Graduate Alumni Research Award: Jessica Trout-Haney

On March 11, 2014 by Grad Forum

trout_haney_thumbnailJessica Trout-Haney, a PhD candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Program, was another recipient of the Graduate Alumni Research Award this year. Here she describes her work on the effects of climate change on lakes in Greenland.

My work has been greatly enhanced through the generosity of the Graduate Alumni Research Award. With this support, I was able to purchase high quality sonar equipment necessary for mapping the morphometric features (i.e., lake area, depth, basin shape) of Arctic lakes in Greenland, and more specifically, to explore cyanobacterial blooms in these lakes. Cyanobacteria are small photosynthetic bacteria known for their ability to form “blue-green” blooms or surface scums on water bodies under favorable environmental conditions. In addition to reducing light and oxygen availability in the water, many cyanobacteria produce metabolites that are toxic to other aquatic and terrestrial organisms.

Cyanobacterial blooms are of increasing ecological and economic concern worldwide, threatening the health of aquatic food webs and the safe use of freshwater for recreation and drinking water supply. Studies of cyanobacterial blooms have traditionally focused on their occurrence in nutrient-rich lakes with conspicuous “blue-green” blooms. However, cyanobacteria have an extensive worldwide distribution, and we have recently discovered that cyanobacterial toxins are present in low-nutrient lakes in Greenland.

These lakes are unique in that many are dominated by colonies of conspicuous benthic cyanobacteria of the genus Nostoc. Known colloquially as “sea tomatoes,” these colonies appear as gelatinous spheres and can reach diameters of greater than 15 cm and abundances of more than 20,000 colonies per lake in this area of Greenland. They are also capable of producing potent liver and neurotoxins, and we have found cyanotoxin concentrations ranging from low to very high among these Arctic lakes. Through surveying these lakes, I am investigating how features of lake morphometry may be driving differences in the abundance of cyanobacteria, level of lake toxicity, and the effects of these factors on the rest of the aquatic community.

Additionally, polar ecosystems are well suited to act as early predictors of environmental change, and thus studying these areas is important in making better predictions about the responses of harmful algal blooms to changing environmental conditions. Thanks to funding I received from the Graduate Alumni Research Award, I have been able to collect valuable pilot data, which has enabled me to schedule a return trip to Greenland this summer. I am very grateful to the Graduate Studies Office for this opportunity.

by Jessica Trout-Haney

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