Photo: Felicia Fonseca, File / AP Photo
While officials have been feverishly trying to keep the dreaded Asian carp from making its way into the Great Lakes -- using tactics that range from poisoning to electric blockades -- scientists now say that the tiny quagga mussel has already done the damage. The mussel is causing unprecedented changes in the lower food web in Lake Michigan, perhaps making the territory inhospitable to the voracious carp.
"It's estimated that there are over 500 trillion dreissenids (freshwater mussels) currently in Lake Michigan," says Gary Fahnenstiel, senior ecologist for NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in an interview with Slashfood.
The thumbnail-sized striped quagga mussel is a filter feeder. They were first spotted in Lake Michigan in the early 2000s, likely finding their way there in the ballast tanks of ships originating in the Caspian Sea. As their population continues to grow, quagga mussels have significantly decreased the amount of phytoplankton in the water. That plankton forms the basis of the food chain, which supports native species like lake whitefish, deepwater sculpin and alewives.
"The water has never been clearer in Lake Michigan," says Fahnenstiel.