Roxanne Razavi, Ph.D., of Oakville, Ontario, Canada, recently joined the Finger Lakes Institute (FLI) as a post-doctoral researcher focusing on mercury bioaccumulation in fish and other biota in the Finger Lakes region.
Director of the FLI Lisa Cleckner, Ph.D., is the principal investigator of the mercury project, which was approved for funding by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) in late 2014. The study is an assessment of mercury dynamics in aquatic food webs of the Finger Lakes, and field work officially began in May. “We are excited to have Roxanne join our research team, and her expertise has prepared her to be able to step right in to take a leadership role on the Finger Lakes mercury project,” said Cleckner.
Other investigators on the mercury project include HWS Director of Introductory Biology Laboratories Susan Flanders Cushman ’98, HWS Professor Environmental Studies John Halfman, FLCC Conservation Professor and Muller Field Station Director Dr. Bruce Gilman and FLCC Professor John Foust. Cushman is sampling tributaries for particles, aquatic insects such as mayflies and dragonflies, and small fish, specifically blacknose dace and creek chub, that are bioindicators of mercury concentrations in streams. Halfman is conducting assessments of water quality of the lakes and streams. Gilman and Foust are collecting in-lake fish such as yellow perch and alewives as well as other species such as walleye, lake trout and smallmouth bass.
Prior to working at the Finger Lakes Institute, Razavi received her Ph.D. from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario with a dissertation in the fields of limnology and ecotoxicology. Boasting an excellent track record of field work and publications from previous studies, Razavi is well versed in her field and hopes to share some of her research with the Finger Lakes community.
“My undergraduate thesis was on the health of wetlands in the Great Lakes. After that, I pursued my M.Sc., studying mercury pollution in a Great Lakes Area of Concern on the St. Lawrence River. I continued in the field of ecotoxicology for my Ph.D., where my research took me to Eastern China to study the effects of mercury on reservoirs foods webs.”
The goal of Razavi’s current work with the Finger Lakes Institute is “to understand how much mercury there is at all levels of the food chain across five Finger Lakes, from phytoplankton to fish.” In order to uncover the influence of mercury locally and regionally, Razavi and the team are collecting water and plankton samples from Seneca, Cayuga, Canandaigua, Honeoye, and Owasco lakes for mercury analysis. The process includes collecting sediment samples for benthic invertebrates like zebra and quagga mussels and scuds as well.”
Though finding out if the mercury levels in the Finger Lakes should be a local concern, Razavi confirms that it is already a global issue. The Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty aiming to protect human and environmental health by controlling mercury emissions, is currently underway and has gained support worldwide. There are currently 128 countries that have signed the treaty, 12 of which have gone through with ratification (including the United States). Though there are steps being taken toward reducing global mercury concentrations, maintaining appropriate concentrations in humans and wildlife is still “tricky.”
“The mercury cycle is very complex,” says Razavi. “Mercury is naturally occurring in the environment, but it is also emitted into the environment from human sources.” The two largest sources of mercury from human emissions are coal combustion and gold mining. Since “there are a lot of gaps on what we know about mercury in the Finger Lakes,” the goal is to uncover the local concentrations of mercury, especially since “this is a really important region for fisheries, agriculture, and tourism.”
For the next year, Razavi will be continuing to conduct research on mercury levels in the area, looking at various factors such as how land use affects the ways in which mercury enters our water. Looking forward, Razavi hopes to continue conducting environmental research that will allow her to make an impact on communities in an informative manner.
“What I really love about being at the Finger Lakes Institute is being able to also emphasize outreach and education, which is a really important component of doing research.” When asked about her first impressions of the region, she replied “The Finger Lakes are even more beautiful than I thought.”