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Minnesota Sea Grant Awards $678,500 for Aquatic Research

March 18, 2003

The University of Minnesota Sea Grant Program recently chose nine research projects involving Lake Superior and Minnesota’s inland lakes for funding. The award money, which is provided by the National Sea Grant College Program and matched by the University of Minnesota, collectively totals $678,500. The following projects that focus on coastal ecosystems and economies, Minnesota’s fisheries problems, new technologies, and communities and urban coasts, will be funded through University of Minnesota departments for 2003–2005:

How Physical and Chemical Stresses Affect Survival of Spiny Waterflea Eggs: Donn Branstrator and Lyle Shannon, University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) Department of Biology.

The spiny waterflea (Bythotrephes longimanus) is a voracious predatory zooplankton that is an aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes, including Lake Superior. Current control efforts for this pest focus mainly on the adult life stage, even though the resting egg stage is more likely to be accidentally dispersed by recreational boaters on their equipment. Resting eggs might be viewed as “super eggs.” They have a hardened outer shell and are designed to withstand harsh environmental conditions. They can hatch months to years after incubating in lake sediments. Researchers plan to conduct lab experiments that will simulate different methods (extreme temperatures, drying, chlorine, and salt) boaters could use to kill any resting eggs on their equipment. Lake managers and policy specialists will find the results useful in containing the spread of this invasive species.

Fortified with Iron – Enhancing the Break-down of PCBs in Great Lakes Sediment: Paige Novak, University of Minnesota Twin Cities (UM), Department of Civil Engineering.

To explore ways to speed the breakdown of PCBs in Great Lakes, researchers will team elemental iron with microscopic organisms that dechlorinate PCBs in contaminated sediment. Previous studies found that particular microorganisms in Baltimore Harbor’s sediment degrade PCBs more quickly when corroding iron releases hydrogen gas, which is food for these microorganisms, into the water. The researchers anticipate that similar microorganisms live in Lake Superior’s PCB-contaminated sediments and will also respond to iron. They hope to stimulate PCB dechlorination in less-contaminated sediments by seeding them with iron and the Baltimore Harbor microorganisms. Speeding the ability of natural microorganisms to dechlorinate PCBs might complement or replace expensive and controversial dredging procedures and increase the ability of remediation personnel to manage contaminated sediment.

What the Nose Knows – Determining What Lures Steelhead Trout Home: Allen Mensinger, UMD Department of Biology, and Peter Sorensen, UM Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology.

Steelhead trout, a variety of rainbow trout, are prized recreational fish. Exactly what draws them to their native streams to spawn remains a mystery, but knowing these factors could help fishery biologists better manage this migrating species. Researchers plan to build upon a previous Sea Grant study to develop a remote telemetry system that will allow them to continuously record impulses from nerves in the nose (olfactory nerves) of free-swimming steelhead trout in a lab setting. An electrode will be implanted into the olfactory nerve of several steelhead trout. Impulses from the regenerated nerve will be matched to different scents that the fish are exposed to and their associated behaviors. Eventually, researchers hope to use this technology in natural aquatic habitats to determine which cues are important to steelhead during stream migration.

Taking Stock of Steelhead Stocking: Loren Miller and Anne Kapuscinski, UM Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.

Working with the MN Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Lake Superior Area and French River Fish Hatchery, researchers will use mating records, captures at fish weirs, and genetic data to compare the reproductive success of hatchery-stocked steelhead trout to that of Lake Superior’s naturalized steelhead. Simultaneously, they will examine the survival rate of juvenile steelhead produced by naturalized parents, hatchery parents and mixed crosses in isolated reaches of North Shore rivers. Building on a previous Sea Grant study, the researchers hope to guide the MN DNR’s rehabilitation program for Lake Superior steelhead and examine the genetic and ecological effects of supplemental stocking on naturalized populations.

Lake Trout Lairs and Nurseries – Discovering What Determines Reproductive Success: Thomas Hrabik and Donn Branstrator, UMD Department of Biology; Nigel Wattrus, Brian May, Elise Ralph, Large Lakes Observatory; and Stacy Stark, UMD Department of Geography.

