The term “food web” is used to describe the intricate relationships between the many different plants, animals, and organisms that can exist in small or large areas. Understanding food webs in specific environmental locations, such as in one or more of the Great Lakes, can help researchers and communities better respond to changes in those delicate systems. Invasive species are just one example of a potential influence that can drastically alter a food web and have substantial impacts on native environments.
On April 3 and 4, 2012, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) and GLRRIN Lake Michigan partners from Wisconsin Sea Grant(WISG), Michigan Sea Grant, the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, the US EPA Great Lakes National Program Office, and the USGS Great Lakes Science Center hosted a research meeting in Ann Arbor, MI. Approximately 60 researchers from federal, state, university, tribal, and non-profit organizations gathered to discuss their current understanding of food webs in Lake Michigan. Food web structure and function can be affected by many variables, including changes in water temperature, water quality, and/or habitat loss. Recent aquatic invaders, including zebra and quagga mussels, have drastically altered the Lake Michigan ecosystem, leaving researchers with new questions about what variables most affect commercial and recreational fishing, bird populations, non-toxic algal blooms, and overall quality of life for humans and animals.
GLRRIN Lake Michigan hosted a similar meeting in 2008, which helped launch the 2010 Lake Michigan Intensive Monitoring Field Year. Findings presented during the 2012 meeting highlight the inherent variability of Lake Michigan, especially in areas that are less than 20 m deep. Researchers also stressed the need to further understand how the lowest levels of the food chain, such as microbes and nutrient cycling, operate. Understanding these basic levels will help create better tools for decision makers like fishery managers or watershed planning committees. A full report on the meeting presentations and discussions will be made available through the GLRRIN Lake Michigan and IISG websites.