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The Lake
Lake Pontchartrain, at 164,000 hectares, is the largest oligohaline estuary in the southeastern U.S.  It is shallow, less than 15 feet in most places, and the salinity is typically 1-7 parts per thousand (or up to 20% of seawater).  It is enclosed by land except for two natural passes and one man-made canal which connect it to the Gulf of Mexico.  Lake Pontchartrain is also geologically young; just 11,000 years ago the area was dry.
The Project
In a system as diverse and temporally unstable as Lake Pontchartrain it is a difficult task to determine the current health of the system. We are involved in a two prong approach to assessing the biotic component of the lake's integrity.  Regular, repeated sampling throughout the lake is being undertaken by UNO faculty and students to determine the current status of fish populations. To better understand what would constitute the "pristine" (or undisturbed) fauna of the lake we are also collecting data on historical collections deposited in natural history museums.
The Fishes
Over 125 species of fish have been recorded from Lake Pontchartrain. The fauna is dominated by sciaenids in the saltier mid and eastern regions of the basin and by centrarchids where freshwater streams and swamps drain into the lake. However, the bay anchovy, Anchoa mitchilli is far and away the most abundant fish species in the lake.
There is no "typical year" for Lake Pontchartrain, or if there is, it's filled with untypical events, which make year-to-year comparisons difficult. The ecosystem is significantly impacted by natural phenomena, such as floods, periods of low precipitation, and whatever impacts El Nino(La Nina) brings to the area. Our attempts at understanding the basin have to take this natural variation into consideration.
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Julian Humphries,  Site Manager.        Site Last Updated: 04/03/00