A unique science and management strategy has been developed for the Laurentian Great Lakes due to their enormous size, geographic-ecological diversity, political and economic importance. This article is a documentary of more than 40 years of research conducted at the base of the foodweb by Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which has contributed significantly to the management of the Great Lakes. In the 1960s, the governments of Canada and the United States responded to the threat of cultural eutrophication which eventually resulted in the signing of the binational Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Dr. R. A. Vollenweider and Dr. J. R. Vallentyne were instrumental in developing a phosphorus abatement program, as well as the adoption of the “ecosystem approach” resulting in an holistic and integrated protocol for managing multiple environmental stressors. By showcasing some selected examples (Lake Ontario, Bay of Quinte, current research activities), an attempt is made to chronicle the evolution of phytoplankton, primary productivity and microbial foodweb research in the Great Lakes. Some of the research programs, techniques, models, policies and international cooperation are highlighted, in addition to the strong European influences on Great Lakes research. The lessons learned from the long-term Great Lakes research experience could be extrapolated and applied to enhance understanding of the ecology and management of other large lake ecosystems throughout the world.

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