Rising seniors Melissa Balk and Thomas Rood aren’t taking a break from academia or heading home for the summer months. Instead, they are assisting their biology professor Meghan Brown for 10 weeks in her study of freshwater zooplankton in Seneca and Owasco lakes, and the ponds at Hanley Biological Field Preserve.
Brown studies how the smallest organisms in the lakes interact with their environment and how invasive organisms, such as the fishhook water flea, have changed the lakes.
“Zooplankton teach us a lot about the lake, such as what the chemical and physical environments are like, what types and quantity of phytoplankton (algae) occupy the lake, and what types and quantity of fish there are. Taking samples of zooplankton is much easier than taking samples of other aquatic organisms and it enables us to look across the foodweb and not just at the two end points (i.e. algae and fish),” said Brown, a member of the biology department since August 2006.
Day or night, when the team members need to take samples from Seneca Lake, they hop on The William Scandling, a 65-foot, steel hulled research vessel that is owned and operated by the Colleges, to ride out to specific sites. They begin their research by taking essential readings—such as temperature and dissolved oxygen—before they begin the biological aspect of their trip. Using an enormous, hydraulic boom they drop large nets with extremely small holes to various depths. Once the net hits its depth, it is pulled back to the surface forcing all the plankton too large to pass through the holes to gather in the filter at the net’s base. The team unscrews the filter and transfers everything to a glass container. The plankton are preserved and brought back to the lab for further research.
Although the team’s research this summer is restricted to bodies of water, Brown knows that the results of that research are not. “The questions that my lab seeks to answer are broad ecological questions of interest across the biological world, not just in the lakes and ponds we study; they provide a lens to understand the complex biological world. We are interested in studying how species interact, what influences the make-up of a community, and how environmental changes impact communities that have existed for centuries. These are questions that interest all of us whether we are scientists who study lakes or forest, or members of society.”
Balk and Rood appreciate the experience and are having a lot of fun too.
“To be honest, it’s probably the best summer job you could have.” Rood stated. “You’re learning outdoors the whole summer.”
Balk shared Rood’s sentiment. “I love it because you’re always outside and learning a ton. It’s just a great experience.”
Balk, a biology major with an environmental studies minor, hopes to build on that experience as she looks to apply to dental schools after graduation next spring. Rood, a double major in biology and economics, has his sights set on Tuck Dartmouth Business School after graduation and hopes to get involved in biotech investment, fusing his two majors together.