Lake Sturgeon, Ice Coverage, and Tree Identification: this week in environmental news

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Juvenile lake sturgeon. Image: Michigan DNR.

Seasonal lake sturgeon releases put nearly 8,000 fish into Michigan waters (Michigan DNR): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and several partners released more than 7,800 juvenile lake sturgeon into various public waters across the state this summer and fall in an effort to rehabilitate this culturally significant fish species. The juvenile fish were collected from the wild last spring and reared in streamside facilities until they reached at least seven inches or larger in size. Most fish were tagged prior to being released into their respective rivers to allow future evaluations of stocked fish.

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Ice Chart for Nov 28, 2013. Image: GLERL Digital Ice Database

How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter? (MSU Extension): Our last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92 percent of the Lakes were frozen over. So, during a really good ice winter, like that of 2013-14, how early did ice start forming in the Great Lakes? As early as Thanksgiving, 2013, (November 28) ice had already started forming and by December 31, 2013, there was significant cover. Now fast forward to 2016. There is no ice formed anywhere in the Great Lakes and we are past Thanksgiving. The reason is that all the Great Lakes are at their highest average temperatures for at least the past 5 years. As researchers continue to study and gather data on Great Lakes ice cover, we will begin to more thoroughly understand impacts, implications and ecological functions of Great Lakes ice cover.

Tree identification (MSU Extension): Michigan boasts around 100 tree species, depending upon how a tree is defined. There are about a dozen characteristics available to help identify trees. Learning which subset of characteristics to use for a particular tree is where practice and skill are needed. Some characteristics are seasonal, such as leaves, fruits, and flowers. Most others are more year-round, such as twig and branching patterns, buds, bud scars, bark, tree form, site, and tree associates.

Online tool combats sales of invasives (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes Commission created a web tool designed to prevent sales of aquatic invasive species over the Internet. The software searches the web looking for sites selling plants or animals invasive to the Great Lakes and then records the data. The project’s director says most of the invaders purchased are aquatic plants. They make their way from homes into the environment. Being aware of what you buy is key to preventing accidental purchases of invasive species online.

Lake Erie, Birds, and Earthworms: this week in environmental news

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Lake Erie algal bloom in 2015. Image: NASA

Michigan declares Lake Erie impaired (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder designated that state’s portion of Lake Erie as impaired on November 10. Lake Erie has been threatened by toxic algae blooms for several years, threatening drinking water quality in Toledo and limiting recreational uses. Within the past year, the governors of Michigan and Ohio and the premier of Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding acknowledging the threat of toxic algae. They set a goal to reduce phosphorous loading up to 40 percent by 2025.

Toxins kill thousands of birds along Lake Michigan shore (Great Lakes Echo): Since 2006, dead birds have been washing up on Lake Michigan beaches. But this fall has been exceptionally grim, with up to five thousand birds being found dead along the shore. Researchers say the birds are dying because of a toxin called avian botulism, which can form on the lake bed under certain conditions. Botulism forms when there’s a lack of oxygen in the water. Even as botulism begins to form, it’s down near toxic valleys that many small fish continue to eat, consuming the poison as they feed. Local and migratory birds that land on Lake Michigan, tired and famished from their journey, consume small fish like the invasive Round Goby. Having eaten the infected fish, the birds become sick and die out on the lake due to paralyzing effects.

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Restoration projects have made it possible for safe water recreational use in the Sarnia region of the St. Clair River. Image: Megan McDonnell

U.S., Canada battle St. Clair River’s polluted legacy (Great Lakes Echo): The St. Clair River that connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair has a long history of environmental problems. They are challen­­­­­­­­­­ges as diverse as E. coli bacteria that shut down beaches, industrial pollution by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury contamination so severe that residents are advised to limit their consumption of locally caught fish. In recent years cleanup and sediment remediation projects have vastly improved the river and it is beginning to flourish once again. There have been more than 280 fish and aquatic wildlife habitat restoration projects on the St. Clair River, 12 of which were shoreline restoration projects.

Sea lamprey, Asian carp, zebra mussels and earthworms? (Great Lakes Echo): The wriggly soil-dwellers may not have the bad rep of some of their invasive counterparts, but they do have the power to change entire ecosystems. Now a recent study has found that an abundance of earthworms causes a decrease in the small plant matter scattered on the forest floor. By eating away at what scientists call “fine root biomass” worms can significantly change the forest. Worms start a bottom-up chain reaction that can bring about fundamental environmental changes. They affect what plants are able to root and grow in the soil. The kinds of plants that grow affect which species of animals can live in a forest.