First-ever project on Lake Huron


February 27, 2014


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Small bugs, called macro-invertebrates, can tell us a lot about shoreline ecology and the health of the lake.  A recent study by the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation was designed to look specifically in the shallow waters along the shore of the lake to gain a better understanding of what lives here in the lakebed sediments.

 A total of 12,306 macroinvertebrates were collected along the eastern shoreline of Lake Huron from the beginning of August until the end of October 2013.  

The six month study was conducted by Jessica Frigault, Science Intern at the Lake Huron Centre for Coastal Conservation.  Her task was to discover what kinds of macroinvertebrates are living in the nearshore zone of the lake (within a 1 metre depth).   

The study was a first-ever project of this extent for Lake Huron. This will give baseline information about what’s happening in the Lake. Tracking these types of animals can show signs of changes to the Lakes’ water quality because these animals are not able to move quickly or easily, and because few of these animals are tolerant of pollution.  They can be the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ warning about water impairments.   

These tiny animals are also a big part of the diet for fish and birds. Many fish or birds depend on macroinvertebrates in their various life stages, whether it’s during their in-water stage or on-land stage.  

The study was conducted at 10 different locations in Bruce County, from Kincardine to Oliphant. They were chosen according to different beach types: coastal wetland, sand beach, and cobble beach. “We hoped to capture how, and if, the animals changed across the beach types,” said Frigault. The Centre wanted to observe if any major changes happened during different seasons.  

The Coastal Centre study found that the type of beach provide different kinds of habitats, and that different animals can be found within each beach type. Most animals found are common along the areas sampled. Midges, scuds, and mayflies were the most abundant  (at rocky sites only). One site in Oliphant had snails and ‘no-see-ums’ as the most abundant type of macroinvertebrates.

Sand beaches had very different animal populations compared with cobble beaches or wetlands. It had low diversity, and low numbers of animals collected. Sand beaches are  dynamic and continually change with weather and waves. Although all of the sand beaches had a dune system, there are no plants in the water, which a lot of macro-invertebrates need for food, shelter, or egg laying. 

The cobble beaches and the coastal wetlands were very similar in the types and amounts of animals found. The main difference between these sites was seasonal. The numbers of mayflies, plus those of caddisflies and stoneflies, were lower in August and were highest in late September and October. This is most likely because mayflies mate in late May/early June, so the young don’t develop until later in the season. 

“While we can’t make any conclusion about the water quality of the Lake with this report, the work provides us with a reference point to compare future work with what was present in 2013, and whether there are any major changes to animal populations because of water impairment or other factors,” Frigault said.

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The study should also help to support efforts to conserve beaches and nearshore areas from disturbances that would affect these animals as an important food source for fish and birds. 

Ms. Frigault will be presenting her findings at the International Association of Great Lakes Researchers conference being held in May at McMaster University. 

This study was possible through funding provided by Environment Canada’s Science Horizons Program. It provides opportunities to young scientists to gain valuable experience. This study was also completed with in-kind support from Saugeen Valley Conservation Authority, and Chris Jones from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment.  The Coastal Centre can be contacted by email at coastalcentre@lakehuron.on.ca  or phone at (226) 421-3029 for more details about this study. The full report will be posted on the Coastal Centre’s website www.lakehuron.ca

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Thursday, February 27, 2014