Jake Walsh: Learning about Consequences of Non-indigenous Species

UW - Center for Limnology

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For reasons we don’t yet completely understand, nutrients concentrations have been lower and beach conditions have actually been better since spiny water flea showed up in Lake Mendota. Somehow, there seem to be fewer nutrients available to cyanobacteria to feed really big blooms, which means we likely have as much control over preventing summer blooms now as we did before the invasion by reducing nutrient concentrations in the lake.

Getting to the bottom of these new findings can help us get more of something we enjoy in Lake Mendota – good water quality. Of course it’s unlikely that we’re done making mistakes, particularly when it comes to invasive species. Invasive zebra mussels were detected in Lake Mendota in 2015, six years after spiny water flea’s detection. We’re already learning more about both zebra mussels and Lake Mendota as they grow in abundance and transform the lake bottom.

But, like the spiny water flea, there’s still that silver lining – mistakes teach. If we continue to study lakes carefully over long periods of time, we can uncover more about how they work and use that information in positive ways. And, just maybe, we’ll not only learn from these mistakes but also learn how to stop making them.