After a 40-year absence caused by pollution and eutrophication, burrowing mayflies (Hexagenia spp.) recolonized western Lake Erie in the mid 1990s as water quality
improved. Mayflies are an important food resource for the economically valuable yellow perch fishery and are considered to be major indicator species of the ecological condition of the lake. Since their reappearance, however, mayfly populations have suffered occasional unexplained recruitment failures. In 2002, a failure of fall recruitment followed an unusually warm summer in which western Lake Erie became temporarily stratified, resulting in low dissolved oxygen levels near the lake floor. In the present study, we examined a possible link between Hexagenia recruitment and periods of intermittent stratification for the years 1997-2002. A simple model was developed using surface temperature, wind speed, and water column data from 2003 to predict stratification. The model was then used to detect episodes of stratification in past years for which water column data are unavailable. Low or undetectable mayfly recruitment occurred in 1997 and 2002, years in which there was frequent or extended stratification between June and September. Highest mayfly reproduction in 2000 corresponded to the fewest stratified periods. These results suggest that even relatively brief periods of stratification can result in loss of larval mayfly recruitment, probably through the effects of hypoxia. A trend toward increasing frequency of hot summers in the Great Lakes
region could result in recurrent loss of mayfly larvae in western Lake Erie and other shallow areas in the Great Lakes.
Additional publication details
Recruitment of Hexagenia mayfly nymphs in western Lake Erie linked to environmental variability