Redefining the Classroom

Biology students present senior project research

Posted: December 6th, 2008

CONTACT: John Shibley, e-mail, 906-635-2314; Tom Pink, e-mail, 635-2315; Prof. Nancy Kirkpatrick, e-mail, 635-2894.

SURVEYING AN ECOSYSTEM – Lake Superior State University student Kelli Spencer records the variety of plant species during a recent EPA-funded study of Ashmun Bay in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. (File photo by John Shibley)

A print-resolution photo that runs with this caption can be found by clicking here.

SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. – Double-crested cormorants really enjoy eating game fish; invader aquatic reeds wield an acid to keep their domestic counterparts in check; and a pesticide used to control Asian longhorned beetles could prove risky for marine invertebrates. These were just a few of the findings that Lake Superior State University biology students presented to the public during a senior research symposium Dec. 5-6, in Crawford Hall.

Senior thesis research is the capstone experience for LSSU students studying the sciences. Under the guidance of faculty mentors, students choose a topic, design a study, collect and analyze the data, write a scientific paper, and present the information to the university community and interested members of the public.

This semester's research topics reflect the eclectic issues that biology students address during their years at LSSU.

"The projects typically take an entire year for the students to design and complete," says Prof. Nancy Kirkpatrick, the Biology department's senior thesis coordinator. "They generally address practical issues of local biological and environmental concerns. The senior thesis experience is one aspect of LSSU that greatly sets it apart from other undergraduate programs in the country."

Matt Pumfery of Twin Lake, Mich., analyzed double-crested cormorant diets in Brevort Lake, a large lake in Michigan's Eastern Upper Peninsula. His three-year study suggests, at least in the springtime, the birds consume large numbers of sport fishes. More than two-thirds of the stomach content found in 242 cormorants was composed of yellow perch.

Kevin Moore of West Branch, Mich., looked for a reason why North American reeds, which have been around for 40,000 years, are being edged out by a Eurasian variety introduced about 150 years ago. Both reeds produce an acid that keeps rivals in check, but Eurasian reeds secrete eight times more acid than domestic varieties. This may be why Eurasian reeds are expanding throughout wetlands and threatening biodiversity.

Diana Cryderman of Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., set out to see if two aquatic invertebrates commonly found in ecosystems can discern, and therefore perhaps avoid eating, a pesticide used to control the Asian longhorned beetle. The insecticide actually decreased invertebrate eating habits, which may cause negative effects on stream ecosystems.

Frank Zomer of Reed City, Mich., studied the differences in how algae, macroinvertebrates, and fish use log cribs in a lake south of Munising, Mich. His results show that cribs that are seven years old host more invertebrates such as Chironomidae and Ceratopogonidae than do younger cribs.

Edward Shaw of Clarkston, Mich., has figured out when fish migrate from the St. Mary's River rapids to spawn and at what water temperature. He finds that salmon leave the rapids between May and June, when water temperature reaches 20° C. Sunfish and suckers migrate from spring through summer, with a jump in activity at around 10° C.

Kathryn Harriger of Gaylord, Mich., studied how density and age of mussels varied with a stream's water quality, velocity, depth, and presence of woody debris, vegetation and sediment. The density of the mussel species was affected by sediment size, and the presence of vegetation and woody debris.

Jessica Rutyna of Fraser, Mich., derived a habitat suitability index that should help managers decide what resources sustain eastern wild turkeys in the northern Great Lakes region. Her model rolls such variables as temperature, hardwood and conifer data, along with snow depth and duration, into an index that ranges from zero (poor) to 1.0 (excellent).

Jennifer Allemang's (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) study in the Ontario Forest Research Institute's greenhouse monitored growth rates of white pine seedlings that were suddenly exposed to direct sunlight. Her aim was to yield insight into how different modes of tree harvesting affect the growth rate of white pine.

Jonathan R. Behring of Hillman, Mich., found small amounts of Cryptosporium and Giardia - but more than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends - at five different sampling sites along the north shore of Sugar Island, near Sault Ste. Marie, with increased concentrations of the waterborne pathogens downstream.

