Freshwater mussel ecology
Freshwater mussels can have dramatic effects on water quality and benthic community assemblages. They are the world’s most endangered taxa, yet we know little about what environmental factors influence their growth and fecundity. My research is designed to connect the annular growth of the mussels with different environmental characteristics measured in the North Temperate Lakes region of the Long-Term Ecological Research network (NTL LTER). Mussels develop annular rings in their shells much like trees do, I use these rings just as dendrochronologists do to quantify the relative influence different environmental characteristics have on mussel growth. So far, I have observed a high level of synchrony in annual growth among individuals within a lake supporting the idea that mussels are receiving the same growth signals at the lake scale.
Anticipating cyanobacteria blooms using spatial analysis
Harmful algal blooms in freshwater ecosystems are increasing in frequency and intensity worldwide. Their blooms can often be characterized by a tipping point and arise with little warning. Theory suggests that we may be able to detect early warning indicators (EWIs) of an impending bloom prior to it’s arrival using spatial analysis. In collaboration with the CASCADES team, I am exploring the usefulness of theoretically derived EWIs in detecting tipping points in real world ecosystems. We have been using a set of experimental lakes managed by the University of Notre Dame’s Environmental Research Center (UNDERC) as one of the first whole-ecosystem experimental studies for anticipating ecological tipping points.