Lake Champlain Project Finds Interesting Results
Researchers at Plattsburgh State University of New York have found that zebra mussels in Lake Champlain may have disrupted the biodiversity of its smallest inhabitants.
Through a project funded by the United State Environmental Protection Agency and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC), students at the Lake Champlain Research Institute at Plattsburgh State have been identifying "zooplankton" or animal plankton taken from 10 years of sampling on Lake Champlain from 1992-2001.
Karen Carling, from Saratoga, N.Y., started working on this project as an undergraduate three years ago and recently completed a master's thesis on the 10-year data set this summer.
Dr. Timothy Mihuc, associate professor of environmental science and coordinator of LCRI, said, "Karen's research findings show some very interesting and startling trends in the Lake Champlain fauna following the zebra mussel invasion."
In her research, Carling found that Lake Champlain has experienced a significant loss in Rotifer biodiversity from the mid-1990s to 2001, likely attributed to direct consumption by invading zebra mussels.
"Rotifers are among the smallest zooplankton in the lake, feeding on small algae and other organic food sources," said Carling. "The other major groups of zooplankton in Lake Champlain are the Cladocera ("water fleas") and Copepoda, neither of which follow the 10-year decline pattern Rotifers experienced."
Several Plattsburgh State students have gained research experience by working on this project including Adam Bouchard, Megan Pellam and Ian Ater.
From this research, Carling, Ater and Mihuc produced a guide to the zooplankton of Lake Champlain. The guide is a dichotomous key of the zooplankton identified in the samples collected by the NYDEC between 1992-2001 and other historical scientific records. The guide includes diagrams of the various species of zooplankton found in Lake Champlain along with distribution lists and classifications.
Carling presented her research at a previous meeting of the Lake Champlain Research Consortium. Her presented paper, co-authored with Mihuc, will be published in the conference's proceedings.
"When I came to the institute, I was hired on a work-study grant. I really enjoyed
my work and then I began to take the research a step further, and no one ever said,
'no.' Dr. Mihuc was always enthusiastic and encouraging me to go forward," said Carling.
Carling has recently finished her master's degree and has moved to Long Island, where she will be applying for jobs in environmental education and outreach.
"I'm grateful for the experience I got from working at the Institute with Dr. Mihuc," said Carling. "I would have never gotten a master's degree without being a part of this project."