U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 59: 1209–1228 (2002). DOI: 10.1139/F02-087


We describe, explain, and “predict” dispersal and ecosystem impacts of six Ponto-Caspian endemic species that recently invaded the Great Lakes via ballast water. The zebra mussel, Dreissena polymorpha, and quagga mussel, Dreissena bugensis, continue to colonize hard and soft substrates of the Great Lakes and are changing ecosystem function through mechanisms of ecosystem engineering (increased water clarity and reef building), fouling native mussels, high particle filtration rate with selective rejection of colonial cyanobacteria in pseudofeces, alteration of nutrient ratios, and facilitation of the rapid spread of their Ponto-Caspian associates, the benthic amphipod Echinogammarus ischnus and the round goby, Neogobius melanostomus, which feeds on zebra mussels. The tubenose goby, Proterorhinus marmoratus, which does not feed on zebra mussels, has not spread rapidly. Impacts of these benthic invaders vary with site: in some shallow areas, habitat changes and the Dreissena → round goby → piscivore food chain have improved conditions for certain native game fishes and waterfowl; in offshore waters, Dreissena is competing for settling algae with the native amphipod Diporeia spp., which are disappearing to the detriment of the native deep-water fish community. The predatory cladoceran Cercopagis pengoi may compete with small fishes for zooplankton and increase food-chain length.