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Patterns of invasion in the Laurentian Great Lakes in relation to changes in vector activity


, Anthony Ricciardi, Redpath Museum, 859 Sherbrooke Street West, Montreal, Quebec H3A 2K6, Canada. Tel.: 514-398-4086 ext. 4089#; Fax: 514-398-3185; E-mail:


The Laurentian Great Lakes basin has been invaded by at least 182 non-indigenous species. A new invader is discovered every 28 weeks, which is the highest rate recorded for a freshwater ecosystem. Over the past century, invasions have occurred in phases linked to changes in the dominant vectors. The number of ship-vectored invaders recorded per decade is correlated with the intensity of vessel traffic within the basin. Ballast water release from ocean vessels is the putative vector for 65% of all invasions recorded since the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959. As a preventive measure, ocean vessels have been required since 1993 to exchange their freshwater or estuarine ballast with highly saline ocean water prior to entering the Great Lakes. However, this procedure has not prevented ship-vectored species introductions. Most ships visiting the Great Lakes declare ‘no ballast on board’ (NOBOB) and are exempt from the regulation, even though they carry residual water that is discharged into the Great Lakes during their activities of off-loading inbound cargo and loading outbound cargo. Recently introduced species consist predominantly of benthic invertebrates with broad salinity tolerance. Such species are most likely to survive in a ballast tank following ballast water exchange, as well as transport in the residual water and tank sediments of NOBOB ships. Thus, the Great Lakes remain at risk of being invaded by dozens of euryhaline invertebrates that have spread into Eurasian ports from whence originates the bulk of foreign ships visiting the basin.