Monday, November 7, 2011

Featured Research: by Stephanie Schmidt

Schmidt et al. 2011. Historical and contemporary trophic niche partitioning among Laurentian Great Lakes coregonines. Ecol. Appl. 21:888-896.

An ecologically unique and diverse species assemblage once roamed the deep waters of the Great Lakes, prior to overfishing and non-native species introductions. Now extirpated from Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Ontario (and in low numbers in Superior), the deepwater coregonines were important prey fish for top predators and supported a productive commercial fishery. Rehabilitation of native deepwater fish communities is now a top management priority, yet little is known about their historical ecology.

Stephanie Schmidt and her colleagues collected coregonine tissue samples from museum specimens and from contemporary populations in Lakes Superior and Nipigon. They used stable isotope analysis – a technique that uses carbon and nitrogen information to decipher diet – to reconstruct the food web from the 1920’s to the present.

In each lake, the coregonines were ecologically distinct from one another, their distinctness was maintained throughout a period of tremendous ecosystem change, and the most distinct species was most likely to persist over time. Stephanie suggests that the rehabilitation of ecological diversity be considered in reintroduction programs.

Featured Professional: Jennifer Winter

Jennifer Winter is a senior scientist with the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and directs nutrient monitoring programs for inland lakes and the Great Lakes. She also is acting supervisor for the Sport Fish and Biomonitoring Unit, the group responsible for the monitoring of contaminant levels in fish tissues throughout Ontario.

Jennifer’s path to a career in science began in England, where she earned a B.Sc. in Environmental Biology (Univ. of Liverpool) and a M.Sc. in Pollution and Environmental Control (Univ. of Manchester). She then moved to the Univ. of Waterloo (not England!) and the Ministry’s Dorset Environmental Science Centre (
Jennifer’s interest and background in environmental sciences forms the basis of a diverse research program on lakes at risk. She has studied the recovery of Sudbury area lakes, the effects of multiple stressors on the phytoplankton communities of Canadian Shield lakes and Lake Simcoe, trends in nutrient and chloride loading to Lake Simcoe, and trends in algal bloom reporting by the public. Currently, she is involved with a large, collaborative research project on Lake Simcoe which explores how key processes such as nutrient loading and climate variability affect the ecology of the lake.

Featured Student: Michelle Palmer

Michelle Palmer, a Ph.D. student at York University in Toronto, is interested in large scale questions concerning ecosystems and their responses to multiple, interacting stressors. Her research focuses on ~40 Ontario lakes and how their physical, chemical and biological properties changed following changes in climate, acidic deposition, nutrients and development, and species introductions. Michelle will also assess whether widespread stressors such as climate change should be used to inform restoration targets for stressed lakes.

Michelle’s first research experience was on cuttlefish communication at Dalhousie University (Nova Scotia), while still an undergrad. After completing her B.Sc. in marine biology and statistics, she moved to McGill University to do an M.Sc. Here, her research focused on biological invasions in the St. Lawrence River.

Michelle’s integration of quantitative approaches and ecology is a winning combination. She has 11 publications in press or submitted, six of which are first-authored! Along the way, she has received several prestigious scholarships and awards.

Michelle is also passionate about teaching and knowledge sharing. She has been a TA for several courses, a coordinator for 1st year Biology, and even found time to found a taxonomic and statistical consulting business!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Featured Research by Anett Trebitz

Trebitz et al. 2010. Status of non-indigenous benthic invertebrates in the Duluth-Superior Harbor and the role of sampling methods in their detection. J. Great Lakes Res. 36:747-756.

Invasive species can cause considerable ecological and economic damage, so it is important to have a monitoring system in place to detect new arrivals early enough to mount an effective response. But how could early detection monitoring be accomplished most efficiently, given time and budgetary constraints?

Anett Trebitz and her colleagues sought to answer that question. They conducted intensive sampling in a known exotic species ‘hotspot’, followed by numeric ‘what-if’ analyses to determine methodological efficiencies. One major finding: combining multiple search strategies is better than traditional single-gear monitoring. Through their efforts, they discovered several new invertebrate exotics in the Duluth-Superior Harbor.

Anett is a research ecologist with the US EPA Mid-Continent Ecology Division in Duluth. She received her MS from the University of Tennessee and her PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Annett cares about how people affect aquatic ecosystems, and currently is part of a team studying linkages between watershed development and the health of Great Lakes coastal wetlands.

Featured Professional: Stephanie Guildford

In the world’s largest deepest lakes, phytoplankton photosynthesis is an important source of new carbon that fuels whole lake productivity. Research by Stephanie Guildford, an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, focuses on determining rates and controlling factors on primary production (PP) and, importantly, fates of PP.

Great Lakes, especially those with low nutrient concentrations and low phytoplankton biomass, pose extreme logistical challenges. Stephanie and her colleagues use advanced fluorometric instruments to characterize phytoplankton composition and photosynthetic capacity at highly-resolved spatial and temporal scales.

