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Invasive species threaten Rochester lake health

On October 7, 2015

Research surrounding the state of aquatic life in New York’s Great Lakes is ongoing to further connect the 
presence of certain species with water conditions.


The City of Rochester’s primary water supply draws from Hemlock and Canadice Lake. Among the Finger Lakes, Canadice Lake is one of the smallest and was the primary location for  Mitchell Owens’ graduate research for The College at Brockport’s Environmental Science and Biology departments. Owens investigated Conesus, Honeoye, Hemlock and Canadice Lakes for invasive macroinvertebrate species. 

As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency, “macroinvertebrates are organisms that are large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Examples of aquatic macroinvertebrates include insects in their larval or nymph form, crayfish, clams, snails and worms.” 

Additionally, macroinvertebrates can be used to monitor the biological parameters of a body of water. The presence of particular organisms indicates the level of water quality due to their sensitivity to pollution. Their presence is particularly important when thinking about a source for human drinking water. Owens received a grant from the Finger Lakes Institute to conduct a preliminary survey for invasive species in lakes which have not been given a lot of attention, but are still important to the surrounding areas. 

Conesus and Honeoye have highly populated shorelines. Both lakes suffered from a bout of blue-green algae in the past few years. Hemlock and Canadice contribute to Rochester’s water supply and are used recreationally. Owens was responsible for diving to collect samples. 

“It’s very different than diving [in] the Caribbean where everything is just crystal clear,” Owens said.  

The method used for collecting data on the microinverebrates was by the use of an airlift suction pump, useful for rocky, natural habitats. Owens was assisted by Dr. Jim Haynes, Ph.D. of the Environmental Science Department whose own research focuses on fish ecology and fishery science. Haynes has already looked into benthic macroinvertebrate communities, specifically the impacts of zebra mussels, which are common invasives in New York water systems and the Great lakes. 

Zebra mussels are native to the Black and Caspian Seas and were first discovered in Lake St. Clair in 1988. These species are particularly detrimental because of their fast reproduction rates and ability to attach themselves onto everything.

Although it is too early for a report to be published, Owens had both good and bad news to share. 

“The bad news is that all four of the lakes we studied did have some invasive species present, but in Canadice and Hemlock we only found the invasive mussels, which was somewhat expected,” Owens said. “The good news is that we didn’t find a number of invasive species we were expecting to find in some of these lakes, which is pretty exciting.”

Owens hopes to expand his research further by analyzing how the organisms reflect the quality of the lakes. By focusing on invasives like the zebra mussel, macroinvertebrates are good indicators of water health. In fact, the more present, the healthier a habitat is. “I’m also wanting to see if there’s any correlation between land use and macroinvertebrate community composition,” Owens said. 

In addition to Owens’ research, Brockport has facilitated multiple aquatic studies this year. Other students have looked at water chestnut viability in lake wetlands and proteins in multiple fish populations. The Master of Science Program in Environmental Science and Biology’s purpose “is to develop scientists who will be able to analyze and understand environmental systems, predict environmental change, and participate in the management of the environment.” 

With each student tasked to conduct their own research and develop their own thesis, there will be future attempts at biomonitoring nearby ecosystems and an increasing concern for protecting the world around us.


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