Oneida Lake: Long-term Dynamics of a Managed Ecosystem and Its Fishery

Chapter 6: Oneida Lake: A Century of Biotic Introductions and Ecosystem Change

Edward L. Mills, John L. Forney, and Kristen T. Holeck

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781934874431.ch6

Since the settlement of North America by Europeans nearly 250 years ago, human activities have facilitated biological invasions leading to negative ecological and economic impacts on aquatic ecosystems. Colonization and commercial development set the stage for fundamental biological changes and habitat modifications for many aquatic ecosystems throughout northeastern North America, including New York’s largest inland lake, Oneida Lake (Mills et al. 1997). Dam construction and changes in land use negatively impacted New York State’s aquatic ecosystems, but the practice exerting the most influential change on ecosystem structure and function was the construction of canals. These waterways provided a pathway for the invasion of hundreds of organisms into New York’s waters. At the peak of canal activity, New York had ten major canals (Smith 1985) (Figure 1). Oneida Lake was not part of the original Erie Canal, but with the completion of the New York Erie-Barge Canal in 1925, the lake became an important link between the Great Lakes to the west and the Atlantic seaboard to the east. The opening of the Erie-Barge Canal positioned Oneida Lake at the middle of a corridor through which nonindigenous species (NIS) passed between America’s heartland and the Atlantic Coast. The potential for inoculation of Oneida Lake with organisms from distant continents increased with the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. With the opening of the Seaway, large transoceanic ships facilitated the transport and establishment of NIS in nearby Great Lakes ecosystems, and the Oswego River and Erie-Barge Canal system facilitated the movement of NIS into Oneida Lake. Before the construction of the Oswego Canal, only fish able to move up rapids such as Atlantic Salmon Salmo salar and American Eel Anguilla rostrata could move from Lake Ontario to Oneida Lake.

In this chapter, we identify flora and fauna that are nonnative to Oneida Lake and assess the impact of significant invaders. The list includes fishes, invertebrates, and aquatic plants that have become established since the early 1900s. We also develop case histories for Sea Lamprey, White Perch, zebra mussel, and faucet snail and speculate on the vulnerability of Oneida Lake to future biological invasions. An NIS is defined as a successfully reproducing organism in Oneida Lake that did not exist there historically.