Current Research

Ray Allen: My current research interests are how a changing climate impacts the phenology of freshwater fishes in what is currently called Wisconsin. Specifically, I’m investigating how a changing climate affects Muskellunge and Walleye pathogens and disease development. Concurrently, as a junior Science & Technologies Scholar, I’m investigating how human relationships with lakes in the area impact the research in Western institutions, inform (or don’t) natural resources policies and management practices, and affect the health of non-human animals and plants in these waters. I am the program lead for the Phenological Workshops for INdigenous Peoples in Limnology (PhIN) project which aims to connect Indigenous folks with vested interest in limnology to community, resources, and critical Indigenous perspectives on research.

Dr. Gretchen Gerrish: I am an evolutionary ecologist that studies how organisms adapt to changing ecological conditions. My research focuses on aquatic invertebrates with unique life cycles and reproductive strategies that allow them to survive in variable environments. Currently, I am investigating how vertical migration behavior in zooplankton changes in relation to moonlight throughout the lunar cycle.

Dr. Susan Knight: Wild rice is an annual grass that grows in shallow water in lakes and slow-moving streams in the Upper Midwest. It is a valuable food source for wildlife and people, but populations of wild rice have been declining in our area. We plan to follow six populations of wild rice; two healthy populations, two populations growing near invasive aquatic species, and two previously healthy populations that have not done well in the last five years.  We will assess variables critical to the health of wild rice through the entire growing season, with special attention to the status of the wild rice seed banks and competing aquatic vegetation.

Dr. Noah Lottig:I am an Assistant Scientist and Site Manager with the North Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research Program. My primary research interests focus around ecosystem ecology and landscape limnology. I am particularly interested in understanding the long-term dynamics of aquatic ecosystems as well as the role aquatic ecosystems play in the regional and global carbon cycle.

Joe Mrnak: Invasive species are a global concern, particularly for aquatic ecosystems.  It remains unknown how food web configuration plays a role in the restoration of native pelagic systems and in the mitigation and control of invasives. We will be conducting two whole-lake experiments to test the hypothesis that food web configuration (i.e., presence or absence of a predator) influences interactions between native and invasive forage fishes.  To accomplish this, we will be stocking native cisco (Coregonus artedi) into Crystal and Sparkling lakes, which are currently dominated by invasive rainbow smelt (Osmerus mordax).  Crystal contains no predator and Sparkling will receive supplemental walleye (Sander vitreus) stocking.  We hypothesize greater rainbow smelt control and cisco reintroduction success in the system with predators (Sparkling) than without (Crystal). This study will have implications for future reintroduction and control efforts.

Quinn Smith: Anthropogenic stressors such as habitat loss, pollution, species introductions, and overfishing have influenced fisheries for decades, and climate change threatens to compound these factors. Many previous studies have focused on declining fisheries; however, this project is focused on identifying factors and interacting drivers that lead to fisheries that exceed expectations which are referred to as ‘Bright Spots’. We focus on walleye (Sander vitreus) fisheries of the upper Great Lakes region which are important ecologically, economically, and culturally. To further our understanding of Bright Spots we are currently evaluating habitat use and behavioral changes of walleye in different lakes, synthesizing previous management experiments to evaluate approaches and effective methodologies, and preparing a region wide Bright Spot analysis to identify factors associated with successful populations.

Cheyenne Stratton: Invasive crayfishes are among the most widespread freshwater invaders, causing ecological harm through competition and habitat alteration. Invasive rusty crayfish impact macrophyte, invertebrate, and fish communities at the whole-lake scale. Crayfish can harbor a diverse suite of pathogens, but the potential for these pathogens to mitigate invasive crayfish impacts is not well understood. In 2019, our research team discovered a microsporidian outbreak in rusty crayfish in Trout Lake. We are evaluating the effects of this parasite on crayfish density, behavior, growth, and survival. We will also be examining whether communities impacted by rusty crayfish invasions (e.g., macrophytes, invertebrates, fish) recover as infection alters crayfish density and traits at a lake-wide scale within Trout Lake.

Dr. Carl Watras: We are investigating how lakes respond to changes in atmospheric pollutants derived from fossil fuel combustion. Although emissions of many pollutants have declined over the last 3 decades, the levels of contaminants in regional lakes and lake biota have not responded in kind. Instead, they’ve oscillated with the water cycle in ways that are often counter intuitive. This summer our focus is a sensor network maintained by citizen scientists to track how key elements of the water cycle vary from lake to lake. The goal is a broader understanding of how pollution levels are linked to climate variables.