The Laurentian Great Lakes represent the world's largest freshwater ecosystem and contain irreplaceable biodiversity. Lakewide Action and Management Plans (LAMPs) hold the highest potential for ecosystem management in the Great Lakes but have not specifically addressed biodiversity status or strategies for conservation. For four Great Lakes, recently completed biodiversity conservation strategies (blueprints) have assessed the status and threats to biodiversity and recommended strategies for conservation and restoration; a blueprint is under way also for Lake Superior. Here, we compare the completed blueprints and explore challenges to conservation planning for large ecosystems. We also assess whether earlier blueprints are being adopted and offer suggestions for more effective implementation. All of the blueprints focus on biodiversity in the lakes and coastal areas, and some include tributaries and migratory species. Biodiversity status was rated as fair (out of desirable range but restorable) in each lake, with some exceptions and considerable spatial variability. Aquatic invasive species ranked as a top threat to biodiversity in all four blueprints. Other highly ranked threats included incompatible development, climate change, terrestrial invasive species, dams and barriers, and non-point-source pollutants. The recommended strategies are characterized by six themes: coastal conservation, invasive species, connectivity and hydrology, fish restoration, nearshore water quality, and climate change. Each blueprint highlights high-priority strategies, but successful protection and restoration of Great Lakes biodiversity require revisiting these priorities in an adaptive approach.
Environmental Practice 15:462–480 (2013)