Invasive Species Compendium

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Abstract

Lake Champlain offshore benthic invertebrate community before and after zebra mussel invasion.

Abstract

Benthic invertebrates are important bio-indicators of water quality and play a significant role in aquatic systems. Lake Champlain has limited benthic invertebrate data which hinders development of food web models, assessment of invasive species impacts, and evaluation of management actions. In June 2016, we assessed benthic invertebrates along three transects in the main basin of Lake Champlain ranging from 5 to 100 m, and then compared results to densities from a limited survey in 1991 prior to the zebra mussel (Dreissena polymorpha) invasion. In 2016, total biomass and density were 1-2 orders of magnitude greater at 5 m than at 20-100 m. Zebra mussels, chironomids, oligochaetes, and gastropods were dominant at 5 m, and oligochaetes and sphaeriids were dominant at 20-100 m. Total density at the 5-m site was 94% lower in 2016 compared to 1991, but similar at the 100-m site. Diporeia, while abundant in many freshwater bodies, is historically rare in Lake Champlain and was not detected in our sampling. Because Lake Champlain benthic invertebrate densities are low and display dissimilar distributions to the Great Lakes, we hypothesize the offshore fish community is likely much more reliant on pelagic rather than benthic production. Although the current composition and biomass suggest the benthic community in Lake Champlain may not be greatly impacted by an invasion of quagga mussel (D. rostriformis bugensis), the potential for quaggas to re-route energy from pelagic to benthic habitats, as it has in the Great Lakes, could limit the Lake Champlain offshore fish community.