Meghan Brown, assistant professor of biology, has been awarded a Fulbright Scholar Grant to conduct research on Lago Maggiore in Italy during the 2009-2010 academic year, according to the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. Articles about this award were included in the Finger Lakes Times (December 27, 2009) as well as the Ithaca Journal (January 3, 2010).
Brown will work on a project titled “Home is where the Spiny waterflea is: Examining resting egg longevity and viability in Lago Maggiore.” Her project works to prevent the spread and impacts of non-native species. Spiny waterfleas eat zooplankton which are an important food for native fishes. In some lakes, they have caused the elimination of some species of native zooplankton. They can also impede fishing.
“I’m really curious in how this egg behaves over time,” Brown is quoted in the Finger Lakes Times. “Lots of zooplankton live this life of being in water during the summer and egg-stage in the sediment during the winter. And some of those eggs can last hundreds of years and still be viable. So the question is, is that the case for this particular species?”
Brown, who joined the biology department in August 2006, holds a doctorate and master’s degree from the University of Minnesota, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. She is the author of numerous articles that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as Biological Invasions, Journal of Great Lakes Research, Freshwater Biology and Health Education & Behavior. She is a member of the International Association of Theoretical and Applied Limnology, American Society of Limnology and Oceanography, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and National Association of Science Teachers.
The full Finger Lakes Times article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
HWS prof looks at life of waterfleas
Brown will travel to Italy on Fulbright scholarship
David Taube • December 27, 2009
GENEVA – A biology professor from Hobart and William Smith Colleges will be studying in Italy next year after being awarded a Fulbright Scholarship.
Meghan Brown, whose work has focused on zooplankton in the Finger Lakes region, will spend four months at Lago Maggiore, a glacial lake in Pallanza, Italy, to study how an invasive species is transported. She’ll be looking at the lifespan of spiny waterflea eggs to determine their longevity and mobility.
The species has been known to puncture the guts of fish and waterfowl and become tangled in recreational gear. The waterflea and other species not native to the Great Lakes region can cost the area $200 million annually due to declines in commercial fishing, sport fishing and the water supply, according to Brown’s Fulbright Scholarship statement.
“I’m really curious in how this egg behaves over time,” Brown said. “Lots of zooplankton live this life of being in water during the summer and egg-stage in the sediment during the winter. And some of those eggs can last hundreds of years and still be viable. So the question is, is that the case for this particular species?”
Based on her initial, recently published research, that may only be one year, she said. The length of the egg cycle matters significantly, she said, because people can interrupt the species’ life cycle to prevent further damage to an ecosystem.
Fulbright Scholarships, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, seek to exchange ideas and scientists – including students, scholars and teachers – across countries worldwide.
About 800 Americans receive them each year, and the program has a high correlation with Nobel laureates.
The scholarship will sponsor Brown to work with the Studio degli Ecosistemi, or Institute for Ecosystem Studies, to determine if her lab research holds up in the field.
Brown measures the egg’s ability to propagate based on its history in the sediment of a lake – a process akin to counting the rings on a tree trunk to measure its lifespan. And while Seneca Lake has a notable amount of sedimentary history, the species has lived longer in Lago Maggiore, allowing the egg to make more deposits over time.
“Let’s say [the egg] could last 100 years. And you have it in a lake. You’d kind of have to throw your hands up at that point,” she said. “Even if you could figure out a way to get rid of population for one year … it still has the eggs in the sediment. And it can continuously repopulate that lake even 100 years from now.
“[But] if that egg can only last for one year, that’s a really interesting piece of information. It means if you can interrupt the life cycle once, you have a hope of actually doing something significant and actually controlling that population.”
Brown’s major breakthrough came after years of research when she determined that the spiny waterflea, or Bythotrephes, may dry up after 12 to 24 hours, she said. That means the egg would no longer spread if kept out of water for more than a day.
That finding, if held up in the field, may have implications for boaters who move their boats from one lake to another within 24 hours, she said.
“They [waterfleas] are in all the Great Lakes, they’re in over 100 inland lakes, and we have had basically our first inland lake invasion in New York state this last fall,” she said.
The mobile form of the egg is how scientists think it is moving between lakes, she said.
“It doesn’t require water. It doesn’t require food. It can pick up an anchor line or get caught on a fishing line or someone’s bucket or bilge water and very easily move. So it has this unique life stage in and of itself, but it’s also probably facilitating the invasion,” she said.
While Seneca Lake has about 12,000 years of sedimentary history, the spiny waterflea has only existed in the Finger Lakes for about 10 to 15 years, she said.
In Italy, where that history is much deeper, Brown will use a research vessel and collaborate with a government researcher to determine how the egg functioned 50 or 75 years ago in a process sometimes dubbed “resurrection ecology.” It involves recreating the historical environment in the present moment through laboratory work, she said.
Lago Maggiore is about as old as Seneca Lake, but it also went through a period of green, smelly eutrophication, Brown said.
In those periods, the lake experienced abnormal oxygen and pH levels, which are stressful to the egg according to her laboratory experiments. Whether this finding holds up in the field, she said, will also be examined.
“This laboratory work that I’ve done here in North America, we’ve found that the egg … if it’s out of the lake for somewhere between 12 and 24 hours, it doesn’t hatch. So that appears to be a critical time in which if it dries out for over a day, it’s no longer viable. It will no longer sort of seed a new population.”