Monday, December 20, 2010

Featured Research by Cheryl Dykstra

Dykstra, C.R., et al. 2010. Contaminant concentrations in Bald Eagles nesting on Lake Superior, the upper Mississippi River, and the St. Croix River. J. Great Lakes Res. 36:561-569.

Cheryl Dykstra and her colleagues measured contaminant concentrations in Bald Eagle nestlings collected from three regions over the past two decades. Their study documents a steady decrease in concentrations of the persistent organochlorines DDE and total PCBs, as well as mercury, along the Lake Superior shoreline. Lake Superior nestlings had the highest concentrations of DDE. Concentrations of total PCBs were highest along the industrial areas of the Mississippi and Lower St. Croix rivers, and levels of mercury were greatest along the upper St. Croix River. Levels of all three contaminants were below those associated with significant impairment of reproduction, and observed reproductive rates were indicative of a healthy population.

Cheryl Dykstra is an independent researcher and self-employed wildlife consultant in West Chester, Ohio. Her training in wildlife ecology includes a B.S. degree from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Wildlife Ecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her work now focuses on evaluating the effects of urbanization on the ecology of raptors in suburban areas of southwestern Ohio.

Featured Professional: Jessica Hellman

Have you ever wondered what humans might do to reduce the negative effects of climate change? This is one of the newest challenges for climate change biology and a question that Dr. Jessica Hellmann and her students at the University of Notre Dame are tackling.

Jessica’s work on "adaptation" to climate change has emerged from her studies on the ecological impacts of climate change. She feels that ecologists have spent many years diagnosing the effects of climate change on biodiversity, but now we need to use this knowledge to design management strategies to live with climate change.

Specifically, the Hellmann Lab is studying the ecological and evolutionary factors that limit the ability of species to track climate as it shifts. These limitations include local adaptation of populations to local climates and specialized interactions between species. Humans might be able to overcome these limitations for some species by facilitating their movement and even putting some in new locations. Several species in the Great Lakes region are helping Jessica grapple with these issues, including the hybridizing Midwestern butterflies, Papilio glaucus and P. canadensis, and the endangered Karner blue butterfly.

For more information about Jessica Hellmann and her research group, see

Featured Student or Postdoc: Julie Marentette

Julie Marentette is a Ph.D. student working with Sigal Balshine in the Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

For Julie, a large part of growing up was fishing and swimming in Lakes St. Clair and Erie. Following a love of nature, she completed a B.Sc. in Biology at the University of Windsor. While there, she developed an interest in Great Lakes research as an NSERC undergraduate research assistant, and later thesis student, in the laboratory of Lynda Corkum. With Lynda, Julie studied pheromone communication in the invasive round goby.

Julie’s ongoing research with Sigal at McMaster University continues to focus on the reproductive biology of the round goby. Currently, she is examining the consequences of living in contaminated habitats. This involves a comparison of physiological and behavioural biomarkers of pollutant exposure in fish from areas of varying contamination in Hamilton Harbour, an Area of Concern. She suspects that contamination will affect activity levels, foraging, and responses to predators. Her work will help determine how contaminants affect round goby population dynamics, and thus the transfer of toxicants through local foodwebs.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Featured Research: by Lyndsay Smith

Smith, L. A. & P. Chow-Fraser. 2010. Impacts of adjacent land use and isolation on marsh bird communities. Environ. Manage. 45: 1040-1051.

Lyndsay Smith and her co-author evaluated how urbanization around coastal wetlands affects marsh bird communities in southern Ontario. Birds specialized for nesting in wetlands were found to prefer rural over urban wetlands, whereas generalist species showed no preference. Synanthropic species (those using human-associated habitats for nesting) tended towards increased species richness and abundance in urban wetlands.

Rural wetlands, in comparison to urban wetlands, had significantly higher scores for an index of biological integrity specifically designed for marsh-bird communities (the Index of Marsh Bird Community Integrity). More isolated wetlands had lower biological integrity and lower species richness of obligate marsh-nesters than less isolated wetlands.

Management implications from this research include limiting urban development next to wetlands and the protection of all existing wetlands to preserve biodiversity and to mitigate against isolation effects.