For more information about these projects, or other undergraduate biology research projects going on at Lake Superior State, contact Kirkpatrick at 906-635-2894 or e-mail her here.

BIOLOGY RESEARCH PRESENTERS -- Student presenters form up for a group photo during Lake Superior State University’s fall 2008 senior research symposium. Pictured left to right are Franklin N. Zomer, Jennifer M. Allemang, Jessica B. Rutyna, Diana K. Cryderman, Edward S. Shaw, Kathryn M. Harriger, Kevin J. Moore, Jonathon R. Behring, and Matthew M. Pumfery. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Merkel)

Click here for print-resolution version of this photo.

Complete abstracts

Allelopathy of Phragmites australis on North American and Eurasian Plant Species
Kevin Moore, Department of Biological Sciences

Phragmites australis, or common reed, has been found growing in parts of North America for the past 40,000 years. Over the past 150 years, populations of P. australis have been expanding throughout wetland habitats and threatening biodiversity. Recently it was discovered that two genotypes, an invasive Eurasian strain and a native North American strain, are present in the United States. Although both are allelopathic, the Eurasian genotype secretes eight times more of its allelochemical, gallic acid, into the rhizosphere than its North American relative, making gallic acid allelopathy suspect in the recent expansion of P. australis. Since drops in native plant biodiversity have been associated with some floral invasions in the past, the objective of this study was to determine whether North American plant species are more susceptible to the detrimental effects of gallic acid than Eurasian plant species. A group of North American plants and one of Eurasian plants were each treated with three concentrations of gallic acid to find any difference in height and fresh biomass between the two after six weeks of growth. Concentrations of gallic acid treatments were similar to those found in the rhizosphere of the Eurasian strain of P. australis. Individual plant species within both groups exhibited varied sensitivity to gallic acid, however, no difference in gallic acid sensitivity between Eurasian and North American plants was found. These results suggest that more research is needed to confirm gallic acid allelopathy as the primary reason for P. australis dominance in North American wetlands.

Northern Great Lakes Winter Habitat Suitability Index Model: Eastern Wild Turkey
Jessica B. Rutyna, Department of Biological Sciences

Eastern wild turkeys (Meleagris gallopavo sylvestris) can persist in broad general habitats and survive on a variety of foods throughout their range during all seasons. However, in northern Great Lakes region, food availability during winter is a major concern. The objective of this study was to create a continuation of the existing habitat suitability index (HIS) model for northern Great Lakes winter habitats for eastern wild turkeys. Existing literature was reviewed to form suitability index variables: temperature, conifer diameter at breast height, percent conifers, snow depth, snow duration, hardwood diameter at breast height, hardwood density, and percent hardwoods. These variables were then compounded to derive a habitat suitability index value, which is a numerical value ranging from 0 to 1.0 (0 being below average to 1.0 being excellent). This model will help managers determine whether resources should be invested into northern Great Lakes habitat for eastern wild turkeys.

Photosynthetic Response of Eastern White Pine (Pinus Strobus L.) to an Abrupt Increase in Light Intensity
Jennifer M. Allemang, Department of Biological Sciences

Successful canopy recruitment of eastern white pine (Pinus strobus L.) depends in part on its ability to acclimate to improved understory light conditions following a canopy disturbance. The mechanism of physiological acclimation by white pine to increased light intensity is not fully understood. A greenhouse study was conducted to examine the photosynthetic response of white pine seedlings transferred from shade to sun. Seedlings were grown in either a high light sun treatment (50% ambient sunlight) or a low light shade treatment (10% ambient sunlight) for 11 weeks, and then half of the shade treatment seedlings were transferred to the sun treatment. Several photosynthetic variables were measured for the seedlings prior to transfer and at selected time intervals post transfer using two LI-6400 infrared gas-exchange analyzers. Acclimation of transferred seedlings was evident only for mean maximum net photosynthetic assimilation rate (Amax). By 50 days post transfer, the transferred seedlings had a mean Amax significantly higher than the shade seedlings. At 80 days post transfer the transfer seedlings had a mean Amax similar to the sun seedlings, indicating that they were acclimating to the high light intensity 50 days post transfer and were fully acclimated by 80 days. No significant differences were observed between treatments at any time interval for dark respiration rate (Rd), light compensation point (LCP), and light saturation point (LSP). This lack of treatment response may be attributed to small sample size. Alternatively, it may indicate that mid-tolerant white pine is photosynthetically well adapted to variability in light conditions, and therefore requires little acclimation to changes in light conditions. The findings may aid in developing improved silvicultural treatments for white pine management.

