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Benthos and plankton of western Lake Michigan Areas of Concern in comparison to non-Areas of Concern for selected rivers and harbors, 2012 and 2014

August 5, 2019

Since their designation in the 1980s, Areas of Concern (AOCs) around the Great Lakes have been the focus of multi-State and international cleanup efforts that were needed after decades of human activity resulted in severely contaminated sediment, water-quality degradation, loss of habitat for aquatic organisms, and impaired public use. Although individual Great Lake States had been working to cleanup and mitigate environmental concerns, there was insufficient funding and little coordination between Federal and State efforts to address the large and complex set of problems. The Great Lakes Ecosystem Protection Act was passed in 2010, providing for comprehensive multi-State planning and dedicating Federal funds to accelerate cleanup and improve conditions at the AOCs with a particular focus on 14 beneficial use impairments, such as degradation of benthos and degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations. Of Wisconsin’s five AOCs, four lie adjacent to Lake Michigan: Lower Menominee River, Lower Green Bay and Fox River, Sheboygan River, and Milwaukee Estuary (which includes the Milwaukee River, Menomonee River, Kinnickinnic River, and Milwaukee Harbor). The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has focused much of the cleanup on removal of contaminated sediment from these AOCs because many beneficial use impairments were a result of contaminated sediment. However, recent and quantitative assessments of the status of benthos and plankton at the AOCs were lacking. Therefore, to inform management decisions regarding the status of benthos and plankton at AOCs, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Great Lakes National Program Office, assessed the condition of benthos (benthic invertebrates) and plankton (zooplankton and phytoplankton) at sites in the 4 AOCs and at 6 less-degraded comparison sites (hereafter referred to as “non-AOCs”).

The U.S. Geological Survey collected benthos, plankton, sediment, and water three times per year in 2012 and 2014 between May and August at the AOC and non-AOC comparison sites. Except for Lower Green Bay and Milwaukee Harbor, each AOC site or subsite was paired with sites in two non-AOCs with similar environmental conditions. Community-based metrics were compared using univariate and multivariate statistics between each AOC and the mean of all non-AOCs and between each AOC and the mean of two non-AOC comparison sites. Although it was assumed that, because of their designation as AOCs, the relationships would indicate degraded conditions compared to the non-AOC sites, several metrics for the AOCs did not significantly differ between the AOCs and non-AOCs in 2014. Of all four AOCs examined for benthos, only the Lower Menominee River AOC differed from its two non-AOC comparison sites; the density and richness of taxa in insect orders Ephemeroptera-Plecoptera-Trichoptera (mayflies, stoneflies, and caddisflies) in combined benthos (dredge and artificial substrate samples) were lower at the AOC. For plankton, the assemblages for zooplankton at the Fox River near Allouez (a subsite in the Lower Green Bay AOC) and the Milwaukee River differed from their two non-AOC comparison sites; density of zooplankton was lower at both AOCs. Metrics for combined benthos and combined phytoplankton (soft algae and diatoms) at the Sheboygan River AOC did not differ from the two non-AOC comparison sites; however, the diversity of zooplankton in 2014 was lower at the Sheboygan River AOC than at the two non-AOC comparison sites. The combination of univariate and multivariate statistics provided a way to evaluate the status of the aquatic assemblage at each AOC and whether or not the assemblage differed from less-degraded non-AOC comparison sites. Results for this study provide multiple lines of evidence for evaluating the status of aquatic communities at AOC sites in Wisconsin along the western Lake Michigan shoreline in 2012 and 2014.

Publication Year 2019
Title Benthos and plankton of western Lake Michigan Areas of Concern in comparison to non-Areas of Concern for selected rivers and harbors, 2012 and 2014
DOI 10.3133/sir20195051
Authors Barbara C. Scudder Eikenberry, Hayley T. Olds, Daniel J. Burns, Amanda H. Bell, James L. Carter
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2019-5051
Index ID sir20195051
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Upper Midwest Water Science Center