Fishing leads to investigation of environmental changes in waterways

By Pennsylvania State University

Undergraduate research students, Josh Price (left) and Zach Weagly (right) at lake preparing to collect water samples for chemical and microbiological testing. Downstream from swimming area at Blue Marsh Reservoir. IMAGE: MELISSA BUCHTER, PENN STATE

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A fisherman’s curiosity led to identification of the correlation between microbial communities in recreational freshwater locales and seasonal environmental changes, according to a team of researchers from Penn State.

Zachary Weagly, a 2018 graduate of Penn State Berks and an avid fisherman, noticed that the quality of the water where he fished changed with the local environment. He asked Tami Mysilwiec, associate professor of biology and one of his teachers, if he could use some of her laboratory’s Biolog Ecoplates to test the water and a three-site, multiyear project to test freshwater in the Blue Marsh watershed in Pennsylvania began.

“Zach came to me because he is an avid fisherman and our campus abuts a tributary of the Schuylkill River, Tulpehocken Creek,” said Mysilwiec. “When he went fishing he noticed changes in the water and the fish at various times.”

Biolog Ecoplates are commercially available and contain three sets of identical wells that test for 31 different forms of carbon-containing chemicals. Bacterial communities have identifiable reaction patterns on these plates and researchers can characterize the communities and track changes in them through time and environmental change.

…The testing plates can provide an idea of what the microbes in the water like to eat, and from that, a profile of the bacteria is possible. Some of the chemicals tested are antibiotics, nutrients, growth factors and other metabolites.

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[This study is reported on at the ESA 2019 Annual Meeting]