“Americans” in Japan

 

On Thursday we visited Lake Biwa in the Shiga Prefecture – an ancient lake that is estimated 1 million years old that is also the largest lake in all of Japan.  We were fortunate enough to have Dr. Katsuki Nakal, a research biologist and curator as a guide thru the tour.

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Lake Biwa is home to around 1700 species of plants and animals.  Around 50% of the animals in Lake Biwa and its surrounding tributaries are endemic species – meaning that they are unique to this region.  Endemic species are greatly important in terms of biodiversity because they are often not found anywhere else in the world.

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Unfortunately 83% of the endemic species in Lake Biwa are endangered.  This is in large part due to invasive species. Invasive species are species that are naturally found in an ecosystem that have a survival benefit over native species (usually due to lack of natural predators).  Two such species that are wreaking havoc in Lake Biwa are largemouth bass and bluegill sunfish – both hailing from America. In the 1980s there was a large increase in largemouth bass populations and a subsequent decrease in littoral (close to shore) fish populations.  The 1990’s saw a decrease in largemouth bass populations but an increase in bluegill sunfish populations.

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The introduction of these foreign species is disrupting the natural ecosystem of Lake Biwa and in turn threatening the existence of endemic species of the area.  Government agencies from both the national and prefectural level have implemented programs and laws to protect and preserve the threatened species of Lake Biwa.  One program encourages both commercial and recreational anglers to catch and NOT release any largemouth bass or bluegill sunfish, offering a bounty for capture.  While this program seems to be helping and is a good short-term response, it is not a sustainable solution.  The bounty is directly paid for by taxpayers and is not feasible as a long-term program.  Hopefully the financial incentive will bring the invasive species populations to a manageable level and the program can eventually be phased out saving both money and endemic species!

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