Limnology course supports WCSU initiatives to engage in community partnerships
Graduate biology students at Western Connecticut State University have taken their studies from the classroom to the waters of the region’s largest lakes to gain first-hand experience in investigating the ecological balance and biodiversity of fresh-water resources that hold critical importance for the health of the local environment and economy.
Students in the university’s groundbreaking M.S. in Integrative Biological Diversity program this fall joined WCSU Adjunct Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Laurence Marsicano to pursue extensive field studies at Candlewood Lake, Bantam Lake and Lake Lillinonah as part of the Limnology course taught by Marsicano. During their Saturday visits, students participated in collection of lake water samples and data as the basis for laboratory analysis and classroom discussion.
Marsicano observed that scientific investigation of fresh-water ecosystems holds significant and increasing value for many community stakeholders as the region’s lakes and rivers have come under heightened environmental stress.
“Fresh-water resources are complex systems and profoundly important for many reasons,” he said. “They are environmentally important as ecosystems that provide habitat to a wide variety of organisms. They are economically important because they are drivers of the local economy, enhance real estate values and tax bases, and affect the quality of life. They are fundamentally important to the well-being and development of our society."
Marsicano, a principal partner at Branford-based Aquatic Ecosystem Research and former executive director of the Candlewood Lake Authority, has devoted his professional career to the study of lake ecology.
“Limnology is the study of the structural and functional interrelationships of organisms of inland waters as they are affected by their dynamic physical, chemical and biotic environments,” he said. “A student who experiences this course should gain an understanding of the complexities and vulnerabilities of these systems. The student also should gain insights into how we study inland waters and be able to interpret technical information about them.”
Dr. Dora Pinou, chair of the WCSU Biological and Environmental Sciences Department, remarked that limnology studies play an important role in the Integrative Biological Diversity master’s program focus on the health of fresh-water ecosystems, with particular attention to problems such as hazardous blue-green algae blooms and spread of invasive aquatic plants.
“Students have learned lake water sampling practices, and data from their studies are being used to support the identification of patterns to determine if and how local lakes are changing with respect to nutrients and biodiversity,” Pinou said. “I applaud Larry Marsicano for including experiential learning in his course because students love the authentic outdoor hands-on experience.”
Marsicano noted that WCSU faculty members have been actively engaged since the 1980s with diverse environmental, governmental, civic and corporate partners in collaborative studies to monitor and analyze the health of fresh-water lake systems in the region. These studies have included investigations of the use of milfoil weevils and lake drawdowns to manage growth of the invasive plant Eurasian watermilfoil in Candlewood Lake, as well as tracking of zebra mussel populations in lakes Lillinonah and Zoar. Other collaborative undertakings have monitored local lake beaches for the presence of blue-green algae toxins and studied movement of Triploid grass carp in Candlewood Lake. Marsicano has reached out to community partners to support limnology field research at WCSU by providing the water transportation required for sample and data collection.
*Image #1: Pictured left to right, WCSU graduate students Maricris Rivera, of New Britain, Robert Mordente, of New Milford, and JD Hannon, of Danbury, examine samples of aquatic plants collected from a site at Lake Lillinonah.
*Image #2 "WCSU graduate student Brittany Martin, of Stamford, uses a microscope to view a blue-green algae sample taken from Lake Lillinonah while David MacAskill, of New Fairfield, looks on.
Photos by WCSU photographer Peggy Stewart