If Asian carp continue to creep into Lake Erie, their arrival could drastically change the ecosystem of the lake as we know it.

Using a food-web model, the study conducted by the University of Michigan and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL) examined the impact of fish such as the bighead and silver carp on Lake Erie, both of which are variations of the asian carp.

Caught me a monster Asian carp. 4ft approx 73 lbs. #monsterfish #recordfish

A photo posted by Big Poppa Pump (@davidbuchek11pump) on

Based on their projections, the asian carp could account for 1/3 of the total fish inside the lake if they make it from nearby waters to Lake Erie, which could impact the lake in manifold ways. As more asian carp flood in, the species will serve as a predator to some fish, eating up the food supply of other fish feeding on the same items, and prey to others. According to the study, the population of fish such as the smallmouth bass would likely increase by 16%, while the amount of walleye, rainbow trout, gizzard shad, and emerald shiners could all decline 37%.

The Washington Post reports, bighead and silver carp were first introduced to the US in the 1970’s, in an attempt to control algae growth in lakes and ponds. Due to flooding, the species spread to the Mississippi River where it dominated local fish and quickly grew in population size.

Lake Erie in particular could be a vulnerable target due to its close location to waters where other Asian carp exist. Although the carp could affect Lake Erie in the future, it isn’t expected to impact the lake as it did to the Illinois River, where the waters are 60% asian carp. The University of Michigan’s Hongyan Zhang explains,

But if we’re looking for ways to reduce the species’ population in Lake Erie, the Washington Post explains the best way would be to eat it. The majority of the demand for the fish lies within the Chinese market, but the fish can be sold for commercial use. Although its bony body makes it undesirable for many diners.

Co-author David Lodge of the University of Notre Dame explains,

“Model results suggest the most likely intensity is severe — who wants a third of the fish biomass in Lake Erie to be Asian carp? — but that possible outcomes include both stronger and weaker impacts. It is also important to remember that our research provides scenarios for impact only on the food web and only in Lake Erie itself. Impacts like jumping fish hitting people are not included, nor are any impacts in tributaries of Lake Erie that might suffer impacts like those in the Illinois River.”

In addition to the study on Lake Erie, researchers are also working on models to predict the asian carp impacts on lakes Michigan, Huron and Ontario.

[via NOAA]