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Low lake levels threaten the Great Salt Lake food chain

SALT LAKE CITY – The Great Salt Lake ecosystem – from brine shrimp and brine flies to the millions of migrating birds that live along the shore – depends on structures called microbialites. These are rocks covered with salt tolerant bacteria that live in shallow water and convert sunlight into food through photosynthesis. But they are threatened by falling lake water levels, which are approaching record lows.

“Brine flies and brine fly larvae crawl on them and eat them, and the brine shrimp will graze on them as well,” said Professor Bonnie Baxter, director of the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College.

If microbials are exposed, bacterial mats can die off very quickly. And they don’t come back right away when water levels rise.

“If the lake level rises and these elements are submerged again, it takes several seasons or years for the microbes to even think about recolonizing and reforming on these structures,” said Michael Vanden Berg, head of the Energy and Energy program. Utah minerals. Geological survey.

Vanden Berg said some areas of microbials have already been exposed as the lake level has dropped. And more could be like before it hits its seasonal low in October or November.

Baxter said the lake’s ecosystem is just one reason the Utahns should be concerned about how the lake level is managed. Blowing dust off areas left dry is another.

“It’s essential for the quality of our air. It is essential for our snow. Otherwise, the dust falls on the snow and causes it to melt faster. So it’s essential for our water supply, ”she told KSL Newsradio.

Vanden Berg says it’s hard to predict what the ultimate impact of losing more microbials will be. “We are essentially in new territory,” he said.


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Mary Cashion

The author Mary Cashion