I Intro to Regulating Services
Ecosystem services are broadly defined as the benefits that are provided by ecosystems to humans. These services enrich human life by making it possible for humans to live (Daily, 1997; MA, 2003). Some examples of an ecosystem service are waste decomposition and clean drinking water. According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2004) there are four broad categories of ecosystem services, they include: provisioning, which are products that are obtained from the ecosystem, they include things such as food and water production; regulating, such as climate regulation; supporting, which are services that are needed for the success of all other ecosystem services, this would be something such as soil formation and water cycling; and cultural services, these are services that are non-material but provide benefits to people, such as, recreation and spiritual enhancement (MEA, 2004). The services that ecosystems provide for us are vital to our being, but their importance is often overlooked. Because ecosystem services maintain the conditions on Earth, we should not take them for granted.
A regulating service is one of the four broad categories of ecosystem services. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment defines these services as ones that are beneficial to humans through the regulation of ecosystem services. An example of a regulating service is crop pollination. The bees act as the service when they pollinate our crops, and we benefit in the way of a food product. Diverse food chains as well as aquatic habitats are other examples of a regulating service; these are so important because we are all a part of the wood web, and the disturbance of a food chain could have negative aspect on our own species. Aquatic habitats are so important because they also “cleanse” the water and reduce toxins; this allows better access to clean drinking water, as well as healthier aquatic species (MEA, 2004). On a very broad scale, climate is regulated by ecosystems. Because of regulatory systems such as soil organisms, land cover, and phytoplankton, the climate of the entire earth is stabilized (Butler, C.D., and W. Oluoch-Kosura; 2006). Regulating services are fundamental to the continuance of life on earth.
II Context of Lake Basins
The Lake Champlain Basin along with numerous other aquatic basins across the country have begun to experience growth in both the number of different invasive species and in their individual populations. Invasive species once present in a basin can be very difficult to maintain and control. (Lake Champlain Basin Program, 2009) Because of this programs consisting of focused and determined individuals are needed to organize and carry out the actions necessary to control and reduce the populations of these different invasive species. (Lake Champlain Basin Program, 2009)
It is good to know that Lake Champlain accompanied by its sister lakes to the west and others ranging across the country have taken action and implemented these programs. Here in Vermont we are lucky to have two widely known organizations that promote and actively participate in the managing and conservation of the Lake Champlain Basin. The first is the Lake Champlain Basin Program which partners with a range of neighboring State government agencies, local communities, private organizations, and individuals to plan, organize and fund efforts which benefit the Lake Champlain Basin’s water quality, fisheries, wetlands, wildlife, recreation, and cultural resources. (Lake Champlain Basin Program, 2009) The second is the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife which consists of five separate divisions and roughly 125 members including a combination of biologist, game wardens, educational coordinators and support staff. (Vermont Fish and Wildlife, 2008). They all believe in and work for one mission “To protect and conserve our fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the people of Vermont.” (Vermont Fish and Wildlife, 2008). As far as reducing invasive species goes the department contributes in various ways including monitoring and collecting crucial data from the Lakes boat launches, reviewing thousands of water projects, and protecting over 130 miles of river and lake shore lines. (Vermont Fish and Wildlife, 2008).
Aside from the Lake Champlain basin others have also taken a stand to invasive species. Ever since the first settlers of the region arrived in the 1800s the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Sea way have remained vulnerable to the introduction and spread of new invasive species. (Great Lakes Information Network, 2009). As time has progressed and the human population has increased so has the number of new invasive species, more than one third being introduced in the last thirty years. (Great Lakes Information Network, 2009). Because of their size the Great Lakes require much more attention to detail and constant monitoring. One of the many programs focused on this matter for Great Lakes region is the GSI or the Great Ships Initiative. The Great Ships Initiative focus is to end the problem of ship-mediated invasive species in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Seaway System (The Great Ships Initiative, 2009). They plan on attacking this problem through a variety of different methods including consistent harbor monitoring and significantly accelerating research, development and implementation of effective ballast treatment systems for ships that visit the Great Lakes from overseas (The Great Ships Initiative, 2009).
Similar programs are also being conducted in the western part of the U.S. The California department of Fish and Game has its own Marine Invasive Species Monitoring Program. This program “conducts biological monitoring to determine the location and geographic ranges of introduced species in the California’s coastal and estuarine waters. The ongoing monitoring is also a mechanism to detect new introductions” (MSIP, 2007). In Colorado, the Division of Wildlife promotes mandatory boat inspections and regulations to help prevent the spread of the zebra mussel which has been encroaching on the lakes and river systems of Colorado and other surrounding states. These boating regulations include routines such as cleaning, draining, and drying of each water vessel after it leaves the water in order to reduce the spread and introduction of the mussel into new waters (Colorado Division of Wildlife, 2010).
