Environmental problems in the Lake Erie ecosystem function
as early warning signals for the other Great Lakes. As the shallowest
of the lakes, Lake Erie has the shortest water retention time
(less than three years), but it also has the largest watershed relative to its size,
the highest human population density, the most farm land, and the
largest number of major cities. These factors converge to make Erie
the Great Lake where ecological disruption often shows up first.
If we can develop a detailed understanding of ecological disruption
symptoms on Lake Erie, we can perhaps avoid similar problems on
the other Great Lakes.
Rapid ecological changes are in fact occurring in the Lake Erie ecosystem,
some as puzzling as they are troubling. Evidence now suggests that these
changes involve complex and often poorly understood interactions between
many factors related to the lake's chemical, physical and biological integrity.
From what we know now about the suite of possible problems and their causes,
achieving ecosystem integrity in Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes will require
greater recognition of the need to address chemical, physical and biological
integrity as parts of a unified whole.