NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory

The latest news and information about NOAA research in and around the Great Lakes

Exploring the diversity of native species with Great Lakes Water Life

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From prehistoric-looking lake sturgeon to colorful crayfish, the Great Lakes are alive with thousands of remarkable native species. To document and celebrate the diversity of fauna native to the Great Lakes, NOAA-GLERL has partnered with US EPA and the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network to launch the new Great Lakes Water Life database: a comprehensive, accessible inventory of aquatic species found throughout the region.

Three researchers aboard a boat hold up a large lake sturgeon that is as long as they are tall.
Researchers hold a lake sturgeon, one of the many species native to the Great Lakes (photo courtesy of Todd Marsee, Michigan Sea Grant).

Great Lakes Water Life (GLWL) is designed to support environmental researchers and managers by hosting a broad range of ecological information and tools: identification guides for native species, records of rare or unfamiliar taxa, lists of expected species in a specific area, summaries of broad-scale biodiversity patterns, and more. This site is also available for public use to students, citizen scientists, and other Great Lakes residents who want to learn about native species in their area, providing new opportunities for outreach and education online.

“This user-friendly database captures the unique biological diversity of the Laurentian Great Lakes,” said Debbie Lee, Director of the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.  “The search function invites the curious to learn about the amazing water life native to the largest surface freshwater system on earth.”

A screenshot of the Great Lakes Water Life home page, featuring an about section, a search tool, additional resources, and a contribution portal.
The new Great Lakes Water Life landing page.

GLWL allows users to search for species by taxa, origin, domain, and broad geographic location. Each species result links to taxonomic information, a bibliography of references and sighting information, links into Barcode of Life DNA markers, and more. The database also includes links to other taxonomic keys and field guides to native species, information about the purpose and history of this project, and a user contribution portal where researchers can share new photos, sightings, and collection records to be added to the site.

A screenshot of the Great Lakes Water Life search results, showing several species of native fish.
Users can search for native species to learn more about taxonomic information, geographic location, DNA markers, and more.

This database builds on a previous project known as the “Great Lakes Waterlife Gallery,” originally created in 2002 in support of Sea Grant’s Great Lakes Fisheries Leadership Institute in partnership by NOAA-GLERL and the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network. 

Another NOAA-led regional database, the Great Lakes Nonindigenous Species Information System (GLANSIS), runs in parallel with GLWL to more comprehensively document the non-native aquatic species that have been introduced to the Great Lakes. Cross-linking the two systems helps GLANSIS to provide DNA information on non-native species and identify species that may be expanding their ranges, highlighting the value of the native species inventory to monitoring for and understanding the impact of aquatic invaders. Great Lakes invaders shouldn’t get all the press coverage, however — researchers hope that the Great Lakes Water Life database will help fellow scientists make informed management decisions and help the public get to know more about the unique native creatures that inhabit the Great Lakes.

To learn more about the Great Lakes Water Life database or contribute information, please visit the site or contact Rochelle.Sturtevant@noaa.gov.

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