Understanding lakeshore ecosystems — Part 2: Inland lakes

Poor lake shore habitat is the biggest problem in the nation’s lakes, says EPA.

Photo by Bindu Bhakta, MSU Extension
Photo by Bindu Bhakta, MSU Extension

According to the 2007 National Lake Assessment conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Poor lake shore habitat is the biggest problem in the nation’s lakes.” The results of this study report on lakes that are more than 10 acres in size and at least a meter deep. There were 1,028 lakes tested including 50 Michigan lakes. The findings of the report state that inland lakes across the nation need better care. The interrelationships of many physical, chemical and biological factors were evaluated for each lake.

You can read more about the National Lake Assessment from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s National Lakes Assessment Survey - Michigan Lakes. “Understanding Lake Data” from University of Wisconsin Extension helps people understand information about lake quality and interpret lake data.

A healthy lake needs to meet certain criteria. Healthy lakes exhibit these traits:

  • Not overloaded with nutrients.
  • Safe for recreation.
  • Has aquatic habitat that supplies food, cover and spawning areas.
  • Has natural shoreline plants to support a variety of wildlife.

Habitat is defined as a place where species get what they need to survive—food, water, cover and a place to raise their young. Habitats along a natural lakeshore support a variety of wildlife species in the water and the adjacent land. These ecosystems are diverse and each has its own personality. Each lakeshore property has its own ecosystem. People have control over some actions that effect the ecosystem in how the land is managed, yet people have no control over certain factors like the amount of rain or snow a lake receives.

Why is habitat so important for Michigan lakes? Michigan lakes support 24 species of amphibians, 25 species of reptiles, 87 species of birds and 19 species of mammals, according to a study by O’Neal et al. in 2006. Also, there are 65 species of Michigan-native fish, 18 of which are identified as species of greatest conservation need in the Michigan Wildlife Action Plan. They’re also supported by critical habitat found in the littoral and nearby areas, according to a study by Eagle et al. in 2005.

A lake’s ecosystem also includes its watershed—an area of land that drains to a common point. The number one thing to remember about a watershed is whatever we do on the land affects water quality. Fertilizers, pet wastes, gas, oil and other contaminants may enter the lake through runoff. The water runs off the land has a great effect on the quality of the lake water. Managing runoff and practices to lessen contaminants is important. There is no new water. We must be vigilant in protecting our water and lakeshores.

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