, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 1017–1028 | Cite as

Alteration of Ecosystem Function by Zebra Mussels in Oneida Lake: Impacts on Submerged Macrophytes

  • B. ZhuEmail author
  • D. G. Fitzgerald
  • C. M. Mayer
  • L. G. Rudstam
  • E. L. Mills


Dreissenid mussels (the zebra mussel Dreissena polymorpha and the quagga mussel D. bugensis) are ecosystem engineers that modify the physical environment by increasing light penetration. Such a change is likely to affect the distribution and diversity of submerged macrophytes. Filter-feeding by these mussels has been associated with increased water clarity in many North American and European lakes. In this study, we report the increase in water clarity of Oneida Lake, New York, USA, for 1975–2002 and argue that the increase was caused by zebra mussel invasion rather than declines in nutrients. Over the study period, although mean total phosphorus decreased significantly, the main increase in water clarity occurred after the zebra mussel invasion in 1991. The average depth receiving 1% surface light increased from 6.7 m to 7.8 m after the invasion of zebra mussels, representing a 23% areal expansion. The maximum depth of macrophyte colonization, as measured by diver and hydroacoustic surveys, increased from 3.0 m before the invasion of zebra mussels to 5.1 m after their establishment. In addition, macrophyte species richness increased, the frequency of occurrence increased for most species, and the composition of the macrophyte community changed from low-light–tolerant species to those tolerating a wide range of light conditions. Comparisons with observations reported in the literature indicate that increased light penetration alone could explain these changes in macrophyte distribution and diversity. Such changes will increase the importance of benthic primary production over pelagic production in the food web, thereby representing an overall alteration of ecosystem function, a process we refer to as “benthification”.


submerged macrophytes dreissenid mussels light water clarity Secchi depth species diversity Oneida Lake 



This work was supported in part by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) award NA46RG0090 to the Research Foundation of the State University of New York from New York Sea Grant (project R/CE−20). The US government is authorized to produce and distribute reprints for governmental purposes, notwithstanding any copyright notation that may appear herein. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of NOAA or any of its subagencies. We are deeply indebted to the many people who contributed to the sampling program and data analysis spanning 28 years at the Cornell Biological Field Station. We also thank M. E. Ritchie, D. A. Frank, and S. A. Heckathorn for the many helpful discussions, suggestions, and ideas they afforded us during the course of this study. Constructive comments on an earlier draft were provided by D. L. Strayer and the anonymous referees. This is contribution number 231 of the Cornell Biological Field Station.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. Zhu
    • 1
    Email author
  • D. G. Fitzgerald
    • 2
  • C. M. Mayer
    • 1
    • 3
  • L. G. Rudstam
    • 2
  • E. L. Mills
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiologySyracuse UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural ResourcesCornell University Biological Field StationNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of E.E.E.S.University of Toledo, Lake Erie CenterOregonUSA

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