Keara StanislawczykKeara Stanislawczyk is shown here in the lab where she'll use traditional taxonomic methods to analyze the water fleas she will catch in the Hamilton Harbour this summer.

Water fleas provide grad student insight on best methods for detecting invasive species

Keara Stanislawczyk will spend a good part of her summer bobbing around in Hamilton Harbour trying to find tiny microscopic water fleas.

While some might think of better ways to spend their time, it’s a pursuit the graduate student describes as “awesome” and says could ultimately yield some better insights on the best ways to detect and prevent the spread of harmful aquatic invasive species.


“With a lot of invasive species, by the time we realize they’re there, the damage is already done,” said the master’s student who works in Hugh MacIsaac’s lab in the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research. “We want to catch them before they create negative environmental and economic consequences.”

Stanislawczyk, who is originally from Cleveland and earned her undergraduate degree in zoology from Ohio's Miami University, was just one of dozens of graduate students presenting brief talks on their work at last Thursday and Friday’s annual GLIER research colloquium. Projects covered everything from genetics and toxicology to trophic ecology and invasive species.

Water fleas – specifically cladocera – are a common form of zooplankton and source of food for a variety of fish species, Stanislawczyk said. She’ll examine whether traditional methods of taxonomy used to identify and categorize various organisms are as ffective as modern techniques like genetic sequencing at detecting the presence of species in water samples.

After taking water samples from Hamilton Harbour, Stanislawczyk will remove the cladocera, and use traditional taxonomic methods like microscopically analyzing their various features, such as the shapes of their heads, the size of their denticles, or teeth, and the length of their feet. She’ll compare her results to previously published research that identified species from the same locations based solely on DNA sequences they contained.

She chose Hamilton Harbour because it’s an extremely busy shipping port and previous research has shown that many invasive species are transported around the globe in the ballast tanks of ocean-going vessels. The port is one of the best studied on the Great Lakes, owing to the presence of the Canada Centre for Inland Waters, a federal government facility.

The study will provide insight into advanced molecular techniques and help invasive species scientists choose the most appropriate methods for their studies, Stanislawczyk said.

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