There are a lot of similarities between the different programs searched across the U.S. These programs consistently monitor and observe the lakes and basins in order to catch any changes or new introductions as soon as possible. Many of the programs have taken on these control efforts because they are rather simple, cost-efficient, and effective. The larger lakes that have more funding are able to conduct more research studies and extend their efforts to off-shore laboratories which in turn provides them with more crucial information including things such as where the species may have originated from, where it is currently, and what can be done to control and reduce its presence.
III. Context of Lake Champlain
The plant and animal communities that interact in the Lake Champlain dictate the health of lake’s complex food web system. Biodiversity within Lake Champlain allows for nature to exhibit a natural food web with interactions between the plants and animals. When there is a healthy relationship between plants and animals native fish diversity thrives, there is overall improved habitat, and enhanced water quality (Young et al., 2000). This leads to a more pleasing environment where self-sustaining populations are able to support industries such as fishing (Young et al., 2000).
Every single interaction and member of the aquatic community is important, from the little phytoplankton and zooplankton to the more complex organisms at the top of the food web including largemouth bass, northern pike, lake trout, and even humans (State of the Lake, 2008). Any disruption in this food chain throws the entire system out of line. Recently there have been changes in the phytoplankton community due to the increasing prevalence of cyanobacteria (State of the Lake, 2008). The consequences of this disruption are still unknown; however, the problems can escalate up to the higher levels of the food web. It is currently being monitored by the Lake Champlain Basin Program (State of the Lake, 2008).
Other potential disrupters of the food web include nonnative plants and animals. In order for native communities to thrive and for there to continue to be ecosystem services, it is necessary to ensure that interferences are managed accordingly. Currently there are 15 nonnative plants in Lake Champlain (Young et al., 2000). The main problem with invasive plants is that they crowd out native species in the lake. For example, the water chestnut and Eurasian watermilfoil began infiltrating into the South Lake in the 1940s (State of the Lake, 2008). These two invasive plants have displaced native plants, which provide habitat and food to the fish populations. There have been some invasive species programs in order to combat the spread of these harmful plants. In 2006, 12,000 of these plants were removed by hand (State of the Lake, 2008). It was reported in 2007, that there were less water chestnuts and the health of the lake was improving in the South Lake and Main Lake; however, the amount of water chestnuts in the Missisquoi Bay were increasing (State of the Lake, 2008).
The presence of invasive animals also threatens Lake Champlain’s biodiversity and aquatic health. There are over 80 native animal species and 15 nonnative species (State of the Lake, 2008). Three of the most prevalent and most discussed nonnative species include aleweifes, white perch, and zebra mussels. Alewifes were discovered in Lake Champlain in the 1960s (Young et al., 2008). They compete for food with native species, eat native fish eggs, and eat zooplankton (Young et al., 2008). All of these actions reduce the native fish population and further change the natural environment of the lake. It is thought that the alewifes also compete with smelt, which is an essential food for all pelagic fish in the lake (Young et al., 2008). White perch entered the lake a little later in 1984, and they are now found all throughout Lake Champlain (State of the Lake, 2008). This species is especially threatening because they are opportunistic feeders that prey on eggs of native species. Finally, zebra mussels are the most known nonnative species in the lake. They entered the lake fairly recently in 1993 (State of the Lake, 2008). The zebra mussels are filter feeders, meaning that they eat plankton. The plankton is an essential part of the lake habitat and provides food for many fish. The disappearance of the plankton is clearing the lake in only some areas, although zebra mussels can now be found in every segment of the lake (State of the Lake, 2008). They are a fast growing species that are suffocating the growth of native mussel species.
One last important species to note are sea lamprey. Although they are thought to be a native species in the lake, the sea lamprey population is currently extreme. Sea lampreys survive by sucking on the body fluids of other fish, which eventually kills them (State of the Lake, 2008). There are 20 known tributaries in Lake Champlain where sea lamprey reproduce (Vermont Fish and Wildlife, 2008). Because of this great infestation, 29.4 million dollars was lost annually due to fishermen fishing somewhere else (Vermont Fish and Wildlife, 2008). There have been monitoring programs since 1985 to track the prevalence of sea lamprey in Lake Champlain. The sample average number of wounds due to sea lamprey per 100 fish was found to be 25 for lake trout and 15 for salmon. However, the latest data from 2007 greatly exceeds these averages with 46 wounds per 100 for lake trout and 71 wounds per 100 for salmon (State of the Lake, 2008). Since 1985, the number of wounds exceeded the sample average by more than 50% for lake trout and salmon, except for one data sampling between 1993 and 1998 where the data was within 50% of meeting the target for lake trout and salmon (State of the Lake, 2008).
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