Unique From All Sides – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Unique From All Sides

The sun is out, not a cloud in the sky, and The William Scandling research vessel is cruising out to the center of Seneca Lake. 

All in all, it’s a beautiful day to pull up a few sediment traps-some of the scientific instruments purchased with a recent $418,430 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Major Research Instrumentation Program.

Underscoring the groundbreaking interdisciplinary approaches of HWS, faculty members Meghan Brown (biology), Tara Curtin (geoscience), Neil Laird (geoscience) and Stina Bridgeman (computer science) are in the midst of an innovative scientific study, interweaving aspects of each of their respective fields, thanks to the funding from the NSF.

Several months underway, the project uses state-of-the-art sediment traps to investigate the reproduction of the non-native fishhook water flea in Seneca Lake, while simultaneously documenting and analyzing the lake’s meteorological conditions, internal currents and sedimentation processes.

“This study is the first of its kind in terms of breath,” says Brown, assistant professor of biology.  “It’s the first attempt to do something like this year round-very exciting.”

Bridging ecology, limnology, meteorology and computer science, the study tracks, among other things, the presence and reproduction of the fishhook water flea through the use of the sediment traps-large weighted yellow cones, which, deployed at various depths and locations in the lake, funnel sediment into plastic tubes.

Roughly every six weeks during the summer and fall, the traps will be raised, the 21 collection jars swapped, their contents emptied and analyzed to examine how the carnivorous plankton, inedible to most fish, transport their eggs to the lake.  The traps will remain submerged for the better part of the winter months, still functional, but only being lifted once between December and March.

“Ultimately, through publications, presentations, and meetings with state and federal agencies, our work will contribute to preventing the spread and negative impacts of invasive species,” Brown says.

The research on the fishhook water flea, a carnivorous plankton inedible to most fish, is being conducted by Brown , research assistant Karen Thorp ’07 and a team of student researchers-Bethany Bashaw ’10, Mike Ellis ’10, Kerry O’Neill ’09 and Jessica Popp ’11-whose assistance is made possible through the grant.

Curtin, Laird and Bridgeman are each conducting their own projects through the same grant, respectively examining the sediment itself, meteorology of the lake, and the organization of the research data.

“This project will afford not only summer research opportunities, but independent studies and honors work,” says Brown.  “Students are gaining hands-on experience with field and laboratory methods and data management, analysis and interpretation in a framework of integrated interdisciplinary research.”

“I definitely like the field research-going out on the William Scandling, collecting samples,” Popp says.  “The lab work is tedious at times, but looking back through is really cool.  It’s good to see the entire process-from sampling to processing to inspection.”

Ellis agrees: “It’s awesome getting to do field work, but it’s nice to have time in the lab, too.  It’s a nice way to split the week.”

The research and the use of the traps will continue for the next two years, and although the traps were only lowered in the spring 2009 semester, the research is looking promising.  As Brown says, “The fact that we have succeeded in this major competition speaks to the fact that the scientific research being done at HWS is considered some of the very best in the country.”