The Lake Ontario Coastal Zone – Nutrient Status and Assessment

EPA Grant Number: EM833027
Title: The Lake Ontario Coastal Zone – Nutrient Status and Assessment
Investigators: Makarewicz, Joseph
Institution: The State University of New York at Brockport
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 1, 2006 through August 31, 2008
Project Amount: $145,100
RFA: Targeted Research Grant (2005) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Targeted Research


There is widespread agreement that the Great Lakes are presently exhibiting symptoms of extreme stress from a combination of sources that include toxic contaminants, invasive species, nutrient loading, shoreline and upland land use changes, and hydrologic modifications. These adverse impacts have appeared gradually over time, often in nearshore areas in the shallower portions of the system and in specific fish populations. Lake Ontario is no exception. It is suffering from major stresses to the nearshore coastal region and in ecosystem—level disruptions caused by nutrient enhancement and wave after wave of invasive species introductions. Two regional priority data gaps are addressed by this proposal.


In Project 1, a survey to determine extent of pollution in nearshore areas and tributaries of Lake Ontario as a basis for adaptive management to restore and remediate the coastal region of Lake Ontario is proposed. Prior to 2004, a systematic set of environmental data did not exist for the nearshore coastal zone of the south shore of Lake Ontario. Existing coastal data was dated, fragmented and spatially and seasonally limited. NYSDEC and EPAs monitoring generally focused on the offshore region of the lake. Starting in 2004 and ending in the summer of 2006, thirty-two coastal, tributary and embayment sites along the 300-mile coastline were or will be monitored for nitrate and phosphorus contamination, the extent of nuisance algal blooms and for other limnological parameters. This spatially and seasonally unique data set not only fills a well-known data gap but also begins to establish a long- term data base for trend analysis. Funds are requested to continue this nearshore monitoring in summer of 2007. These data, along with data from the previous years, will serve as a baseline marker of current conditions in Lake Ontario, allowing the Lake Ontario Coastal Initiative to target areas of concern for restoration and remediation and serve as a basis for adaptive management to determine the effectiveness of future management practices and restoration efforts. Funds for the summer of 2008 have been requested elsewhere.

Basic research on the structure and function of freshwater aquatic ecosystems is proposed in Project 2 to improve understanding of the ecological characteristics necessary to the maintenance of the biological integrity of the pelagic zone of Lake Ontario. Over the past 15 years the Laurentian Great Lakes have experienced a wave of invertebrate invasions from Eurasia. Unlike previous exotic species invasions of the Great Lakes, recent invaders, such as Cercopagis, became established at low and mid-trophic levels and have dramatically altered energy flow and contaminant movement through the lakes; that is, they have affected the biological integrity of the pelagic food web. Unlike Bythotrephes in Lake Ontario, Cercopagis has had a major effect on the integrity of the pelagic food web by effectively removing mid-size zooplankton, typically the food of the planktivorous alewife – a major source of food for salmon and trout. A unique seasonal plankton and chemistry data set now exists that dates back more than a decade from the nearshore (30m) and offshore (lOOm) of Lake Ontario. This data set pre-dates many of the invasive exotic species and continues through the establishment, expansion and accommodation phase of the introduction of the most recent plankton invader Cercopagis.. Data collected will provide information on structure and function of the pelagic food web of the Lake Ontario ecosystem and will improve our understanding of the ecological characteristics necessary to the maintenance of the biological integrity of Lake Ontario. A detailed reconstruction of the Cercopagis and Bythotrephes invasion and the new sampling will extend the historical times series of these predatory cladocerans in Lake Ontario allowing simulations of the event. Also, a temporally staggered before/after —invasion time series for multiple local habitats (nearshore and offshore) should allow identification of the most common response to the Cercopagis invasion, as well as a range of possible responses.

Expected Results:

The proposed research will document the consequence(s) of an on-going invasion that appears to be entering the accommodation phase and provide an empirical basis for developing predictive models and their consequence for fish production.

Supplemental Keywords:

RFA, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Aquatic Ecosystems & Estuarine Research, Aquatic Ecosystem, nutrient loading, aquatic food web, aquatic ecosystems, invasive species, ecosystem stress, Lake Ontario

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2007
  • Final