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SURFO Special: Summer Research or Summer DIY Project

Andria Miller is a rising senior at Jackson State University, majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry. This summer she worked remotely with Susanne Menden-Due and Pierre Marrec through the URI GSO Summer Undergraduate Research program.

Plankton are a community of organisms that provide basic fuel for marine and freshwater ecosystems. Freshwater ecosystems, such as lakes and reservoirs, provide many benefits such as drinking water, food, and a good time, yet they are gradually affected by environmental changes and human impacts. Plankton inhabit these bodies of water and are good indicators of water quality. Changes in temperature, turbidity, and nutrient concentrations affect plankton communities over time. Understanding and analyzing these factors allow us to effectively gauge the quality of the water.

The plankton communities found in lakes and reservoirs are broken down into two groups: phytoplankton and zooplankton. Phytoplankton are microscopic plants located on the water’s surface, and they go through photosynthesis allowing them to release oxygen and consume carbon dioxide (see: https://ifcb-data.whoi.edu/about) and making them vital to all life on Earth. On the other hand, when phytoplankton populations grow rapidly, it can cause an algal bloom, indicating there is an excess of nutrients in the water. As the base of the food web, phytoplankton fuel other parts of the ecosystem, such as zooplankton. Because of their short lifecycle, zooplankton respond quickly to environmental changes giving them the important role of monitoring and tracking changes in bodies of water.

Despite the outbreak of COVID-19, this summer Andria studied the plankton community structures in three central lakes (Ross Barnett Reservoir, Mayes Lake, and Crystal Lake) of Mississippi with limited and affordable resources. Only a few studies (Sobolev et al., 2009; Anzola, 2010; Dash et al., 2015) have investigated the relationship between plankton community structures and environmental conditions in different water bodies of Mississippi. One of the common bodies of water sampled is the Ross Barnett Reservoir.  The Ross Barnett Reservoir is a freshwater body managed by the Pearl River Valley Water Supply that provides drinking water for majority of central Mississippi and provides outdoor recreational. Mayes Lake is a recreational lake locate LeFleur’s State Park in Jackson, MS used for outdoor recreation such as fishing and camping. Crystal Lake is also a popular recreational lake known for its kayaking route and fishing spots Flowood, MS. These lakes were chosen because they were in proximity of Andria’s home.

Figures: Andria holding a Secchi disc (Left), plankton net made of household materials (Middle), and Andria deploying a plankton tow (Right)Figures: Andria holding a Secchi disc (Left), plankton net made of household materials (Middle), and Andria deploying a plankton tow (Right)

Figures: Andria holding a Secchi disc (Top Left), plankton net made of household materials (Top Right), and Andria deploying a plankton tow (Bottom)

The majority of the equipment used in the study were made from common household items. For example, surface water samples were collected with a bucket, rope, and a homemade plankton net. It only took a sewing kit, an empty bottle, a lamp shade, and old pantyhose to create the plankton net. With just a round pan, plastic, and spray paint around the house, it is possible to create your own Secchi disk. There are, however, items that could not be home-made. Test strips, temperature and light sensors, pipettes, and petri dishes were ordered online with affordable prices along with the microscope. Let’s not forget the microscope: these plankton communities are very tiny!

With the plankton collected, Andria yielded information important to help answer the questions: 1) how do these bodies of water differ or not?; 2) how is the plankton community structure related to the environmental conditions?; 3) how does the plankton community vary over time? Understanding plankton communities in water sources enables us to get an understanding of the function and health of water bodies from a small to global scale.


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