Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Great Lakes


Plastic pollution has been well documented in natural environments, including the open waters and sediments within lakes and rivers, the open ocean and even the air, but less attention has been paid to synthetic polymers in human consumables. Since multiple toxicity studies indicate risks to human health when plastic particles are ingested, more needs to be known about the presence and abundance of anthropogenic particles in human foods and beverages. This study investigates the presence of anthropogenic particles in 159 samples of globally sourced tap water, 12 brands of Laurentian Great Lakes beer, and 12 brands of commercial sea salt. Of the tap water samples analyzed, 81% were found to contain anthropogenic particles. The majority of these particles were fibers (98.3%) between 0.1-5 mm in length. The range was 0 to 61 particles/L, with an overall mean of 5.45 particles/L. Anthropogenic debris was found in each brand of beer and salt. Of the extracted particles, over 99% were fibers. After adjusting for particles found in lab blanks for both salt and beer, the average number of particles found in beer was 4.05 particles/L with a range of 0 to 14.3 particles/L and the average number of particles found in each brand of salt was 212 particles/kg with a range of 46.7 to 806 particles/kg. Based on consumer guidelines, our results indicate the average person ingests over 5,800 particles of synthetic debris from these three sources annually, with the largest contribution coming from tap water (88%).

Concepts: Water, Lake, Water pollution, Polymer, Average, Sea, Ocean, Great Lakes


The highest densities of lakes on Earth are in north temperate ecosystems, where increasing urbanization and associated chloride runoff can salinize freshwaters and threaten lake water quality and the many ecosystem services lakes provide. However, the extent to which lake salinity may be changing at broad spatial scales remains unknown, leading us to first identify spatial patterns and then investigate the drivers of these patterns. Significant decadal trends in lake salinization were identified using a dataset of long-term chloride concentrations from 371 North American lakes. Landscape and climate metrics calculated for each site demonstrated that impervious land cover was a strong predictor of chloride trends in Northeast and Midwest North American lakes. As little as 1% impervious land cover surrounding a lake increased the likelihood of long-term salinization. Considering that 27% of large lakes in the United States have >1% impervious land cover around their perimeters, the potential for steady and long-term salinization of these aquatic systems is high. This study predicts that many lakes will exceed the aquatic life threshold criterion for chronic chloride exposure (230 mg L(-1)), stipulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the next 50 y if current trends continue.

Concepts: Water, Lake, United States, Climate, Water pollution, Ecosystem, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes


Zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha) are known to increase water clarity and affect ecosystem processes in invaded lakes. During the last decade, the conspecific quagga mussels (D. rostriformis bugensis) have displaced zebra mussels in many ecosystems including shallow lakes such as Oneida Lake, New York. In this study, an eight-week mesocosm experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis that the displacement of zebra mussels by quagga mussels leads to further decreases in phytoplankton and increases in water clarity resulting in increases in benthic algae. We found that the presence of zebra mussels alone (ZM), quagga mussels alone (QM), or an equal number of both species (ZQ) reduced total phosphorus (TP) and phytoplankton Chl a. Total suspended solids (TSS) was reduced in ZM and ZQ treatments. Light intensity at the sediment surface was higher in all three mussel treatments than in the no-mussel controls but there was no difference among the mussel treatments. There was no increase in benthic algae biomass in the mussel treatments compared with the no-mussel controls. Importantly, there was no significant difference in nutrient (TP, soluble reactive phosphorus and NO3-) levels, TSS, phytoplankton Chl a, benthic algal Chl a, or light intensity on the sediment surface between ZM, QM and ZQ treatments. These results confirm the strong effect of both mussel species on water clarity and indicate that the displacement of zebra mussel by an equivalent biomass of quagga mussel is not likely to lead to further increases in water clarity, at least for the limnological conditions, including summer temperature, tested in this experiment.

Concepts: Invasive species, Mussel, Great Lakes, Zebra mussel, Quagga mussel, Dreissenidae, Dreissena, Lake Erie


Invasive species present significant threats to global agriculture, although how the magnitude and distribution of the threats vary between countries and regions remains unclear. Here, we present an analysis of almost 1,300 known invasive insect pests and pathogens, calculating the total potential cost of these species invading each of 124 countries of the world, as well as determining which countries present the greatest threat to the rest of the world given their trading partners and incumbent pool of invasive species. We find that countries vary in terms of potential threat from invasive species and also their role as potential sources, with apparently similar countries sometimes varying markedly depending on specifics of agricultural commodities and trade patterns. Overall, the biggest agricultural producers (China and the United States) could experience the greatest absolute cost from further species invasions. However, developing countries, in particular, Sub-Saharan African countries, appear most vulnerable in relative terms. Furthermore, China and the United States represent the greatest potential sources of invasive species for the rest of the world. The analysis reveals considerable scope for ongoing redistribution of known invasive pests and highlights the need for international cooperation to slow their spread.

