primary productivity (Leon Katona, Wright State University), and 17 samples for little-studied benthic copepods Harpacticoida (Joseph Connolly, Cornell University). Janet Nestlerode (U.S. EPA, NHEERL Gulf Ecology Division) applied the Sediment Profile Imaging system (SPI) at 51 stations to explore sedimentary and biogenic features and possible relationships between these measures across known stress gradients (e.g., organic enrichment, eutrophication) for development of a SPI-based Freshwater Index of Benthic Habitat Quality. Finally, for Dreissena monitoring, we collected video data from 56 500 m-long transects and from an additional 34 nearshore stations using a drop-down camera (collaboration with Molly Wick, U.S. EPA Mid-Continent Ecological Division). This extensive survey was documented by Yola Monakhov Stockton (Art and Design Department, Buffalo State) and displayed as a photo exhibition and a poster at the 2019 IAGLR meeting. Based on the results of this survey, we are preparing a report and several manuscripts for a Special Issue of the Journal of Great Lakes Research.
Image caption: Knut Mehler and Alexander Karatayev working aboard the R/V Lake Guardian, September 2018.
Photo gallery: CSMI Lake Ontario 2018
In 2019, we collected benthic samples from 85 stations located in all three basins of Lake Erie. In addition, our collaborators collected samples to study benthic algae and primary productivity (Leon Katona, Wright State University), diversity of Harpacticoida (Joseph Connolly, Cornell University), and Sediment Profile images (Janet Nestlerode, U.S. EPA, NHEERL Gulf Ecology Division) to explore the effect of hypoxia on sedimentary and biogenic features. For Dreissena monitoring, we collected video data using a drop-down camera at 95 stations and video transects at 43 stations. Video data from the drop-down camera were used to test a new method of rapid assessment of Dreissena populations we are developing since all previous population assessment methods were based on bottom grab sampling that require several years to process. At the end of the survey, we produced a map of lake-wide Dreissena distribution in real time. Preliminary analysis revealed a strong decline in Dreissena populations in Lake Erie, especially in western basin, compared to the previous survey in 2014. This method for Dreissena rapid assessment will be applied for Lake Michigan in 2020 and other Great Lakes in the future as a valuable addition to conventional bottom grab monitoring.
Image caption: Research scientists aboard the R/V Lake Guardian. Paul Glyshaw (CILER), Elizabeth Hinchey Malloy (EPA), Lyuba Burlakova (GLC), and Natalia Mrozinska (GLC).
In 2017, we received GLRI funding to create a DNA Barcode Reference Library for Mollusca, Annelida, and minor phyla. This project is one of three funded by the EPA Great Lake Program Office toward genetic barcoding of aquatic invertebrate species from the Great Lakes. Two additional projects target zooplankton and rotifers (PI M. Pfrender, Notre Dame University, and Cornell University), and benthic arthropods (PI D. Lodge, Cornell University). Barcode sequences for collected specimens are generated by the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, Guelph University, Canada. The overall goal of the three collaborative projects is to advance the current state of genetic barcode library for invertebrates in the Great Lakes, which will improve our knowledge of Great Lakes diversity and help in early detection of nonnative and potentially invasive species to this important resource. To date, we have submitted 13 plates with specimens of all the taxa. In total, 947 sequences were generated by Barcode of Life Data System (BOLD) based on 942 specimens submitted. Preliminary estimates show that approximately 44% of Annelida, 87% Mollusca, 63% of Platyhelminthes, 100% of Cnidarian, Nematomorpha and Nemertea, and 29% of Bryozoan species on the targeted list have been barcoded to date. Currently we are analyzing genetic results, verifying taxonomy, resolving taxonomic issues, and working with BOLD on creating a Barcode reference library that will include all records created during the funded projects and will also include all previously generated data for species in the Great Lakes watershed existing in BOLD. A value-added product of this project will be a Great Lakes basin-wide species list for the taxonomic groups targeted in this project that we are preparing during the final year of the project. The results of the project were presented by Susan Daniel at IAGLR and other regional meetings.
Image caption: Knut Mehler and Leon Katona (Wright State University) collecting mollusks and annelids from the Genesee River in Rochester, NY, in September 2018.
The Western New York Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (WNY PRISM) continues to identify, map, and develop management plans to control aquatic and terrestrial invasive species in the eight western-most counties of New York. The office hires several seasonal crew members each summer to aide in its management and restoration efforts, in addition to employing a full-time Coordinator and Project Manager. The office coordinates management activities and public outreach efforts among a wide diversity of partners in the region, including NGO’s, state and federal agencies, and academic institutions.
