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By Dr. Doug Tozer (Ontario Program Scientist) and Gregor Beck (Senior Conservation Advisor), Bird Studies Canada

Common Loon killed by type-E botulism
Photo: Bird Studies Canada

The health of Lake Erie reached a low point in the 1960s and 1970s. It was described as an environmental disaster and headlines declared that the lake was dead. But pressure from conservationists led to government regulations, and by the 1980s, the health of the lake improved greatly. Now, by contrast, we are hearing about harmful algal blooms, botulism, invasive species, climate change impacts, and other issues. You may be wondering why this is and what it means for birds.
To help answer these questions and to foster action to conserve Lake Erie and its birds, we recently completed a series of three review articles in Ontario Birds, the official journal of the Ontario Field Ornithologists. The articles provide an overview of some of the current environmental and ecological issues facing Lake Erie, with emphasis on the implications for the numerous bird species that depend on the lake for breeding and migration. There are dozens of worthy issues to profile. We chose to tackle:
1) invasive Common Reed or Phragmites,
2) Zebra Mussels and Quagga Mussels, and
3) type-E botulism.
In addition to a review of each issue, the articles present new analyses of relevant Citizen Science data from Bird Studies Canada programs, including the Great Lakes Marsh Monitoring Program, Canadian Lakes Loon Survey, and Christmas Bird Count, and suggest actions that we can all take to help alleviate the issues.

Non-native invasive Zebra Mussels
Photo: Bird Studies Canada

These three issues are caused by complicated interactions among non-native invasive species, increased nutrient levels, climate change, and other factors. Therefore, we cannot stress enough the importance of taking steps to avoid introducing and spreading non-native invasive species. Anything we can do to reduce nutrient loading and contribute to climate change solutions in the Great Lakes will also help mitigate the issues.
If you want to take action to improve the health of Lake Erie, perhaps the most important thing you can do is to start a conversation, especially with current and prospective policy makers. The evidence shows that there is much at stake – for birds as well as humans. All too often, the negative effects that these issues have on birds or other wildlife tend to go unnoticed or unaddressed. By expressing that keeping birds healthy is important to us, and sharing how they are being affected, we can help in a big way to achieve a healthier Lake Erie for all.
We sincerely thank the Ontario Field Ornithologists and Ontario Birds for publishing the articles. Thanks also to the Citizen Scientists who contributed program data that informed our reviews. To read the articles, click here and follow the links located in the left-hand column. Support to the authors while preparing these articles has been provided by the John and Pat McCutcheon Charitable Foundation and Bird Studies Canada’s Long Point Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Program.

Non-native invasive Common Reed, or Phragmites
Photo: Steve Timmermans

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