A handful of city soil contains more biodiversity than is found on all the dead planets of the solar system….
Redeeming the Sea Lamprey
Quick notes on unloved, unappreciated sea lampreys, since Joe Kernan’s mouth-breathing put them in the news cycle:
> They’re generally described as an invasive species, but there are places — most notably, Lake Ontario, as John Waldman showed — where they are actually natives.
> Where they are natives, they can play an extremely valuable ecological role. To quote an OnEarth Magazine article of my own on Penobscot River restoration, from a section about research on migratory fish by Steve Coghlan and colleagues at the University of Maine:
Coghlan came to Maine from upstate New York, where it wasn’t uncommon for biologists to poison entire streams in hopes of exterminating lamprey. At Sedgeunkedunk, he has found them to be, unexpectedly, a keystone species: to build spawning nests they thrash rocks into place, in the process dislodging fish eggs and invertebrates for other creatures to eat, and loosening gravel for salmon to build their nests. When lamprey die, their decomposing bodies provide a burst of food for insects and microorganisms at the food chain’s base.
Downstream from the lampreys’ carcasses, Coghlan has discovered, biological productivity explodes. That productivity may extend onto land: alewives and lamprey fattened at sea may once have constituted a biomass comparable to the northwest Pacific salmon runs, which are thought to have fertilized the region’s great forests.
Something that didn’t fit in that section: all that thrashing also creates habitat. As Coghlan and colleagues recently wrote, “spawning sea lampreys are ecosystem engineers.” People hate them for killing fish — but in a sense, they bring those fish to life in the first place.
Photo: T. Lawrence, GLFC