What’s the best way to trace the path of toxins through aquatic food webs? The answer to this question could be important for protecting both the health of aquatic ecosystems, as well as consumers who depend on them for food. If we can track toxic chemicals, like mercury, though the food chain, then it will be easier to determine how much ends up in top predators, like fish. It could also help determine the health risk of eating fish in a given system, without having to spend money on expensive analyses, which could be especially important for remote systems like mountain lakes. This objective has been tackled by many ecologists and ecotoxicologists, but with the common toolbox of methods, it is hard to find a clear solution.
Strecker Lab PhD candidate Ari Chiapella is spending a year in Austria to investigate the effectiveness of a novel method to trace the flow of energy and contaminants in aquatic food webs. She is working in collaboration with Dr. Martin Kainz and the LIPTOX group at WasserCluster Lunz , an inter-university research center along the shores of a subalpine lake. Mesocosm experiments and a lake food web study will be used to test the effectiveness of compound-specific stable isotope analysis in partitioning dietary contributions – and thus mercury exposure – to arctic char and rainbow trout.
The project is being jointly funded by the NSF Graduate Research Opportunities Worldwide (GROW) award, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), and the NSF Ecosystem Services for Urbanizing Regions Integrative Graduate Research Traineeship (ESUR-IGERT) program at PSU.