Stroud Center Awarded Grant to Study Meta-Ecosystems

355 279 Stroud Water Research Center


Contact: Diane Huskinson, Stroud™ Water Research Center

Stroud Water Research Center Awarded Grant to Study Meta-ecosystems

Avondale, Pa. – The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Stroud™ Water Research Center a $1 million grant to conduct a 3-year study of meta-ecosystems, using the River Continuum Concept (RCC) as a springboard.

The RCC was published in 1980 and brought worldwide attention to the Stroud Center, pioneering the idea that from headwaters to mouth a river changes in its physical characteristics, which causes changes in the river biology.

Working in collaboration with Robert Findlay of the University of Alabama and Jen Mosher, who will join the Stroud Center staff when she leaves Oak Ridge National Laboratory in early 2012, Stroud Center scientists Lou Kaplan and Jinjun Kan are seeking to test a prediction set forth in the RCC that downstream communities capitalize on the inefficiencies of upstream communities.

But the RCC was developed long before molecular revolutions in organic geochemistry and microbiology revealed the astounding complexity of the invisible world of stream ecosystems. For example, there are over 10,000 different organic molecules dissolved in stream water and perhaps as many as 60,000 species of bacteria living attached to rocks and sediments on the streambed that feed on those molecules.

As a result, the authors of the RCC made predictions without much information to guide them. In this project, the scientists are using new knowledge developed over the last three decades to suggest alternative predictions, provide an update of the RCC, and develop a broad model of carbon cycling.

“This grant will enable researchers to use the latest tools in microbiology, molecular biology, and stable isotope geochemistry to test aspects of the RCC that were not testable 30 years ago. A better scientific understanding of how nature works to keep the water pure in our streams and rivers will ultimately benefit each and every U.S. citizen,” says Matthew D. Kane, program director in ecosystem science for the National Science Foundation’s Division of Environmental Biology.

Study sites will include White Clay Creek in the Pennsylvania Piedmont, Río Tempisquito in the Cordillera de Guanacaste of Costa Rica, and the Neversink River in the Catskill Mountains of New York. The range of stream sizes as well as the availability of new and highly sensitive tools and technologies will allow the scientists to study not only large and fairly common communities of microorganisms but small and rare ones too.

“New technologies have opened windows of opportunity for exciting scientific discoveries,” says Kaplan. “We’re very fortunate to have access to the latest generation of DNA sequencers courtesy of the University of Delaware Biotechnology Institute and an ultrahigh-resolution mass spectrometer at the National NSF High-Field FT-ICR Mass Spectrometry Facility at Florida State University.”

And as the science improves, Stroud Water Research Center uses its findings to better educate students, teachers, and the public. The Education Department already has plans to work with K-12 teachers and students in programs planned for the watersheds in Pennsylvania, New York, and Costa Rica.

Susan Gill, director of education, says, “Teaching K-12 students to appreciate or become excited about microorganisms they cannot see is challenging. Our educational materials will depict in an accessible but accurate way, basic concepts of microbiology and the role of microbial communities in aquatic ecosystems.”