New Algae Monitoring Program

After a few years of studying a specific species of algae called Gloeotrichia echinulata, which is thought to be linked to water quality deterioration, we became aware of how little we know about the other algae species present in our waterbodies.  In  lake evaluations in Maine and New England, leading lake scientists have continued to emphasize the importance of monitoring the algae present. Without this information, our understanding of lakes is going to be incomplete. This fact became even more evident during the recent study of Gloeotrichia.  If there had been some previous baseline algae assessments, our current Gloeotrichia work would have benefited greatly.

Because algae monitoring is detailed and time intensive, LEA has not previously incorporated this type of assessment into our water monitoring program.  However, after getting our feet wet with the Gloeotrichia study, we began to look at what other organizations are doing to monitor algae and came up with a plan.  Using the same procedures as Portland Water District, LEA will begin monitoring algae populations on a number of lakes this summer, including Moose Pond, Keoka Lake, and McWain Pond. With the help and funding of lake associations, we will be sampling, counting and indentifying algae and analyzing how their populations change over time.  Thanks to a grant from the Norcross Wildlife Foundation which went towards purchasing a high powered microscope and Matthew Duplisea for use of his digital projecting microscope, we will not only be able to count and categorize the algae accurately but also digitally display and photograph them.

Algae populations naturally shift over time for a number of reasons, such as availability of nutrients, temperature, light levels, predation, and lake stratification and mixing. Algae are a natural and necessary component in all lakes. They are important because they respond quickly to lake conditions and form the basis of lake food webs. This means they are the foundation of the biological productivity of a lake. But when lakes contain high levels of nutrients, this often triggers rapid growth of algae and results in algae blooms. High levels of algae cause poor water quality by reducing visibility, affecting food web structure, and altering the temperature regime of the lake. Algae play an essential role in lake function, and that is the reason why it is so important to understand the unique populations present in each lake.

Lake algal populations are complex and can be made up of over 100 different species. These species can be grouped into a number of types (taxonomic classes) of algae that share similar characteristics. It is in looking at the relative amount of each type of algae that we gain valuable insight into the functioning of a lake. In particular, LEA is interested in looking at the levels of cyanobacteria – a group that is known for causing algal blooms and producing toxins (Gloeotrichia belongs to this group). The new algae monitoring program will provide LEA and the communities we serve with a wealth of information about these important creatures that are so crucial to our lakes.

If you would like more information about our algae monitoring program, please contact LEA’s Assistant Director Colin Holme at colin@leamaine.org.

Lakes Environmental Association, 230 Main Street, Bridgton, Maine, 04009