Concepts: Agriculture, Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Insect, United States, California, Invasive species, Great Lakes


Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus genotype IVb (VHSV-IVb) is presently found throughout the Laurentian Great Lakes region of North America. We recently developed a DNA vaccine preparation containing the VHSV-IVb glycoprotein (G) gene with a cytomegalovirus (CMV) promoter that proved highly efficacious in protecting muskellunge (Esox masquinongy) and three salmonid species. This study was conducted to determine whether cohabitation of VHSV-IVb immunized fishes could confer protection to non-vaccinated (i.e., naïve) fishes upon challenge. The experimental layout consisted of multiple flow-through tanks where viral exposure was achieved via shedding from VHSV-IVb experimentally infected muskellunge housed in a tank supplying water to other tanks. The mean cumulative mortality of naïve muskellunge averaged across eight trials (i.e., replicates) was significantly lower when co-occurring with immunized muskellunge than when naïve muskellunge were housed alone (36.5% when co-occurring with vaccinated muskellunge versus 80.2% when housed alone), indicating a possible protective effect based on cohabitation with vaccinated individuals. Additionally, vaccinated muskellunge when co-occurring with naïve muskellunge had significantly greater anti-VHSV antibody levels compared to vaccinated muskellunge housed alone suggesting that heightened anti-VHSV antibodies are a result of cohabitation with susceptible individuals. This finding could contribute to the considerably lower viable VHSV-IVb concentrations we detected in surviving naive muskellunge when housed with vaccinated muskellunge. Our research provides initial evidence of the occurrence of herd immunity against fish pathogens.

Concepts: Immune system, DNA, Vaccine, Vaccination, Immunology, Great Lakes, Northern pike, Muskellunge


With increasing pressure placed on natural systems by growing human populations, both scientists and resource managers need a better understanding of the relationships between cumulative stress from human activities and valued ecosystem services. Societies often seek to mitigate threats to these services through large-scale, costly restoration projects, such as the over one billion dollar Great Lakes Restoration Initiative currently underway. To help inform these efforts, we merged high-resolution spatial analyses of environmental stressors with mapping of ecosystem services for all five Great Lakes. Cumulative ecosystem stress is highest in near-shore habitats, but also extends offshore in Lakes Erie, Ontario, and Michigan. Variation in cumulative stress is driven largely by spatial concordance among multiple stressors, indicating the importance of considering all stressors when planning restoration activities. In addition, highly stressed areas reflect numerous different combinations of stressors rather than a single suite of problems, suggesting that a detailed understanding of the stressors needing alleviation could improve restoration planning. We also find that many important areas for fisheries and recreation are subject to high stress, indicating that ecosystem degradation could be threatening key services. Current restoration efforts have targeted high-stress sites almost exclusively, but generally without knowledge of the full range of stressors affecting these locations or differences among sites in service provisioning. Our results demonstrate that joint spatial analysis of stressors and ecosystem services can provide a critical foundation for maximizing social and ecological benefits from restoration investments.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Ecology, Geography, Ecosystem, Knowledge, Analysis, Ecological economics, Great Lakes


The continuous release of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) into freshwater systems impacts the health of aquatic organisms. This study evaluates the concentrations and bioaccumulation of PPCPs and the selective uptake of antidepressants in fish from the Niagara River, which connects two of the North American Great lakes (Erie and Ontario). The Niagara River receives PPCPs from different wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) situated along the river and Lake Erie. Of the 22 targeted PPCPs, 11 were found at part-per-billion levels in WWTP effluents and at part-per-trillion levels in river water samples. The major pollutants observed were the antidepressants (citalopram, paroxetine, sertraline, venlafaxine, and bupropion, and their metabolites norfluoxetine and norsertraline) and the antihistamine diphenhydramine. These PPCPs accumulate in various fish organs, with norsertraline exhibiting the highest bioaccumulation factor (up to about 3000) in the liver of rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus), which is an invasive species to the Great Lakes. The antidepressants were selectively taken up by various fish species at different trophic levels, and were further metabolized once inside the organism. The highest bioaccumulation was found in the brain, followed by liver, muscle, and gonads, and can be attributed to direct exposure to WWTP effluent.

