Lake Erie Waves, Great Lakes Forests, and Mudpuppies: this week in environmental news

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Turbulent waves in Lake Erie. Photo: Dave Sandford.

This Is What A Great Lake Looks Like After All The Vacationers Are Gone (Buzzfeed): Photographer Dave Sanford spent time on Lake Erie shooting the Great Lake’s turbulent fall season. From mid-October to mid-November, the longtime professional sports photographer traveled each week to Port Stanley, Ontario, on the edge of Lake Erie to spend hours taking photos. His goal was to capture the exact moment when lake waves driven by gusting winds collide with a rebound wave that’s created when the water hits a pier and collection of boulders on the shore. People are blown away that these are from a lake, and not an ocean due to the size and force.

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Crayfish in Burt Lake are thought to be on the decline. Image: Greg Schechter, Flickr.

Pharmaceutical pollution takes toll on crayfish and other species (Great Lakes Echo): Drugs seeping into groundwater threaten crayfish and have a domino effect of environmental impacts that harm fish and other species, according to new research. Pharmaceutical pollution happens when medicines are improperly disposed or flushed into septic tanks and sewers as the body eliminates them. Treatment can’t filter them so they make their way into lakes and streams. Crayfish are a keystone species, one that many others species depend upon. If they died, so would trout and bass. That would lead to algae overgrowth and in turn, insects and invertebrates would die when decaying algae used up all the oxygen. At this point there are not solutions for removing pharmaceuticals once they are in lakes and streams, so this is a prevention issue. We need to keep it out of the waterways, improving septic and sewer systems to filter pharmaceutical pollution is a critical need.

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Red pine forest in West Michigan. Image: Marie Orttenburger.

Researchers look to brace Great Lakes forests for climate change (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes forests will get warmer and suffer more frequent short-term droughts, scientists say. The stakes are high. Forests are staple ecosystems in the region. Many wildlife and plant species depend on forest stability. Plus, forests are a part of the regional culture. The approaches to climate change adaptation for trees are as diverse as the tree species.

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Underwater shot of a mudpuppy at Wolf Lake. Image: Alicia Beattie.

Secretive amphibian can provide pollution clues (Great Lakes Echo): The mudpuppy is a fully-aquatic salamander thought to be on the decline–though the extent of that decline is unknown. The foot-long amphibians are classified a “threatened species” in the state of Illinois and considered a concern throughout the Great Lakes region. Destruction and degradation of habitat, along with invasive species, are spelling doom for mudpuppies. Mudpuppies are also very sensitive to pollution. That characteristic could make them especially important to researchers. Population statistics and tissue samples could clue scientists in on the effects pollution and habitat degradation are having on those environments.

Volunteers Help MNA Complete Rare Orchid Survey

By Katherine Hollins, MNA Regional Stewardship Organizer – Eastern Lower Peninsula

A PFO peeks out behind the tall grasses. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

A PFO peeks out behind the tall grasses. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

MNA is fortunate to protect one of the top-ranked lakeplain wet-prairies in the state. This globally imperiled habitat is home to a beautiful diversity of plants, perhaps one of the most showy being the eastern prairie fringed orchid (PFO). MNA protects one of the largest populations of PFO and one of the few populations in the world that is considered long-term viable.

This beautiful, sweet-smelling orchid is a mysterious plant. It was once common in the state, but its population has declined to the point that it is now considered endangered by the state of Michigan and threatened by the federal government. This population decline is primarily due to habitat destruction. Many of the rich prairie soils were plowed into farm fields, and other areas were ditched or diked, altering the hydrology of the habitat that is so important to the plant.  However, while we tend think of it as requiring extremely high quality habitats to survive, specimens have been found in roadside ditches and along the edges of mowed fields.

Volunteers gather for orientation at the beginning of the day. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

Volunteers gather for orientation at the beginning of the day. Photo by Dan Sparks-Jackson

Historically, fluctuating lake levels helped support PFO habitat. High water pushes the orchid population inland, and prevents shrubs and trees from encroaching into the sunny prairie. When lake levels lower again, the orchid population moves back shoreward. Each year some plants are lost to too much or too little water and new ones are recruited where new suitable habitat is created. With land alterations, however, this ability to shift inland and shoreward according to the lake levels has been hindered.

Seasonal drought, lake level changes, and other factors influence the number of annually surviving plants, as well as the number of blooming plants. Individual PFO plants may not flower every year or may even go dormant when conditions are not favorable. In their PFO paper, Mike Penskar and Phyllis Higman say, “… the species is notorious for having large fluctuations in the number of flowering individuals from year to year.” Continue reading