A team of researchers will identify habitat characteristics favored by spawning and juvenile lake trout over two shoals of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior through remote sensing technology. This study will generate new information about how interactions among substrate size and stability, water movement, and sedimentation influence the reproductive success of lake trout. An understanding of water conditions coupled with high-resolution GIS information about habitat selection and use will help natural resource managers direct efforts to manage populations of these commercially-important native fish. The researchers will also analyze the diets of fish in the areas where juvenile lake trout gather to examine how young trout fare both in competition and as prey.

Watching the Wake of Storms in Lake Superior and Beyond with Remotely-Activated Water Quality Samplers: George Host and Richard Axler, UMD Natural Resources Research Institute.

Researchers plan to develop a device that automatically collects water quality samples in response to signals from sensors that could be miles away. A prototype sensor-sampler system will activate water sampling in Lake Superior’s St. Louis River Estuary when the sensor detects storm-induced changes in the water’s conductivity and turbidity. After the researchers couple the system with equipment allowing them to collect samples from a variety of depths, they will move the sensor-sampling system to an inland lake to measure the extent to which storms stir bottom sediments and mix deeper high-phosphorus water to the surface where it can cause algae blooms. These characteristics, which can affect natural resource personnel’s success at managing water quality and restoring aquatic systems, will be the criteria for comparing the new sampling system to more traditional and labor-intensive monitoring techniques.

Using Fathead Minnows to Screen for Estrogens and Androgens in Rivers: Ira Adelman and Vivek Kapur, UM Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology.

Through this project, researchers hope to identify which genes in the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas) respond to estrogens and androgens. These compounds may occur in runoff from agricultural lands and sewage treatment plants. Researchers will develop a sensitive and specific genetic test and determine its effectiveness in evaluating the presence of estrogens and androgens in rivers. This test will provide a means of early detection of environmental stressors, allowing natural resource managers a timely way to reduce the impact of these contaminants and preserve the health of the ecosystem.

The Impacts of E. coli From Soil on the Lake Superior Watershed: Michael Sadowsky, UM Department of Soil, Water, and Climate; and Randall Hicks, UMD Department of Biology.

This project seeks to determine whether E. coli bacteria (Escherichia coli), an indicator of fecal pollution, comes from humans or from sediments that erode into the Duluth-Superior harbor and Lake Superior. Although sewage or treated effluents are often blamed as sources of E. coli, many of these bacteria filter into aquatic environments from livestock in agricultural areas, warm-blooded animals in natural ecosystems, as well as from soils and sediments. As a result, the extent of human influences on coastal ecosystems and health risks may be over-estimated. Researchers will look at whether E. coli released into natural environments from soils and sediments survive and persist, and will identify what factors might influence their survival and reproduction. Using DNA fingerprinting, they hope to build on a previous Sea Grant project by identifying the original sources of E. coli found in the sediment, soil and nearshore environments of Lake Superior and to estimate the impact this has on fecal coliform measurements in the lake and harbor. Results will be useful to regional wastewater plant operators and government agencies both locally and in other coastal regions.

Male Minnows and Estrogen Exposure – Does it Pose a Threat to Their Reproductive Health?: Peter Sorensen, UM Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and Heiko Schoenfuss, St. Cloud State University.

Male fathead minnows will be raised in water with concentrations of estrogen-mimicking compounds similar to those that researchers find to be released by sewage treatment plants and pulp mills along the Great Lakes. The researchers will examine whether these relatively low levels of estrogen-mimicking chemicals change any aspect of the minnows’ development– particularly by monitoring the presence of a female yolk precursor protein, vitellogenin. Based on a combination of field and laboratory studies, the researchers plan to determine if typical effluent from treatment facilities will impair the ability of small populations of male fish to reproduce.

Minnesota Sea Grant is part of a network of 30 Sea Grant College Programs spanning coastal states throughout the United States and Puerto Rico.

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