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Two new invaders in Great Lakes

Images of cladoceran Diaphanosoma fluviatile (left) and copepod Mesocyclops pehpeiensis (right). Photos courtesy of Elizabeth Whitmore and Joseph Connolly, Cornell University

Two new foreign species have been confirmed in Lake Erie, among the first new invaders in recent years.

Cornell University Biological Field Station on Wednesday announced the discovery of two new non-native species of zooplankton — Diaphanosoma fluviatile and Mesocyclops pehpeiensis.

It's not clear how the invading species entered the Great Lakes, if they are already reproducing and colonizing the lakes or if they will cause any long-term problems for the ecosystem. But conservation groups quickly noted that the discovery shows more work needs to be done to keep invaders out.

Molly Flanagan, vice president of police for the Alliance for the Great Lakes, called the report "concerning news."

"The fact that these are the third and fourth non-native zooplankton found in Lake Erie in the past three years is an alarming trend,'' she said.

The recent findings come after a period of relative calm, with no new species discovered for almost a decade. Before that dozens of new species had been reported over a relatively short period. Because it's believed many foreign species invaded via the ballast of ships, the reduction in new species was at least partially attributed to a joint U.S.-Canadian effort to require oceangoing vessels to flush their ballast tanks far out in the ocean, with the hope the saltwater flush would kill any organisms that thrive in freshwater.

Conservation groups, however, are still pressing for enforcement of new regulations to require ships to treat their ballast on board each vessel.

According to the Cornell researchers, D. fluviatile is native to South and Central America and the Caribbean.The species had previously been confirmed in Florida, Louisiana and central Texas.

"This Lake Erie observation marks a dramatic northward expansion for this species,'' the Cornell report noted.

M. pehpeiensis is native to Asia with that species associated with the movement of "ornamental aquatic plants."

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