OU researchers find drastic decrease in mayfly populations in Upper Mississippi River, Western Lake Erie basins

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OU researchers found a significant decrease in mayfly populations in the Upper Mississippi River and Western Lake Erie basins, which could pose danger to the surrounding ecosystems.

OU researchers found a dramatic decrease in mayfly populations in the Upper Mississippi River and Western Lake Erie basins.

A study conducted by researchers from OU, the University of Notre Dame and Virginia Tech to characterize the size of mayfly swarms found that the number of mayflies in their natural habitats has dropped significantly, according to a press release

“Using radar-derived measurements of annual mayfly production, we found that abundance has dropped by over 50 percent within these two waterways,” said Phillip Stepanian, the study’s lead author, in a Twitter thread. “It is likely due to multiple interacting stressors affecting aquatic habitat quality.”

Stepanian, a research associate professor from Notre Dame, has conducted the study with his colleagues in these two locations over the past eight years, according to the release. 

The study’s co-authors include Jeffrey Kelly from OU, Sally Entrekin from Virginia Tech and Jennifer Tank from the University of Notre Dame.

Entrekin said a decreasing mayfly population poses danger to the surrounding ecosystem — most notably, a decline in food resources for organisms higher on the food chain. 

“This single pulse represents an influx of 12 trillion calories to the terrestrial ecosystem. ... That would be equivalent to a Twinkie 145 feet long, weighing approximately 7.5 million pounds,” Stepanian said in a tweet.

Another threat to the surrounding area is that there would be less nitrogen, carbon and phosphorous export from water to land animals, Entrekin said. 

If there is a population decline in the lake, there are likely declines in the tributaries from the same or similar environmental changes,” Entrekin said.

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