Concepts: Sewage treatment, Antidepressant, Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, Ontario, Great Lakes, Buffalo, New York, Lake Erie, Niagara River


The generation mechanism of meteotsunamis, which are meteorologically induced water waves with spatial/temporal characteristics and behavior similar to seismic tsunamis, is poorly understood. We quantify meteotsunamis in terms of seasonality, causes, and occurrence frequency through the analysis of long-term water level records in the Laurentian Great Lakes. The majority of the observed meteotsunamis happen from late-spring to mid-summer and are associated primarily with convective storms. Meteotsunami events of potentially dangerous magnitude (height > 0.3 m) occur an average of 106 times per year throughout the region. These results reveal that meteotsunamis are much more frequent than follow from historic anecdotal reports. Future climate scenarios over the United States show a likely increase in the number of days favorable to severe convective storm formation over the Great Lakes, particularly in the spring season. This would suggest that the convectively associated meteotsunamis in these regions may experience an increase in occurrence frequency or a temporal shift in occurrence to earlier in the warm season. To date, meteotsunamis in the area of the Great Lakes have been an overlooked hazard.

Concepts: Lake, United States, Precipitation, Storm, Lake Superior, Great Lakes, Lake Michigan, Severe weather


BACKGROUND: Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) is a long-lived freshwater fish distributed throughout the Great Lakes region and is a threatened species in New York State. The species' unique life cycle makes it useful as an indicator of ecosystem health, and efforts to repatriate Lake Sturgeon to their historic range are underway. However, comprehensive hematologic and biochemical reference intervals that would be valuable for assessing the health status of individual animals have not been reported. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this study was to determine normal hematologic and plasma biochemical reference intervals for healthy wild Lake Sturgeon. METHODS: Blood samples were collected from 52 wild Lake Sturgeon caught in gill nets in the St. Lawrence River. Heparinized whole blood and plasma samples were analyzed using standard techniques. Reference intervals were calculated using the robust method following elimination of outliers and Box-Cox transformation of data. RESULTS: Hematologic reference intervals were as follows: PCV 17-38%, estimated WBC count 2740-23,150/μL, neutrophils 193-6121/μL, eosinophils 0-558/μL, other granulocytes/heterophils 0-488/μL, lymphocytes 1447-14,044/μL, and monocytes 55-1684/μL. Plasma biochemical reference intervals were as follows: aspartate aminotransferase 333-1746 U/L, calcium 1.85-2.80 mmol/L, chloride 95-123 mmol/L, creatine kinase 776-35,536 U/L, glucose 2.94-14.76 mmol/L, glutamate dehydrogenase 6-30 U/L, phosphate 2.03-5.81 mmol/L, potassium 2.34-4.24 mmol/L, sodium 122.9-151.1 mmol/L, total protein 2.0-4.4 g/dL, triglycerides 1.07-5.12 mmol/L, and uric acid 1-251 μmol/L. CONCLUSION: Reference intervals reported here will be useful for health assessment of wild and repatriated Lake Sturgeon.

Concepts: White blood cell, Blood, Urea cycle, Great Lakes, Saint Lawrence River, Sturgeon, Acipenseriformes, Lake sturgeon


Polyethylene passive sampling was applied to quantify gaseous and freely-dissolved polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the air and water of Lakes Erie and Ontario during 2011-2012. In view of differing physical characteristics and the impacts of historical contamination by PCBs within these lakes, spatial variation of PCB concentrations and air-water exchange across these lakes may be expected. Both lakes displayed statistically similar aqueous and atmospheric PCB concentrations. Total aqueous concentrations of 29 PCBs ranged from 1.5 pg L-1 in the open lake of Lake Erie (site E02) in 2011 spring to 105 pg L-1 in Niagara (site On05) in 2012 summer, while total atmospheric concentrations were 7.7-634 pg m-3 across both lakes. A west-to-east gradient was observed for aqueous PCBs in Lake Erie. River discharge and localized influences (e.g., sediment resuspension and regional alongshore transport) likely dominated spatial trends of aqueous PCBs in both lakes. Air-water exchange fluxes of Σ7PCBs ranged from -2,420 (±1,870) pg m-2 day-1 (deposition) in Sheffield (site E03) to 9,030 (±3,070) pg m-2 day-1 (volatilization) in Niagara (site On05). Net volatilization of PCBs was the primary trend across most sites and periods. Almost half of variation in air-water exchange fluxes was attributed to the difference in aqueous concentrations of PCBs. Uncertainty analysis in fugacity ratios and mass fluxes in air-water exchange of PCBs indicated that PCBs have reached or approached equilibrium only at the eastern Lake Erie and along the Canadian shore of Lake Ontario sites, where air-water exchange fluxes dominated atmospheric concentrations. .

Concepts: Polychlorinated biphenyl, Ontario, New York, Great Lakes, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Niagara River, Welland Canal