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Information Needs for Lake Ontario: The Great Lakes Regional Research and Information Network Search Conferences.

Lake Ontario: Stakeholders Prioritizing the Future

How do the people who work, live and play along Lake Ontario see the future of this great resource? Can American and Canadian recreational anglers, government agencies, charterboat captains, planners, aquaculturists, environmental groups, researchers and academics come together to discuss how they’d like to see the future of Lake Ontario?

To open up such a discussion, the bi-national Lake Ontario team of the Great Lakes Regional Research Information Network (GLRRIN), co-coordinated by Dale Baker (Associate director of New York Sea Grant) and Dave MacNeill (New York Sea Grant fisheries specialist), held two separate conferences at opposite ends of Lake Ontario. Facilitated by Dr. Bruce Lauber of Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit, two similar Lake Ontario “Search Conferences” were held in Grand Island, New York near Niagara Falls (March 31-April 1, 2008) and Gananoque, Ontario in the St. Lawrence valley (April 3-4).

After an overview of Lake Ontario presented by MacNeill, facilitator and meeting format developer Lauber led each group of approximately 40 participants into a “shared history” discussion of Lake Ontario. Participants wrote on a wall-sized timeline to show decade by decade the natural and socioeconomic history of Lake Ontario and the forces affecting it. By alternating small and large work groups, each consisting of a balance of stakeholders, the group listed a shared vision of the “ideal future” followed by the “likely future” of Lake Ontario. Although lists from breakout groups varied, a future of better water quality, sustainable fisheries, habitat restoration, reduction of invasive species and alternative energy policy seemed to resonate throughout the conversations.

During the two-day conferences, participants were aided by other members of the planning committee: Dr. Tim Johnson (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources), Tom Brown (director of Cornell University’s Human Dimensions Research Unit), Dr. Gary Sprules (University of Toronto), and Dr. Jim Johnson (USGS Fisheries Lab). Although not present for the conferences, much of the initial planning had been done by Dr. Jack Mattice, former New York Sea Grant Director who spearheaded the conference prior to his retirement last year.

As part of the future search process, the facilitator led participants into an exercise to identify information needs that would be of practical value to Lake Ontario stakeholders. Each group reported its findings and all participants had an opportunity to indicate which information needs had priority.

Lists of prioritized research needs as well as pre- and post-workshop evaluations that were filled out by all participants will be reviewed and synthesized by the team in the coming weeks. A full report will soon be available on www.glrrin.info. For more information, contact Barbara Branca, New York Sea Grant Communications Manager at 631.32.6956 or barbara.branca@stonybrook.edu.

An Illuminating Great Lakes Tale: The Alewife and the Opossum Shrimp

Sea Grant Researchers Examine an Important Predator-Prey Relationship

Dr. Lars Rudstam, 315.633.9243 or

Barbara.Branca@stonybrook.edu, New York Sea Grant, 631.632.6956

February 7, 2008: In recent decades, Lake Ontario has become increasingly clear. The grazing of invasive zebra mussels and the reduction of inputs of compounds such as phosphorus have combined to improve its water clarity. Does an increase in light penetration affect how predators in lake food chains find their prey? Yes, says Dr. Lars Rudstam, Associate Professor in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University. Increased predation is one consequence of the “illumination of the food web” associated with the increasing water clarity in the Great Lakes.

In several New York Sea Grant funded projects, Rudstam, along with his colleagues and students at Cornell, the USGS Great Lakes Science Center, and the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters, has been examining the interaction of forage fish and invertebrates in Lake Ontario and predicting trends in their populations.

The main forage fish of economically-important sportfish species such as Chinook salmon and other salmonids in Lake Ontario is the alewife. The relatively high abundance of alewife is the reason for the faster growth of Lake Ontario salmon compared to those in other Great Lakes. Alewife may be switching from a diet consisting primarily of zooplankton to one that also includes the opossum shrimp, Mysis relicta, a small shrimp that feeds on zooplankton. The alewife benefits from this addition to its diet; the opossum shrimp’s high content of unsaturated fatty acids is necessary for the alewife’s successful overwinter survival.

At night, mysids migrate from the bottom of the lake towards the surface to feed, making them vulnerable to alewife predation. Says Dr. Rudstam, “We have shown that light levels associated with the peak of the mysid layer are usually too low for alewife to use vision to feed on mysids. We therefore hypothesize that much of the predation we see in the field is occurring at the upper edge of the mysid distribution, where it is still light enough for alewife to utilize vision to feed.”

The team further hypothesizes that increased light penetration due to increasing water clarity will cause increased light levels at the mysid layer and therefore higher feeding rates of alewife on mysids. Rudstam’s team has also shown that alewife can feed on mysids in total darkness, although capture success declines in such conditions.

In addition to potential increases in alewife feeding, increased water clarity will limit mysids’ access to their own food—the zooplankton in the warmer, upper layer of water. Mysids may therefore grow more slowly, decreasing birth rates. The combination of decreased birth rates and increased mortality rates should lead to declines in the mysid population. Early indications show this may be occurring. In 2006, the population had decreased to half of the density in 2005 Future work will determine if this is a continuing trend. However, the effect of decreased mysids on the complex alewife-mysis-zooplankton food web--and therefore on alewife production itself-- is difficult to predict.

Much of this work has been recently published in the journal Limnology and Oceanography 52(4) under the title "The effects of temperature and predator-prey interactions on the migration behavior and vertical distribution of Mysis relicta.”

Since 1971, New York Sea Grant, a partnership of the State University of New York, Cornell University, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been “Bringing Science to the Shore” through research, extension and education efforts that address issues vital to the environmental and economic health of New York’s marine and Great Lakes coasts.

GLRRIN Lake Ontario Update - May 4, 2007

Lake Ontario Research Information Network Coordinating Committee

Dale Baker, New York Sea Grant, Director

Gary Sprules, University of Toronto

Jim Johnson, USGS

Bruce Morrison, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resource

David MacNeill, Staff Associate

The Lake Ontario Coordinating Committee has had several conference calls investigating ideas which might form a focus for our efforts and identifying individuals and organizations working on Lake Ontario and/or interested in its future. Our conclusion was that providing a database that describes who is doing what on Lake Ontario and getting the researchers, resource managers and stakeholders to identify common goals for the future Lake Ontario basin would be focuses that would contribute to everyone's activities and build on what is already in place. Discussions during the overall GLRRIN conference calls and identification of the GulfBase process by Steve Bortone suggested that we should postpone consideration of the database until it was clear what would match up with efforts over the whole region.

In the meantime, we have been investigating the use of a Future Search Conference to accomplish our purpose of convening all parties interested in the future of Lake Ontario and refining our list of potential participants on both sides of the border. After initial contacts with developers of the technique, two of us followed up by screening publications describing the process and choosing ones that would be most useful for planning. Those publications have been circulated to the other members of the Coordinating Committee as preparation for a conference call with one of the developers.

With a better definition of our goal and a way to move forward, we will further refine our participants list, and begin to plan on getting the participants together. We will use the meeting/conference to identify individuals who will and can serve on an advisory committee.