This project is investigating the cues and pre-migratory behavior of round gobies in Lake Ontario and connecting waters. The activity budgets of fish from Lake Ontario (migratory population) and Ellicott Creek (non-migratory population) are being assessed for movement behavior, distances moved, and seasonal activity patterns to discern the influence of habitat context.
Researchers at the GLC are documenting the seasonal population density, size distribution, and nutrient content of round gobies in the nearshore of western Lake Ontario, as well as the lower Niagara River, to understand cues related to their offshore and inshore annual migration. The benthic invader departs the nearshore in later fall, moving off to deeper waters in excess of 100 m over a period of a few weeks, and returns in the spring over a longer period. The project is addressing the contribution of this offshore migration to the offshore nutrient budget by comparing the population density, size distribution, and nutrient mass in the migrating and returning goby population.
This project is a new collaboration with USFWS set to begin Fall 2019. It will assess all historical records of sturgeon spawning habitat in tributaries to Lake Erie through investigations of DEC and library archives. It will revisit those same locations and document any changes in land use condition or in-stream spawning habitats. Ultimately, these activities should allow an update of tributary habitat suitability values for lake sturgeon in the Lake Erie watershed.
Newsletter article: Moving forward on mapping historic lake sturgeon habitat
In this project, we are testing different approaches to improving the removal of pharmaceuticals and antibiotics from treated wastewater, using toxicological testing of the organisms exposed to the alternative water treatments. The testing includes LC50 and life history experiments in crustaceans (Daphnia) and behavioral and developmental responses of larval fish (fathead minnow, Pimephales promelas). The changes in biological endpoints and metabolic products (metabolomics) in these organisms will determine if additional treatment of effluents would be beneficial for wildlife.
We are collecting and analyzing samples of aquatic birds and their eggs to determine the prevalence of contaminants in the Niagara River’s wildlife, particularly those that contain halogenated compounds with a tendency to bioaccumulate. We are analyzing for flame retardants (PBDEs), PCBs and the legacy pesticide DDT, which cause impairments in fish and wildlife.
Newsletter article: Common terns impacted by persistent organic pollutants
In this project, we are looking into the effect of climate change (increased CO2 levels) and human activities in watersheds (logging, acid rain) on calcium levels in soft water. Many lakes in Canada and around the world are soft water lakes, i.e., they have low buffering capacity. One of the problems with declining calcium levels in these lakes is that aquatic organisms that need calcium for their exoskeletons or shells are not able to obtain it from the water and this deficiency may carry up the food web. We are testing, in an experimental setting, calcification in snails that are raised in a soft water medium resembling natural calcium concentrations and exposed to different levels of atmospheric CO2 and calcium.
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.
Newsletter article: Popular GLOS buoy receives an upgrade
Photo galleries: Great Lakes Observing System (GLOS) buoy
Emerald shiners (Notropis atherinoides) are small fish that constitute the base of the food web that supports many sport fish and fishing birds in the river. They are particularly important in the diet of the common tern, a threatened species in this area, and contribute significantly to their chick-rearing success.
Despite their abundance and importance in the food web, we know very little about the movements of the emerald shiners in and out of the river into Lake Erie. However, observational accounts report that while the adults move into the river in the spawning season, juveniles and larvae swim upstream back into Lake Erie. Unfortunately, the river shoreline has suffered multiple transformations; riprap and bulkheads dominate most of the areas that in a natural river would have slower currents. The concern is that the emerald shiners, and especially their juveniles, may have a difficult time completing their annual migration cycles. A collapse in this species would have negative repercussions to their predators, sport fish and birds that depend on this resource. The impact would be felt by the public as well: sport fishermen and bird-watchers, naturelovers and river users. To address the complexity of this project, we collaborated with scientists from the NYS DEC, US Army Corps of Engineers, and Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper.
In this project, we study the emerald shiner’s use of the upper Niagara River for spawning, nursery habitat, pathways of migration and year-class formation. Results from habitat use by the shiner will be used to determine restoration needs to provide enhanced spawning and nursery areas and to diminish impediments to fish movement in the river, such as high water velocity areas from altered river shorelines (bulkheads, pilings, etc.). We are also studying food availability to larval, young-of-the-year and adult shiners as well as their contribution to the diets of sport fish, adult common terns and their offspring. Our focus is to determine critical habitat for the shiners reproduction and migration, and to evaluate the influence that these fish have on local sport fish and on the brood success of the common tern. Our results will answer questions about habitat conservation, restoration or possible modification to ensure the long-term success of emerald shiners, sport fish, and common terns in the system.
Graduate student Jo Johnson seining for emerald shiners.
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