The State of the Lake: Nitella - An Ecological Lynchpin of Lake Health

October 2, 2014
Dr. Jeffrey Short
Special to the Lake George Mirror

Hidden from view, but ecologically crucial, Lake George hosts extensive meadows of Nitella, macroscopic algae that support a distinctive branch of the lake’s food web. These meadows grow on soft bottoms of the lakebed at depths of 20 to 50 feet where currents are weak, with individual plants attaining lengths of five feet or more. Covering about 15% of the lakebed in the north basin and 20% in the south, these meadows account for 30% of the total plant production of Lake George. The productivity of Nitella supports a complex food web, with caddis worms, mayfly nymphs, freshwater shrimp and other invertebrates grazing on the Nitella plants, to be consumed in turn by juvenile and adult fishes including smallmouth bass, yellow perch, bullhead and lake trout. Healthy meadows of Nitella also provide cover where juvenile fish can hide from predators. The Nitella meadows thus play a vital role in sustaining the fish community in Lake George, and hence the fishing. In addition, these meadows are key to maintaining the exceptional water clarity of Lake George…

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