By Shannon McGinty, Lake Windermere Ambassadors
Aquatic plants in Lake Windermere are often misunderstood. While they may be considered a nuisance for boating or swimming, they hold significant value for the ecosystem! Aquatic plants are an important food source for many animals and are a critical dietary component for migrating waterfowl. They provide habitat for fish and many small animals, such as frogs, snails and turtles.
Numerous animals use aquatic plants as cover from predatory fish and birds; they become nurseries for fish, invertebrates and amphibians, and aquatic plants provide housing supplies for animals. Some birds such as grebe species utilize aquatic plant material to build floating nests that can accommodate fluctuating water levels.
Native plants can also improve water clarity and quality, by stabilizing sediments and absorbing excess nutrients. They also contribute dissolved oxygen to the water via photosynthesis, making sure other forms of aquatic life such as fish, mammals, and invertebrates are all able to survive and breathe enough oxygen.
Healthy native aquatic plants can also help prevent the introduction of invasive plants through competitive exclusion, and they reduce rates of shoreline erosion. Several aquatic plant species also hold cultural significance to First Nations people. Unquestionably, maintaining freshwater aquatic plant species is important in any lake or wetland ecosystem!
Aquatic Plant Survey
For the ninth year, Rachel Darvill (B.Sc., M.Sc.) assisted the Lake Windermere Ambassadors to complete an aquatic plant inventory on Lake Windermere.
Shoreline surveys for aquatic plant species were conducted at six shoreline survey stations on September 13, 2018.
Offshore sampling for aquatic plant species was completed at 11 locations considered to be at high-risk for introduction of aquatic invasive plants, with the use of an aluminum boat and outboard motor (provided by the District of Invermere) on September 17, 2018.
As with previous years of inventory effort, Lake Windermere appears to have good diversity and abundance of native aquatic plant species, which is a critical component of a healthy aquatic ecosystem.
The major goal of the aquatic plant inventories is to determine if any invasive plant species are present in the Lake Windermere ecosystem, and no aquatic invaders have been detected to-date.
This project remains diligent in its annual efforts of early detection, so that a rapid management response can be implemented if an aquatic invasive plant is detected. This project could not be completed without generous financial support from the Columbia Valley Local Conservation Fund, as well as additional funders of the Lake Windermere Ambassadors including the Regional District of East Kootenay, District of Invermere, Columbia Basin Trust, and Real Estate Foundation of BC.
- The growing popularity of boating in Lake Windermere poses a high risk for the introduction and spread of aquatic invasive plant species in the lake and into the Columbia Wetlands ecosystem as a whole. Motorized and non-motorized watercraft are common vectors for transmitting aquatic invasive species. Education directed towards the boating community, as well as continuing partnerships with the East Kootenay Invasive Species Council (EKISC) and the Province of BC’s Invasive Mussel Defense program, will be essential for helping stop the spread of invasive species to Lake Windermere.
- It is recommended that the Lake Windermere Ambassadors continue to work to educate the people who live and recreate on Lake Windermere about the importance of native aquatic plant species and the many benefits that they provide. Dredging and aquatic plant disruptions, especially at the ecologically significant South end of Lake Windermere, should be discouraged.
- It is advised that the Lake Windermere Ambassadors also continue to develop and promote education materials (e.g. pamphlet, e-newsletter) that highlight the ecological values of aquatic plants to improve public’s understanding and awareness of aquatic plants.
With the exception of four non-indigenous fish species (i.e. Northern Pike, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Pumpkinseed Sunfish) along with Purple Loosestrife, no other aquatic invaders are known to occur within the entire Columbia Wetlands ecosystem, including Lake Windermere and Columbia Lake!
We are extremely lucky to have no occurrence of invasive aquatic plants in Lake Windermere, so let’s be sure to keep it that way. Check out the Clean, Drain, Dry resources on our webpage and ekisc.com to learn more about how YOU can help prevent the establishment of invasive species in our watershed!
Read the full aquatic species inventory report for 2018 below: