Welcome to this week’s installment of the BayBlog Question of the Week! Each week we'll take a question submitted through the Chesapeake Bay Program website and answer it here for all to read.
This week’s question came from Elizabeth: “What kind of effect does the zebra mussel have on fish like the striped bass?”
This is a great question, and one that can be applied more broadly by addressing how invasive species affect native species in the Chesapeake Bay.
The important thing to remember is that every species that is native to an ecosystem plays an integral role in the food web for that particular ecosystem. So in the Chesapeake Bay, everything from plankton to blue crabs and striped bass are important to the health of the Bay.
When an invasive species is introduced into an ecosystem, it puts additional stressors on the native species that live there. In the Chesapeake, not only do native species have to deal with pollution, they also have to worry about invasive species depleting their food sources.
For example, the zebra mussel is an invasive species in the Chesapeake Bay. It is also a filter feeder. While this could be seen as a good thing – improving the clarity of the water – it is really an issue to contend with when the zebra mussel consumes the plankton that is vital to the survival of many primary consumers in our ecosystem, like Atlantic menhaden and other small fish. These smaller fish are then prey for larger fish such as striped bass.
If there is not enough plankton to feed the menhaden, in turn there will not be enough menhaden to feed the striped bass, and so on. In the food web, every species fluctuation results in a domino effect in the rest of the ecosystem.
Invasive species can take a toll on an ecosystem. Not only do zebra mussels significantly reduce the plankton available to native filter feeders, they also hinder boat navigation and cause damage to the power industry by clogging vital pipes.
While eradication of invasive species is typically very difficult and extremely expensive, there are things you can do to help the problem. Boaters are encouraged to check their hulls, trailers and recreational equipment for zebra mussels before moving them to a new water body. You can also do your part to reduce pollution to the Bay, which will help the Bay watershed's native plants and animals.
Do you have a question about the Chesapeake Bay? Ask us and your question might be chosen at the next Question of the Week!