Lyndsay is a Postdoctoral Fellow working in the Biology Department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Featured Professional: Ashley Moerke

Ashley Moerke is Associate Professor of Biology and Co-Director of the Aquatic Research Laboratory at Lake Superior State University, Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan. Her career path began as an undergrad, when she spent two summers doing research at Toolik Lake LTER Field Station in northern Alaska. After receiving her B.S. from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, she focused on aspects of aquatic ecology for her M.S. and Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame.

At LSSU, Ashley strives to share her passion for aquatic ecology in and out of the classroom. Through extensive collaboration, she introduces her students to stimulating research experiences and helps them build their professional networks. Ashley’s greatest thrill is to hear from former students about their personal and professional accomplishments.

One of Ashley’s goals is to create a center of freshwater sciences in the Upper Great Lakes region, located in Sault Sainte Marie, that will advance scientific understanding of freshwater issues in the Great Lakes basin and provide hands-on training opportunities for students.

Outside of the classroom and field, Ashley takes advantage of living in the beautiful Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She spends her winters snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, her summers fishing, biking, canoeing, kayaking, and camping, and her autumns bird hunting with her husband and two dogs.

Featured Student or Postdoc: Amanda Haponski

Amanda Haponski is a Ph.D. student at the University of Toledo studying the population genetic structure of walleye. Her main interest is in how fine-scale temporal and spatial genetic structure and composition of Lake Erie spawning groups has changed with the introduction of invasive species, climate change, and harvesting.

Amanda began her academic career as an undergrad at the University of Maine, studying marine biology. With a prestigious National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Experience for Undergraduates award in hand, she went to study the phylogenetics of the greenside darter with Carol Stepien, University of Toledo. This project sparked her interest in genetics, and formed the basis of her subsequent M.Sc. research.

Amanda, now hooked on population genetics and conservation of native fishes, stayed on to begin her dissertation on walleye.

Amanda has six publications, with three first-authored. Recently, she was awarded the International Association for Great Lakes Research Norman S. Baldwin Fishery Science Scholarship, Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research, NSF DeepFin Student Exchange Program Award, and a Smithsonian Institution Fellowship to support her studies.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Featured Research: by Karin Limburg

Limburg, K.E., and 4 others. 2010. The good, the bad, and the algae: perceiving ecosystem services and disservices generated by zebra and quagga mussels. J Great Lakes Res. 36:86-92

Karin Limburg and colleagues explore the social complexities surrounding the common perception of zebra and quagga mussels as pests in the Great Lakes region. In fact, these non-native invasives are responsible for phenomena considered both good and bad: the production of clear water versus an increase in nuisance filamentous algae (e.g., Cladophora glomerata can become superabundant, and when it dies it sloughs off onto beaches and becomes a nuisance). People form very strong preferences for clear water, and very strong dislikes of the algae. These preferences have economic consequences: homeowners experienced a $3500 increase in property values that they attributed to increased water clarity, and a $750 decline in property values due to nuisance algae.

This study highlights the importance of considering the social dimension in the assessment of invasive species, as it may identify “positives” in addition to “negatives”.

Karin is an Associate Professor of Fisheries and Ecosystem Science at the College of Environmental Science and Forestry of the State University of New York in Syracuse.

Featured Professional: Pat Chow-Fraser

Pat Chow-Fraser is Professor and Chair of Biology at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. Her research and passion is to conserve the pristine wetlands of eastern and northern Georgian Bay, and to prevent them from suffering the same fate as degraded urban marshes of Lakes Erie and Ontario.

Pat and her lab group work hard and publish many papers on the use of models to predict the effects of water level, invasive species, and human disturbance on marsh vegetation and fish habitat in Great Lakes coastal wetlands. In addition, she inspires the next generation of ecologists by teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in Ecology and Biodiversity.

Pat’s career in freshwater ecology started in 1978 following her B.Sc. (Hons Biology) at University of Waterloo, where she remained to pursue a M.Sc. (Biology), focusing on the impact of low-level fertilization on the phytoplankton community of a bay in Lac Matamec, Quebec. This was followed by a Ph.D (Zoology) at University of Toronto, where she studied zooplankton grazing in small Ontario lakes. Other interesting postdoctoral research, ranging from copepod mating to trophic indicators of aquatic health, followed before Pat landed her appointment as Assistant Professor at McMaster in 1991.

