Burrowing mayflies of the genus Hexagenia spp. were widely distributed (ca. 80% of sites) and abundant (ca. 160 nymphs/mA?) in the western basin of Lake Erie of the Laurentian Great Lakes in 1929-1930, prior to a period of anoxia in the mid 1950s. Nymphs were absent or rare in the basin between 1961 and 1973-1975. In 1979-1991, nymphs were infrequently found (13-46% of sites) in low abundance (3-40 nymphs/mA?) near shore (<7.5 km from shore), but were absent or rare offshore (0-7% of sites at 0-1 nymphs/mA?). Increased abundance occurred offshore between 1991 (0% of sites) and 1993 (52% of sites at 7/mA?). Annual sampling, beginning in 1995, indicates that nymphs increased in both nearshore and offshore waters. By 1997, nymphs were found throughout the lake (88% of sites) at a mean density 40-fold greater (392/mA?) than that observed in 1993 (11/mA?). In 1998, the distribution of nymphs remained the same as 1997 (88% of sites) but density declined 3-fold (392 to 134/mA?). These data indicate that mayflies have recolonized sediments of western Lake Erie and that their abundance may be similar to levels observed before their disappearance in the mid 1950s. However, prior to the mid 1950s, densities were greater in offshore than nearshore waters, but between 1979 and 1998 greater densities occurred near shore than offshore. In addition, there were two areas in the 1990s where low densities consistently occurred. Therefore, recovery of nymphs in western Lake Erie may not have been complete in 1998. At present we do not know the cause for the sudden recolonization of nymphs in large portions of western Lake Erie. Undoubtedly, pollution-abatement programs contributed to improved conditions that would have ultimately led to mayfly recovery in the future. However, the explosive growth of the exotic zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, undoubtedly diverted plankton foods to bottom substrates which could have increased the speed at which Hexagenia spp. nymphs recolonized sediments in western Lake Erie in the 1990s.
Additional publication details
Recolonization and possible recovery of burrowing mayflies (Ephemeroptera: Ephemeridae: Hexagenia spp.) in Lake Erie of the Laurentian Great Lakes