Sea lamprey captured in weir
Invasive non-native plant and animal species, both terrestrial and aquatic, are major threats to lakeshore resources, ecosystems, habitat integrity and biodiversity. Non-native species are those that originate in other regions of the world and have been brought to the U.S. by human activity, either accidental or intentional.
Many have arrived in shipping crates, cargo, grain supplies, ship ballast water, construction materials, or the personal property of people traveling to the U.S. Early settlers and colonists brought various plant species from their home countries as garden and culinary plants, which escaped over time into native ecosystems. Some invasive animals were originally pets or exotic game species that either escaped or were released by their owners into natural areas. Once they get to the U.S., non-native species are further transported throughout the country by "hitchhiking" on vehicles, recreational equipment, hiking boots, firewood and boats traveling from one waterway to another.
Many non-native species have little or no negative impact on the environment, but others called invasive species can do a great deal of damage. Invasive species spread quickly and aggressively outcompete native species for space and nutrients. Without the natural predators, diseases, competition, and environmental conditions that kept them in check in their native land, these species become robust "invaders" that can alter entire natural communities. They are more successful in a wider range of habitats than native species and they take advantage of disturbed environments.
Invasive species cause economic and environmental harm, and some are hazardous to human health. Once they get established, invasives are almost impossible to get rid of.
A mass of spiny water fleas stuck to fishing line
Aquatic invasive species affecting Pictured Rocks range from tiny invertebrates to large, aggressive fish. The parasitic sea lamprey breeds in rivers throughout the Great Lakes, including several streams within the national lakeshore. A native of the Atlantic Ocean, the sea lamprey found its way into the Great Lakes through man-made shipping canals, and was in Lake Superior by the 1940s. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has conducted research and control efforts for several decades as part of a joint U.S./Canada endeavor, which has successfully reduced sea lamprey populations up to 90% in some areas. At Pictured Rocks, USFWS staff chemically treat several rivers where sea lamprey spawn and use traps to catch adults.
Other invasive fish of concern include round goby and Eurasian ruffe, both found in Lake Superior but not yet affecting park waters. Zebra and quagga mussels, which have devastated portions of Lake Michigan, have only been found in very limited numbers in Lake Superior, and currently are not found here at the national lakeshore.
Spiny water flea, which most likely entered Lake Superior through ballast water, has been found in Beaver Lake and Grand Sable Lake within the park. These tiny crustaceans upset the aquatic food chain by outcompeting native invertebrates while having very few predators themselves. Another invasive of concern is Viral Hemorrahagic Septicemia (VHS), which is spreading quickly throughout the Great Lakes. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore has instituted special rules regarding fishing and use of live bait to keep this disease out of the park's inland waters.
Currently, plant and insect invasive species are the greatest concern at Pictured Rocks. The most serious threat to the park is Beech Bark Disease (BBD), which has the potential to kill 80 to 90% of the park's mature beech trees. Click here to learn more about BBD.
Other invasive insects that affect the lakeshore's forests, but to a lesser degree, are gypsy moth and emerald ash borer. Gypsy moths have been trapped here before, but not in large numbers. Emerald ash borer beetles have devastated ash populations in lower Michigan but since ash trees are not as common in this environment, the impact here has been considerably less. Park biologists survey for these and other invasive pests on an annual basis.
Invading insects "on the move" but not yet here at Pictured Rocks include the hemlock wooly adalgid and the Asian longhorn beetle. If these insects sweep through the national lakeshore in large numbers, they will have a profoundly negative impact on the forest ecosystem. Both the park's iconic hemlock groves and sugar maple uplands will be at risk. For now, the only defense is to prevent people from transporting these destructive insects into the area.
Beware of Leafy Strangers
There are about 120 non-native plant species at Pictured Rocks; most are benign but about a dozen are highly invasive and currently the target of intense control efforts by park staff. Of these, the worst culprits include garlic mustard and spotted knapweed. Garlic mustard, brought from Europe as an edible herb, is an aggressive invader of forest wildflower communities where it displaces native plants and reduces species diversity. The impact of this invasive species is most noticeable in the Miners Castle area.
Spotted knapweed quickly overtakes dry and open habitats, invading the lakeshore's beach and dune systems and particularly threatening rare native plants in the pristine Grand Sable Dunes area. Park staff have been actively treating spotted knapweed patches since 2002. Other invasive plants impacting lakeshore resources include forget-me-not, goutweed, Japanese knotweed, white sweet clover, and cypress spurge. Invasive plants harmful to human health include wild parsnip, which can cause severe chemical burns if the sap gets on human skin in the presence of sunlight.
Battling invasive plants is one of the most important missions of the park's Science and Natural Resources Division. Control efforts include mechanical means (hand pulling) and targeted chemical treatment where appropriate. Since seeds from invasive plants can remain viable in the soil for decades, vigilant and vigorous control will be needed for many years.
Learn more about the natural history and environmental impacts of the most common invasive species at the national lakeshore:
Most Common Invasive Species at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (pdf)
Boot brush stations like this one are located at various trailheads throughout the national lakeshore
What YOU Can Do To Help
Prevention is the key! While recreating at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, you and your family can play a very important role in preventing the spread of invasive species to other parts of the park, and throughout the region.
- Check for and remove all seeds, soil, insects and eggs from tents, tent pegs, walking sticks, and other recreational equipment.
- Stay on marked trails. Use boot brush stations if provided.
- Clean and dry boats and all fishing equipment before visiting other lakes or water areas.
- Used only approved bait; dispose of unused worms or other bait in the trash.
- Burn wood where you buy it. Don't bring wood in from other areas.