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Minnesota Sea Grant Funds New Research Projects

The University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program has awarded funding to five research projects involving Lake Superior. The funding, which is provided by the National Sea Grant College Program and matched by the University of Minnesota, collectively totals over $886,000. The funded projects and researchers for 2012-2014 are:

What Fuels Lake Superior's Food Webs?
Principal Investigator: Elizabeth Minor (University of Minn. Duluth)
With: J. Werne, D. Branstrator, T. Hrabik
 
Where do the elements of a lake trout's body come from? Are they derivative of algae, fallen leaves, and sunken logs on the bottom of Lake Superior or a combination thereof? To answer such a question, researchers will collect organic matter, zooplankton, and fish from off of Minnesota's north shore, a site along Wisconsin's nearshore, and a third offshore site in Lake Superior. They will collect samples from the sites in spring when the water is vertically mixing, in summer after stratification occurs, and when autumn leaves are floating into the lake. Back in the laboratory, the researchers will conduct isotopic analyses on the samples. The laboratory technique will allow the researchers to determine where these elements came from and whether the sources change over the seasons. If they discover that land-based sources of carbon and nutrients are important in Lake Superior's food webs, fisheries managers might want to include the watershed in management plans. If the researchers' preliminary data are correct and Lake Superior's food webs are predominantly founded on lake-based elements recently fixed by algae, managers could potentially use this information to anticipate how fish populations might respond to annual algae abundance.
Endocrine-Mimics Disrupt Developing Bass
Principal Investigator: Patrick Schoff (University of Minn. Duluth)
With: J. Olker
 
This project will define the connection between a deformity found in male smallmouth bass (testicular oocytes) and chemicals that affect endocrine systems. The researchers will examine the testicular tissue of smallmouth bass from the St. Louis River Estuary, Lake Superior, and inland sites in Minnesota. They will determine the levels of deformity and compare samples that have come from waters noticeably influenced by human activity to those from less altered sites. The researchers will conduct laboratory studies to document when gonads develop in smallmouth bass and how exposure to estrogen affects this development. This study will advance a growing understanding of the ways endocrine disrupting chemicals subtly alter development and reproduction, and potentially damage wild populations. The results of this study could be useful to industries, water quality regulators and pharmaceutical developers as they continue working toward sustainable coastal ecosystems.
Low Light, Eyesight and Deepwater Foraging Success
Principal Investigator: Thomas Hrabik (University of Minn. Duluth)
With: A. Mensinger, B. Roth, O. Gorman
 
Despite living in dimly lit environments, deepwater sculpin, kiyi, and siscowet primarily rely on visual cues to forage and to avoid predators. Researchers will define the visual acuity of these native Lake Superior species by studying their physiological and behavioral responses over a gradient of light intensities in thermally controlled aquariums. The laboratory investigations will help the researchers identify mechanisms that allow these species to thrive in exceedingly low-light environments. This information will be incorporated into computer simulations that could aid fisheries managers as they grapple with proposals to open a Lake Superior siscowet fishery. The simulations will indicate the degree to which harvesting siscowet would reverberate throughout Lake Superior's food web and affect the zooplankton populations that are presumed to be fundamental to sustaining these fish. Understanding the foraging mechanisms of these species will also contribute to predictions regarding the ways in which a potential rise in Lake Superior's deepwater temperatures could intensify the interactions between predatory siscowet and their prey.
Rusting Predictor: Understanding the Bacteria that Steals Port Steel
Principal Investigator: Randall Hicks (University of Minn. Duluth)
With: N. Johnson, A. Reed, B. Little
 
This project extends a series of investigations into the unusual corrosion damaging steel within the Duluth-Superior Harbor and focuses on fine scale changes that occur near the steel surface. Now that iron-oxidizing and sulfate-reducing bacteria have been identified as contributing to the corrosion, researchers will examine the relationship between the microbial community and changes in oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfide concentrations near corroded surfaces. The researchers suspect that water quality may boost the activity of some microbial communities and that microbial processes close to steel surfaces control corrosion rates. Aided by electron microscopy and molecular biology, the researchers expect to uncover specific mechanisms that lead to corrosion, which will help them to refine a risk assessment tool for freshwater ports. This tool will help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, port authorities, and individual companies better predict conditions that lead to corrosion of port infrastructure in the Duluth Superior Harbor and elsewhere in the Great Lakes.
Estuary Hotspots for Microbes Reflect Water Chemistry
Principal Investigators: Jacques Finlay (University of Minn. Twin Cities),
E. Stanley (University of Wisc.-Madison)
With: R. Sterner
Jointly funded by the Minnesota and Wisconsin Sea Grant programs
 
The chemistry of the water within the St. Louis Estuary depends on its origin and its interactions. The upper estuary flows with river water and runoff from wetlands. This water mixes with urban runoff and nitrate-rich lake water as it nears Lake Superior. Microbial activity in the estuary reflects spatial and seasonal variation in physical conditions (such as temperature, light availability, and residence time of water) and nutrient concentrations. In this study, researchers will identify hotspots of nutrient and organic matter processing by:
  • Combining water chemistry surveys with simulations of nutrient inputs and hydrologic mixing.
  • Examining dissolved organic matter and calculating the rates of primary production and respiration at multiple sites.
  • Measuring potential denitrification rates at multiple sites.
This research will contribute insights into the foundation of estuarine and nearshore food webs. New information about the biogeochemical processes supporting the estuary will enhance water quality monitoring programs and inform strategies for improving estuarine health. This study complements the goals of the Lake Superior National Estuary Research Reserve, the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other agencies.

Posted on April 24, 2012


This page last modified on April 24, 2012     © 1996 – 2017 Regents of the University of Minnesota     The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity educator and employer.
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