Journal of Great Lakes Research

A one hundred year review of the socioeconomic and ecological systems of Lake St. Clair, North America

Dec 19, 2013

There is a growing concern about continued impairment of aquatic ecosystems resulting from increasing population size, land use, climate change, and the feedbacks that may harm human well-being. We describe a 100 year multi-disciplinary overview of changes in Lake St. Clair, North America to identify knowledge gaps and needs to

build the foundation for creating coupled human and natural system models. Our historical analysis indicates that the socioeconomic dynamics are inextricably linked to the urban dynamics of the Detroit metropolitan area. Environmental degradation and human health issues led to the adoption of relevant policies, including construction of wastewater treatment facilities by the 1960s. Climate trends during the 100-year period indicate a wetter region, which is influencing lake levels. Since the mid-1980s and 90s invasive zebra and quagga mussels (Dreissena polymorpha and Dreissena rostriformis bugenis) have significantly altered the ecological structure and function of the lake. Waterborne illnesses due to contaminated drinking water were once an issue but current human health risks have shifted to contaminated recreational waters and coastal pollution. Key research needs for building coupled models include geo-referencing socioeconomic and ecological data to accurately represent the processes occurring within the political and watershed boundaries; assessing ecosystem services for human well-being; and developing research hypotheses and management options regarding interactions among land use, people and the lake. Lake St. Clair has gone through extensive changes, both socioeconomically and ecologically over the last 100 years and we suggest that it serves as a useful case study for the larger Great Lakes region.