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USGS to Map Richness of Aquatic Life in the Great Lakes
Released: 9/9/2002

Contact Information:
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
Office of Communication
119 National Center
Reston, VA 20192
Donna Myers 1-click interview
Phone: 614-430-7715

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and its cooperators are launching a 5-year study in the Great Lakes basin to identify and map unprotected areas of substantial richness in aquatic animal species, and to determine how free those habitats are from human disturbance. By locating the places that support a full range of aquatic species, scientists hope to help decision makers identify gaps and set priorities for conservation.

"Our goal is to keep common species common," said Donna Myers, coodinator of the USGS Great Lakes Aquatic GAP Analysis Program. "GAP analysis grew out of the realization that a species-by-species approach to conservation does not address the continual loss and fragmentation of natural landscapes," said Myers. "The most efficient way to protect animal species is to protect their habitats. But protection can’t be successfully accomplished until we know where these places are located," Myers explained.

The Nature Conservancy estimates that the Great Lakes region supports more than 30 communities of plants and animals that are found nowhere else on Earth. The Great Lakes and their watersheds provide habitat for approximately 300 species of fish plus diverse numbers and types of freshwater mussels, crayfish, and aquatic insects. The rivers, streams, wetlands, and coastal areas of the Great Lakes system are key, because fish and other animal species depend on them for habitat. However, what we know about the aquatic biodiversity of this 200,000 square-mile region is incomplete. At the same time there are many threats to the aquatic biodiversity of the Great Lakes Region including invasive species, agricultural development, forestry, and urban expansion.

"Restoring and preserving the richness of species—the biodiversity—of the lands and waters of the region is an important activity because biodiversity in the Great Lakes is strongly tied to the economy, health, and quality of life of the surrounding human population through its positive effects on tourism, recreation, agriculture, drinking-water quality, and fish consumption," said Myers.

The Great Lakes Aquatic GAP is one of the newest projects in the National GAP Program. USGS is cooperating with more than 200 other natural resource agencies in 49 of the 50 states across the nation. The Great Lakes Aquatic GAP project will provide maps, data, information, and scientific studies of basinwide, lakewide, and statewide patterns in aquatic biodiversity. The project will involve cooperative relationships with state, local, and nongovernmental agencies in developing and applying this information to state and regional conservation activities.

"The Departments of Natural Resources in the States of Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin have taken a strong interest in the project," Myers said. "State-level studies, which are components of the entire project, will begin first in Michigan, Wisconsin, and New York, followed by Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. A pilot state-level study is in its third year in Ohio."

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is leading the regional effort to combine data from all the Great Lakes states. Funding of just over $5 million is planned for the effort from 2003 through 2008. More information can be obtained at the Web sites http://www.gap.uidaho.edu and http://www.glsc.usgs.gov/GLGAP.htm.

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