Using data collected from Lake Superior during five cruises in 2010, Stephanie’s lab and colleagues at UMD are studying the deep chlorophyll layer (DCL). In particular, is the DCL light limited, nutrient limited, controlled by grazers, or the sinking of phytoplankton? What links exist between the DCL and the vertical migrating zooplankton Limnocalanus and Mysis? Do these zooplankton feed in the DCL and, if so, how much of their productivity is derived from the DCL? Do the phytoplankton in the DCL use the nutrients excreted by the migrating zooplankton? If so, the connection between the DCL and migrating zooplankton may be an important control point of primary production.

Featured Student: Jessica Van Der Werff

Jessica Van Der Werff is a Master’s student in Water Resources Science at the University of Minnesota–Duluth. Her keen interest in water resources and their management began during her undergrad years at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. During this time, she obtained skills and experience in an aquatic ecology laboratory and as a water quality intern in southeastern Minnesota.

Jessica’s Master’s research focuses on nutrient and light stress in phytoplankton in Lake Superior. The first challenge is to collect phytoplankton and water samples at this vast scale, which means multiple cruises for Jessica throughout the summer months. This is followed by sophisticated analytical techniques (e.g., bioassays and fluorometry) to measure key indicators of stress and nutrient composition of water.

Jessica’s research occurs within the framework of a larger project on nutrient cycling dynamics, translocation of nutrients by biota, and overall productivity of Lake Superior. By describing the spatial and temporal patterns in indicators of nutrient stress in this system, Jessica will contribute important information about nutrient cycling in Lake Superior.

As Jessica plans her second summer of research cruises, she is looking forward to presenting preliminary data at the 2011 IAGLR conference in Duluth.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Featured Research: by Brenda Moraska Lafrancois

Lafrancois et al. 2011. Links between type E botulism outbreaks, lake levels, and surface water temperatures in Lake Michigan, 1963-2008. J. Great Lakes Res. 37:86-91.

In response to a recent resurgence of type E botulism in the Great Lakes, Brenda Moraska Lafrancois and her colleagues evaluated long-term relationships between botulism outbreaks and large-scale environmental factors in Lake Michigan. The team found associations between avian botulism outbreaks and low water levels and high summer surface water temperatures. Notable outbreaks coincided with periods of high prey fish abundance (alewife in the 1960s, round gobies in the 2000s).

Given that climate change scenarios predict lower water levels and higher water temperatures in the Great Lakes region, this study suggests that the frequency and magnitude of type E botulism outbreaks may increase in the future.

Brenda is a regional aquatic ecologist with the National Park Service and is stationed in St. Croix, Minnesota. She received a BS from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and a PhD in ecology from Colorado State University. Her current role is to advise on water resource issues in Great Lakes’ national parks, including nutrient enrichment, atmospheric contaminants, and aquatic invasive species.

Featured Professional: Kathy Sakamoto

Kathy Sakamoto is driven to build her knowledge of fish habitat to help protect our aquatic resources. After graduating from Lakehead University in Forest Technology, she worked with the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Nipigon District, on fish habitat issues. A workshop on fluvial geomorphology by David Rosgen opened her eyes to the connection between surficial geology and fish habitat, and whetted her appetite for more knowledge.

A move to Thunder Bay was an opportunity to go back to school to complete an Honour’s BSc part time. Her thesis research focused on surficial geology and fish habitat in the Black Sturgeon River. This tributary of Lake Superior flows into Black Bay, the location of a historically important walleye fishery. Besides reviewing files, maps, and aerial photographs, Kathy spent long days doing field work by canoe along 70 km of the river. Her research identified important spawning habitat for walleye, most of which was blocked by a logging dam used for sea lamprey control.

In her current role as Regional Information Management Specialist, Kathy advises fisheries personnel on how to use technology to collect and organize information.

Kathy is currently focusing on an early retirement and return to graduate school to complete a MSc in fisheries science. Choosing a university is her next challenge!

Featured Student: Kimberly Peters

Kimberly Peters is a recent Master’s graduate of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

Having grown up in Toledo, Ohio, she grew to love the Great Lakes at a young age. She pursued a BA in Environmental Policy and Analysis at Bowling Green State University to further cultivate this passion and get involved with the protection of the Great Lakes. She quickly realized that policy in combination with science could provide a deeper and richer understanding of the Great Lakes.

Under the supervision of Dr. Scott Peacor, Kim completed an interdisciplinary Master’s project that brought together stakeholders, policy-makers, and scientists to battle common environmental stressors in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron. Her research focused on the influence of light and nutrient limitation on benthic algal health, the main biotic culprits in shoreline fouling events in this system. In recognition of her work, Kim was awarded the prestigious Paul W. Rodgers Scholarship from IAGLR.

Kim continues to work with the research community and stakeholders in Saginaw Bay to help residents predict and alleviate future fouling events. In the future, she hopes to continue developing the joint policy-ecology arena to help protect the Great Lakes ecosystem.