Previous studies support the hypothesis that large numbers of infaunal burrow-irrigating organisms in the western basin of Lake Erie may increase significantly the sediment oxygen demand, thus enhancing the rate of hypolimnetic oxygen depletion. We conducted laboratory experiments to quantify burrow oxygen dynamics and increased oxygen demand resulting from burrow irrigation using two different year classes of Hexagenia spp. nymphs from western Lake Erie during summer, 2006. Using oxygen microelectrodes and hot film anemometry, we simultaneously determined oxygen concentrations and burrow water flow velocities. Burrow oxygen depletion rates ranged from 21.7 mg/nymph/mo for 15 mm nymphs at 23 °C to 240.7 mg/nymph/mo for 23 mm nymphs at 13 °C. Sealed microcosm experiments demonstrated that mayflies increase the rate of oxygen depletion by 2-5 times that of controls, depending on size of nymph and water temperature, with colder waters having greater impact. At natural population densities, nymph pumping activity increased total sediment oxygen demand 0.3-2.5 times compared to sediments with no mayflies and accounted for 22-71% of the total sediment oxygen demand. Extrapolating laboratory results to the natural system suggest that Hexagenia spp. populations may exert a significant control on oxygen depletion during intermittent stratification. This finding may help explain some of the fluctuations in Hexagenia spp. population densities in western Lake Erie and suggests that mayflies, by causing their own population collapse irrespective of other environmental conditions, may need longer term averages when used as a bio-indicator of the success of pollution-abatement programs in western Lake Erie and possibly throughout the Great Lakes.
Additional publication details
The effect of mayfly (Hexagenia spp.) burrowing activity on sediment oxygen demand in western Lake Erie