Lake Simcoe's Newest Invader
Aquatic plants are a natural, normal and necessary part of a healthy lake ecosystem and provide many benefits for aquatic life. In Lake Simcoe, there are 18 species of native aquatic plants and three
invasive species. Unlike native species, invasive species can wreak havoc on the lake, greatly affecting species diversity and changing shallow water habitat.
Starry stonewort was found in Lake Simcoe only 10 years ago and has continued to spread. It can double in amount every two days, forming dense cloud-shaped mats that do not respond to any herbicides. In fact, if herbicides are used to kill off other aquatic plants, that only serves to give starry stonewort a greater opportunity to take over.
What is Starry Stonewort?
Starry stonewort is an aggressive macroalgae native to Eurasia. Macroalgae is a collective term used for seaweeds … and like seaweed on the coast, starry stonewort is likely to wash up on your shoreline.
This grass-like algae spreads rapidly and forms dense, impenetrable stands. It's named for the six-pointed, star-shaped white “bulbi" (a small seed-like structure) that are produced and deposited into the mud to allow starry stonewort to survive the winter. It develops branching stems up to two metres in length, in water depths of two to 10 metres.
Starry stonewort can outcompete other aquatic plants, harming habitat for fish and wildlife by reducing cover and food sources. Its dense mats can also impact boating, swimming, and other recreational activities in Lake Simcoe.
A shallow water plant community, dominated by eurasian watermilfoil (another invasive plant), still retains species diversity and a "forest-like" structure with habitat and shelter for smaller fish.
When starry stonewort takes hold, it causes a loss of aquatic plant diversity, shallow water habitat and fish shelter. It forms a "wall" pushing smaller fish offshore towards predators.
Where was it found?
Starry stonewort was first documented in 2009 in a
benthic sample. Since then, it has been documented multiple times.
Starry Stonewort (2009 - 2018)
How did it get into Lake Simcoe?
Starry stonewort arrived in the St. Lawrence River in 1978 and likely made it's way to Lake Simcoe through the Trent-Severn Waterway.
Fragments of starry stonewort can get tangled in trailers, motors, anchors and inside watercrafts (boats, canoes and kayaks). Small bulbils can also stick to anchors, ropes, fabric and footwear. These small fragments are enough to start new growth and allow the algae to spread quickly.
What can you do?
Starry stonewort is difficult to remove once it has taken hold because harvesting and herbicide have little to no impact.
If starry stonewort gets tangled in your props, don't disentangle and throw it back into the water – this contributes to its spread. Instead, dispose of it away from the water, on land, and ensure that all boats, motors, trailers and fishing gear are cleaned, drained and dried, before moving to a new location.
you spot starry stonewort or any other invasive species, please contact the
Invading Species Hotline, 1-800-563-7711.
What are we doing?
To better understand what types of aquatic plants live in Lake Simcoe, we monitor where plants are found (and in what amounts) and record the number of species as part of our Lake monitoring program. This year, we will move from a five-year plant survey to an annual survey that will help us identify changes to aquatic plants, forecast weed growth, and better detect new invasive species.
We are one of the only conservation authorities in Ontario able to monitor a complete lake ecosystem. Lake monitoring tracks things like phosphorus levels, dissolved oxygen levels, other parameters like chlorides, heavy metals, suspended solids, fish, aquatic plants, macroinvertebrates, and water clarity.
These measurements provide a snapshot of water quality and, over the long-term, provide an understanding of emerging trends, issues and patterns, such as the rise and fall of the invasive zebra mussel, which has now been out-competed by its cousin, the quagga mussel.