The presence of Giardia sp. and Cryptosporidium spp. in the St. Mary's River off the north shore of Sugar Island
Jonathan R. Behring, Department of Biological Sciences

Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia sp. are two waterborne pathogens known to cause diarrhea, and have also been shown to be present in fecally contaminated water. During the late summer of 2008, 15 water samples were taken at 5 different locations from the St. Mary’s River off the coast of the north-shore of Sugar Island, all according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Method 1623, which is a standard method for the collection and isolation of the two species. In order to isolate the two parasites, the water was filtered on site, and the filters were kept for analysis. Following processing, two different staining techniques were used in conjunction. First, the samples were stained using a MeriFluor® kit and examined using a fluorescent microscope. Secondly, samples were stained using a traditional Giemsa stain and were examined using a light microscope. The results from this study suggest that the samples did contain some Cryptosporidium spp. and Giardia sp., and since the Environmental Protection Agency recommends an expected value of 0, there was a significant amount. Also, sites downstream had higher quantities of both organisms when compared to the control. Although this was the case, both were found in low quantities (Giardia = 1.25/100 fields, Cryptosporidium = 13.25/100 fields) and should be considered potentially hazardous.

Diet Analysis of Double-crested Cormorants on Brevoort Lake, MI
Matt Pumfery, Department of Biological Sciences

Recent population increases of double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) and their competition with anglers for sport fishes has resulted in a need for scientific research on the effects of cormorants on fish communities. The objective of this study was to identify and quantify diets of double-crested cormorants occupying Brevoort Lake, an inland lake in Mackinac County, Michigan. In spring 2005, 2006, and 2007, 242 cormorants were harvested from Brevoort Lake. Stomach contents were separated by species and degree of digestion, enumerated, measured and weighed. Partially digested fish were identified using cleithra. Cormorant diet composition in all years consisted primarily of yellow perch (>68%). Other dominant prey items included crayfish (4-17%), round goby (1-5%), and mottled sculpin (<1-5%). The results of this study suggest that cormorants are actively feeding in the spring and consuming large numbers of sport fishes. These findings will help managers determine appropriate cormorant and fishery management strategies for Brevoort Lake.

Effects of the Pesticide Imidacloprid on Feeding Activity of Two Aquatic Invertebrates
Diana Cryderman, Department of Biological Sciences

Invasive pest species such as the Asian longhorned beetle are known to pose threat to riparian habitats in the Great Lakes region. Pesticides, such as imidacloprid, have been developed to control populations of invasive species like the beetle, however these chemicals may disrupt the food web and nutrient cycles in nearby aquatic ecosystems. The objective of this study was to determine if aquatic leaf-eating invertebrates have the ability to identify and therefore avoid imidacloprid-laden leaves entering a stream during senescence. Area loss and mass loss approaches were used to determine feeding activity effects shown by aquatic invertebrates. Tipulidae and Pteronarcyidae individuals were provided with a choice of two control leaves, a control leaf and a low-dosage treatment leaf, or a control leaf and a high-dosage treatment leaf. No significant difference in the feeding activity on control leaves and treated leaves (both dosages) was observed but significantly higher feeding activities were observed in control microcosms compared to total leaf consumption in treatment microcosms (both dosages). Mass loss and digital analysis methods illustrated similar results; area consumed by invertebrates showed significantly higher variation than did leaf mass loss, possibly excluding microbial activity. This study strongly suggests that these two aquatic invertebrates cannot detect the pesticide and likely will be negatively affected by use of the pesticide imidacloprid.

