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Oneida Lake Subject of New Book

Professor Donald Stewart co-edits book on lake’s history, ecology
Posted March 2016

Six decades of studying the fish populations, fisheries and limnology of Oneida Lake have been synthesized in the newly released book. "Oneida Lake: Long-term Dynamics of a Managed Ecosystem and Its Fishery."

Dr. Donald Stewart, a professor in ESF's Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, co-edited the book along with Drs. Lars G. Rudstam, Edward L. Mills and James R. Jackson, all of the Cornell University Biological Field Station.

"ESF has had a long-term connection with the Cornell Field Station," said Stewart. "It's been a fruitful relationship between ESF and the field station."

Studies on the fish populations, fisheries and limnology of Oneida Lake, northeast of Syracuse, started in the end of the 1950s and continue today. "Usually lake studies last five to 10 years then people move on or there's a long-term study of the fish, but not the complete ecosystem," said Stewart.

"Oneida is one of the few lakes in the world that has such a long-term data set on fish and the important components of the ecosystem," he said. It's also one of the most important sport fisheries in New York state, he said.

Early lake research concentrated on walleye and yellow perch, and their interactions, but was soon expanded to include interactions with the lake ecosystem, an early example of the ecosystem approach. The explorations of Oneida Lake have continued for 60 years, and the resulting data series is one of the best available anywhere that couples fish ecology and limnology.

In the book, collaborators from across the world have contributed insights into functioning of the lake's ecology and fisheries, and by extension, to functioning of similar freshwater lakes elsewhere. Members of the ESF scientific community contributing to the book include Stewart, Dr. Kimberly Schultz, associate professor, and former graduate students Ji X. He, Nasseer Idrisi and Xinli Ji.

Stewart has been involved in Oneida Lake research for more than 25 years and has had three doctoral students do aquatic research on aspects of the lake.

"Oneida Lake is reasonably unpolluted," said Stewart. In the 1970s there were signs of stress because of excess nutrients but the situation was rectified by improved sewage treatment surrounding the lake. More recently, the lake has been impacted by invasive organisms such as the zebra and quagga mussels in the 1990s. "They are still a major feature on the bottom of the lake, and they've changed the lake in ways that are probably irreversible," he said.

"In some ways it's better," he said. "The water is clearer, but the plants near the shore grow more aggressively and that favors some fish more than others. So within the lake, there can be winners and losers."

The long-term data that exists on the lake makes it easier to respond to new invasives or other problems that might impact the lake in the future, Stewart noted. The book's contributors look at climate warming as a major challenge facing the lake, offering a few predictions as to what it will bring.

"The period of ice coverage is already getting shorter every year," said Stewart, "and we can expect more extended periods of low oxygen in the middle of the lake." The warmer water will favor black basses over walleyes and pike, which prefer colder water temperatures. "We also can expect that there will be surprises."

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