Great Lakes Threatened by Shrimp and Other Invasive Species

great lakes

The Great Lakes are currently being threatened by an invasive species of shrimp and further troubled by the continuous introduction of non-native aquatic species. Biologists are alarmed by this species of Dikerogammarus villosus, commonly known as Eastern European shrimp. Even though these shrimp are around an inch in length with large mandibles, they are disturbing to scientists because they are violent predators and have the urge to kill even when they are not hungry.

Within the last 200 years, over 180 non-native species have found a new home in the Great Lakes and the rivers and streams feeding into them. Nearly 20 percent of these invasive creatures are harmful to the ecological system and the economy of the area. They pose grave threats to the multi-billion dollar seafood industry and the normal balance of flora and fauna. According to scientists, the main reason for the invasion and threat to the region is live trade and climate change. This information was published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research.

Researchers from McGill University stated that within 50 years, the Great Lakes will be overrun with an overabundance of invasive species, many of which come from the Black Sea region between Europe and Asia. Additionally, they stated this region is the main source of most of the non-native species that have been introduced to the Great Lakes. As of now, researchers believe the rivers of North America are at risk of being invaded by zebra mussels, monkey gobies, and the aforementioned killer shrimp.

Scientists are worrisome that the rate of importation and trade of live animals and plants for markets, bait, and aquarium use will continuously increase, causing further problems. Researchers developed what they call a “pessimistic scenario” regarding the future of the region’s aquatic ecosystem. Moreover, the pessimistic scenario factored in the failure of ballast water regulations, insofar as preventing the introduction of invasive species into the Great Lakes. The foremost invaders of North America that are on the list are the zebra mussel and the killer shrimp.

In a “current situation scenario” researchers imagine there will be no additional protection regulations to stop the non-native species, though ballast water policies are proving to be the best plan. Though, live trade of non-native animals and plants still pose the greatest threat.

In an “ideal scenario” researchers state the risk of invasion is at a minimum due to the simultaneous implementation of policies by the United States and Canada. Researchers believe that since the invasion of harmful species poses a threat to a shared national border, both nations must work in unison. Furthermore, biologist Anthony Ricciardi stated the United States and Canada must coordinate on regulations regarding the early detection and rapid response of new invasive species before the problem progresses beyond control.

Recent efforts have ceased the invasion into the Great Lakes by tighter shipping regulations. Back in 2008, ships entering the St. Lawrence Seaway were required to leave salt water in ballast tanks. Afterwards, only salt water species were to be released into freshwater rivers and lakes when the ships emptied their ballast tanks. By doing this, the salt water species did not survive and add further strain on the already troubled ecosystem.

By implementing new rules on the sale and trade of non-native animals plants and imposing tighter shipping regulations, the ecosystem’s problem can be halted, according to researchers. However, the killer shrimp and its partners in crime still threaten the Great Lakes.

By: Alex Lemieux


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Picture: Tom Gill – Flickr License

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