Differences in Benthic Algae, Macroinvertebrate and Fish Use of Log Cribs
Frank Zomer, Department of Biological Sciences

In northern Michigan lakes, artificial habitat structures have been widely used to aggregate fish and increase fish production. The addition of woody structure to lakes and streams has shown to increase production of forage organisms for fishes, create cover and provide a diversity of habitats that may be lacking. However, little is known about which of these factors are contributing to fish aggregation. The purpose of this study was to determine differences in algal biomass, macroinvertebrate density, and fish communities associated with log crib habitat structures of varying ages. Periphyton and macroinvertebrates were sampled from the top log of cribs from each of 3 groups of cribs (ages 5-7 years, n=5). Fish activity around the cribs was recorded with the use of underwater video. Algal biomass was significantly lower on age-5 cribs than age-6 and 7 cribs. Macroinvertebrates sampled from all cribs were dominated by Chironomidae and Ceratopogonidae and densities were significantly greater on age-7 cribs than age-5 and 6 cribs. No significant differences were found in the number of observed fish among crib ages. However, there was a large variety of age and species of fishes around most cribs. The differences in use of log cribs by fishes are likely due to the combination of many factors. Future research should replicate this study design but also look at differences in water chemistry as well as other food sources that may be available to fishes at log cribs.

Fish Use of the St. Mary's River Rapids
Edward S. Shaw, Department of Biological Sciences

The St. Mary's River Rapids (SMRR) is a very important rearing ground for many species of fish especially Pacific salmon. Management of the rapids is important to protect the rearing and nesting grounds of several species of fish. Better management may consist of protecting the rapids by managing the compensation gates at the head of the rapids or making protected areas. Knowing when the fish are in the system and knowing when what species are there allows us to make these important decisions. My study looked at the migration of fishes leaving the SMRR. We are also looking for Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) smolts within the SMR. We were looking for the Atlantic salmon smolts to see if there is any natural reproduction of Atlantic with the rapids. I did this by setting three fyke nets evenly across the foot of the rapids once a week for 24 hours to catch any fish that were leaving the system. The results showed that the salmon smolts leave starting at the end of May through June when the water temperatures reach about 20 degrees C. Other fish such as Catostomidae (suckers) and Centrarchidae (sunfishes) were migrating into spawn in the spring. The sunfishes and the suckers were caught in the SMR all summer long. The suckers showed no significant threshold for temperature. The results showed no significant threshold for suckers. The sunfish showed a shift in their abundance at 10.28 degrees C. The abundance went from fewer than 8 fish at colder temperatures, to more than 8 fish at high temperatures Better management of this area can help protect these spawning fish by managing the compensation gates. Knowing what time of year and fish are there allows us to make better decisions of how to manage the river rapids.

Freshwater Mussel Distribution and Demographics in Relation to Microhabitat
Kathryn Harriger, Department of Biological Sciences

Information on the status, distribution and habitat preferences of freshwater mussels in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is minimal. The objectives of this study were to: 1) determine the distribution and demographics of mussels throughout Hannah Creek, a 1st order stream in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and 2) relate demographics to microhabitat parameters. Initial surveys of all wadeable reaches of the stream were conducted using glass-bottomed buckets to identify aggregations of mussels (n >5 individuals). Microhabitat parameters (e.g. water quality, velocity, depth, woody debris, vegetation, sediment) were randomly sampled using a 1m2 grid where mussel aggregations were present and absent. When mussels were found within grids, species, age and length were recorded. Multiple regression analysis was used to relate microhabitat parameters to mussel density, and independent t-tests were used to compare habitat between grids with and without mussels. Mussel species found in this study included Anodontoides ferussacianus, Strophitus undulatus, Lasmigona compressa and Pyganodon grandis. The distribution of mussels throughout the stream was patchy, and the average age of the mussels was 9 years. Density of all mussel species was negatively correlated with sediment size (p = 0.029) and percent vegetation (p = 0.003), but was positively correlated with percent woody debris (p = 0.012). Habitat between grids with and without mussels did not differ except for specific conductivity (p = 0.037), which was greater in grids with mussels. The results from this study will be useful for regional freshwater mussel population management and habitat restoration attempts in the future.