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About Our Great Lakes: Ecology

Introduction | Background | Ecology | Economy
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Images of some of the species inhabiting the Great Lakes basin.


The Great Lakes ecosystem contains various types of habitats: forests, marshes, wetlands, and dune communities. These communities allow for more than 3,500 species of plants and animals to inhabit the basin. The many varieties of mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and fish make the Great Lakes basin a unique and complicated ecosystem.

The northern parts of the Great Lakes region are home to dense coniferous and northern hardwood forests, while largely grasslands and prairies cover the southern areas of the region. The marshes, wetlands, and dune communities are located near and along the many lakeshores.

Some of the mammals native to the Great Lakes region include the black bear, fox, moose, coyote, gray wolf, elk, white-tailed deer, bobcat, beaver, otter, and canada lynx. Although these animals are native, many are now endangered and are rarely seen in the region.

The amphibians and reptiles native to the region include many species of frogs, turtles, and snakes, including the poisonous eastern Massasauga rattlesnake.

Native birds of the region include the great blue heron, the bald eagle, the piping plover, the herring gull, the whooping crane, the snowy owl, and wood ducks.

The Great Lakes are home to a number of fish, some of which are native and others of which have been introduced. Among those that are native to the region are the brown bullhead, the bloater, brook trout, the burbot, the deepwater sculpin, the emerald shiner, lake sturgeon, lake trout, freshwater drum, lake whitefish, lake herring, the longnose sucker, the ninespine stickleback, largemouth bass, pumpkinseed, muskellunge, northern pike, rock bass, slimy sculpin, smallmouth bass, walleye, white bass, yellow perch, and white sucker. Species that have been introduced include: alewife, white perch, brown trout, carp, rainbow smelt, various pacific salmon species, round goby, ruffe, and sea lamprey.

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