Aquatic Ecology and Ecosystem Dynamics

Analytical Laboratory for Great Lakes Exploration

Location: GLRC 219, 223
Contact: Michael Gretz

The Analytical Laboratory for Great Lakes Exploration (ALGE) allows researchers from a variety of fields to access an ever-growing collection of front-line analytical tools. ALGE provides separation technology, spectrometry, and spectroscopy for molecular and ionic species important to both basic and applied research.

The lab supports sample preparation and analysis in gas chromatography, mass spectrometry, ultraviolet/visible spectroscopy, analytical microscopy, and protein and DNA analysis.

Current projects include:

  • Transfer of heavy elements through food webs
  • Transfer of organically bound silica, copper, and mercury from wetlands and rivers into lakes
  • Biochemistry, metabolomics, eco-toxicity, and biomarkers in the geosphere and ambient environment

Important Equipment

Thermo Scientific ITQ 1100

Offers gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, pulsed positive-ion/negative-ion chemical ionization, and quantification and spectral consistency range to the fentogram level.

Thermo Scientific ELEMENT 2

This inductively coupled plasma/mass spectrometer is capable of rapidly measuring elemental and isotopic composition of heavy metals in tissues, water, soils, and sediments.

Other Equipment

  • Agilent 8453 UV/VIS diode-array spectrophotometer
  • Toledo-Mettler microbalance
  • Nanodrop spectrophotometer
  • Veriti 96W PCR machine
  • Gel electrophoresis equipment
  • Zeiss Axioskop and Leica DM-R research microscopes

Aquatic Chemistry Lab

Location: GLRC 207
Contact: Colleen Mouw

Use aquatic optics to support a variety of applications, including remote sensing and environmental change research, in the Aquatic Chemistry Lab. Through optical characterization techniques employing a full suite of analytical tools, our lab allows us to study in-water constituents—and make discoveries that benefit not only the Great Lakes, but aquatic systems worldwide.

Current projects include:

  • Phytoplankton community response to a changing ocean
  • Satellite algorithm development and application in optically complex systems

Important Equipment

Water Optics Suite

  • WETLabs AC-S (spectral absorption and beam attenuation)
  • WETLabs BB-9 (spectral backscattering at nine wavelengths)
  • Sealantic HyperPro II (profiling radiometers)
  • WETLabs FL3 (fluorescence of chlorophyll, phycocyanin, and color dissolved organic matter)
  • Seabird 37-SI CTD (conductivity, temperature, and pressure)
  • WETLabs Data-Handler 4 (DH-4)

Laboratory Equipment

  • Turner Designs 10-AU (bench-top laboratory and field fluorometer)
  • Perkin Elmer Lambda 35 (bench-top spectrophotometer)

Aquatic Ecology Lab

Location: GLRC 111, 113, 117
Contact: Nancy Auer, Casey Huckins

Study threatened and endangered species ecology in both large-scale and small-scale wet-lab setups in the Aquatic Ecology Lab. This lab has large stream units, which allow us to rear and hold fishes—and other organisms—at a variety of temperatures and light conditions. Our large circular tank also enables us to study fish-group behavior.

The outdoor portion of our lab features mesocosms for studying larger fish—their growth, predator/prey interactions, and invasive species impacts.

Current projects include:

  • The effect of varying concentrations of substances, like road salts, on aquatic organisms
  • Organism interaction studies, like predator/prey densities
  • Large-fish (lake sturgeon and coaster brook trout) life history studies

Important Equipment

Living Stream System

Six fully programmable tanks, allowing control of temperature, light conditions, and flow rates. Control of these variables allows us to perfectly recreate conditions in the Great Lakes, which is critical to our studies of native-organism life histories.


Located on the waterfront near the Center, the mesocosm consists of 30 1,100-liter water tanks that will complement work in the Aquatic Ecology lab.

Ecosystem Processes Lab

Location: GLRC 304
Contact: Martin Auer

Imagine the Great Lakes ecosystem divided into many boxes—each containing its own creature, resource, or nutrient. These boxes rely on one another to form a thriving ecosystem; each box is connected to another, creating a vast web of interactions. The Ecosystem Processes Lab studies the movement and cycling of these nutrient, organism, and resource “boxes” through the immensely complex Great Lakes food web.

Combating an increasing number of challenges—like invasive species, climate change, and toxic chemicals from runoff—the Ecosystem Processes Lab works to preserve the most pristine of the Great Lakes: Lake Superior.

Current projects include:

  • Mitigating heavy-metal transfer rates from contaminated lake-bottom muds to lake water
  • Studying the role of diporeia zooplankton in the Lake Superior food web

Important Equipment

Controlled Environment Chambers

Light- and temperature-adjustable compartments allow researchers to replicate and hold conditions found anywhere in the Great Lakes on a small scale.

Microelectrode System

Test the sediment chemistry of samples on a micro-scale. The system is set on a programmable stage, offering precise, computer-controlled testing and sampling.

Invasive Species Lab

Location: GLRC 103
Contact: Charles Kerfoot

Explore the impacts of exotic species throughout the Great Lakes region in the Invasive Species Lab. The lab is named in honor of Dr. Lisa Drake, a distinguished physical scientist studying aquatic invasive species at the Center for Corrosion Science and Engineering in Key West, Florida.

As serious threats to the Great Lakes food web continue to mount, the Invasive Species Lab provides a first-rate facility for researchers to use to monitor, predict, and mitigate exotic invaders. Invasive species being studied in the lab include quagga mussels, zebra mussels, spiny water fleas, Daphnia, and other introduced micro-crustaceans.

Current projects include:

  • Documenting food-web impacts of exotic species in the Great Lakes and inland lakes
  • Determining effects of global climate change on the inter-related Great Lakes system
  • Using sediment cores to examine long-term hypotheses of evolution
  • Evaluating regional effects of mining on lake ecosystems

Primary Productivity and Plankton Ecology Lab

Location: GLRC 217
Contact: Gary Fahnenstiel

Deepen our understanding of carbon cycling processes or help monitor the Great Lakes’ waters in the Primary Productivity and Plankton Ecology Lab. With a powerful collection of analytical tools, Center researchers study the lower food web—from algae blooms to plankton lifecycles.

Together with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, lab members also keep tabs on the lakes’ health by monitoring levels of chlorophyll, phosphorous, phytoplankton, and soluble nutrients, among others.

Current projects include:

  • Developing algorithms to model productivity in the Great Lakes from remote sensing equipment data
  • Monitoring Great Lakes health
  • Assessing the impact of harmful algae blooms in Saginaw Bay and in western Lake Erie

Important Equipment

Water-Analysis Suite

Water-testing equipment used to analyze a variety of characteristics—from chlorophyll levels to pigments to soluble nutrients.

Sediments Lab

Location: GLRC 203
Contact: Noel Urban

Track pollutant transport, curb global climate change, and work on environmental remediation in the Sediments Lab. Here, researchers process and analyze soil, sediment, plant, and peat samples from across the region—and around the globe. Physical analyses (density, particle size, and surface area) are performed in the lab, and samples are also prepared for chemical analyses (such as radioisotopic dating, metal content, elemental content, and stable isotope ratios).

Current projects include:

  • Analyzing local streams and lakes for contaminated copper mining waste leaching
  • Field measurements to support the modeling of mercury and organic contaminants in the Great Lakes basin
  • Measurement of the time required to transport aerosols from North America to the mid-Atlantic

Important Equipment

  • Lylophilizer (a freeze-drying instrument)
  • Microwave digester
  • Drying ovens
  • Elemental analyzer