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Assessing ecosystem health impairments using a battery of ecological indicators: Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario example
- Munawar, M., Fitzpatrick, M., Munawar, I. F., Niblock, H., Kane, D.
- Aquatic ecosystem health & management 2012 v.15 no.4 pp. 430-441
- Algae, eutrophication, fisheries, freshwater, government agencies, international cooperation, lakes, marine ecosystems, marine environment, models, phytoplankton, primary productivity, remediation, zooplankton, Lake Ontario
- Large freshwater and marine ecosystems suffer from a variety of anthropogenic stressors which include eutrophication, chemical contamination, coastal degradation and overexploitation of fisheries to name only a few. Attempts at remediation are often confounded by the multitude of local, regional, national and international governments and agencies that exercise jurisdiction over smaller parts of these ecosystems. In the North American Great Lakes, there exists a (nearly) 40 year track record for international cooperation in managing anthropogenic stressors that emphasizes sound ecosystem based science. Among these efforts was the designation of 42 severely polluted coastal regions as Areas of Concern (AoCs) which were deemed to have at least 1 of 14 possible Beneficial Use Impairments. The Bay of Quinte, Lake Ontario, is one AoC with 10 listed impairments. We used a “battery of tests” strategy to assess the health of the bay with respect to the impairments of “eutrophication or undesirable algae” and “degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton communities” in the bay. This strategy integrates structural, functional and chemical parameters into established ecosystem health models. The results of the battery of tests showed continued eutrophication of the bay and not coincidentally, continued degradation of the phytoplankton community. We also found that point sources of phosphorous do not account for all of the (pelagic) primary production observed in the bay and suggest that non-point sources of phosphorous contribute significantly to eutrophication. Our results further suggest that the battery of tests strategy is a sensitive science-based tool for assessing ecosystem health. These tests could also be applied to the evaluation of ecosystem health in other Great Lakes AoCs as well as large lakes and marine environments where cultural eutrophication is a problem.