Featured Student or Postdoc: Michelle Farwell

Michelle Farwell is a Ph.D. student at the University of Windsor investigating the effects of aquatic contaminants on reproductive traits. In one study, Michelle is testing whether contamination in the Detroit River elicits adaptive responses in wild populations of brown bullhead. She is also testing whether synthetic estrogen present in birth control pills (and consequently also in municipal waste water effluents) affects gamete quality and reproductive success in fathead minnows, and similar to the bullheads, whether wild populations adapt to chronic exposure.

Michelle started her academic career as an undergraduate working with Michael Fox at Trent University studying hypoxia tolerance in sunfishes. She then completed her M.Sc. with Robert McLaughlin at the University of Guelph where a keen interest in animal behaviour began. Her M.Sc. thesis focussed on how personality traits in young-of-the-year brook charr relate to large-scale differences in the migratory tactics of adults.

Michelle was excited to join the field of ecotoxicology with Dr. Pitcher as her Ph.D. supervisor to broaden her research scope and apply research to local conservation efforts. Michelle was recently awarded a prestigious NSERC scholarship to support her studies!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Featured Research: by Heather Dawson

Dawson, HA., and M.L. Jones. 2009. Factors affecting recruitment dynamics of Great Lakes sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) populations. J Great Lakes Res. 35:353-360.

In this paper, Heather Dawson and her colleague explore the population dynamics of sea lamprey, an important predator of fish species in the Great Lakes. They found that larval production of sea lampreys varies tremendously among streams and lake basins independently of other factors, and that spawning and/or larval habitat quality must play a critical role.

Heather recently became an assistant professor in the Wildlife Biology program (Biology Dept.) at the Univ. of Michigan-Flint. Her research program uses field, laboratory, and modeling techniques to study and predict impacts of species invasive to the Great Lakes. Heather is a native Michigander who enjoys fishing and the outdoors. She is dedicated to solving natural resource management problems, and doing her part to protect and enhance the fish communities of the Great Lakes.

Heather received a dual Ph.D. in Fisheries and Wildlife and Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, and Behavior from Michigan State University in 2007. She then worked as a fishery biologist from 2007-09 for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in their sea lamprey control office located in Marquette, MI.

Featured Professional: Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth Wright is the Coordinator of Fish Health and Aquaculture with the Great Lakes Branch, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Beth initially studied Marine Biology (B.Sc., Univ. Guelph) but switched to freshwater fisheries research for her M.Sc. (Laurentian Univ.) and Ph.D. (McGill Univ.). Beth grew up in Brampton, Ontario spending summers at the family cottage on Lake Huron where she was encouraged by family and neighbours to examine dead fish on the beach.

Beth started her career as a summer student with MNR and has worked in Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. Beth now provides fish health expertise to the provincial fish culture program and partner hatcheries. She helps to develop MNR programs and policies related to fish health management, aquaculture, and emerging fish health issues. Most of Beth’s recent work has focused on understanding and treating viral and bacterial infections in fish. Beth represents MNR on national fish health committees, at workshops and conferences, and is the current Chair of the Great Lakes Fish Health Committee.

Beth encourages young women to pursue interests and careers in science, by doing volunteer work with CAGIS, the Canadian Association for Girls in Science. This is a fantastic association that encourages girls to explore science through a hands-on approach.

Featured Student or Postdoc: Natalie Sopinka

Natalie Sopinka is a M.Sc. student in Sigal Balshine's lab at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario. Natalie was first introduced to the world of research as an undergrad studying African cichlids in Balshine’s lab. Compelled by the wonderful intersection of evolution, ecology, and animal behaviour, she went on to study the aggressive behaviour of round gobies as an undergrad research project. A summer was spent collecting round gobies in Hamilton Harbour; here she thoroughly enjoyed long, and sometimes rainy, summer days! With Ph.D. candidate Julie Marentette, they observed how round gobies compete with each other when contesting a shelter (an important resource for breeding and predator avoidance). Knowledge of round goby behaviour will hopefully aid in understanding how these fish tolerate living at high densities in the Great Lakes.

A growing interest in conversation biology led Natalie to study how exposure to aquatic pollutants influences male reproductive traits in fish for her M.Sc. research. This research focuses on round gobies from contaminated areas in Hamilton Harbour and plainfin midshipman from areas near pulp and paper mills in British Columbia. Data analyses have begun and she is excited to learn more about her systems and share the results!