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Candlewood Lake expedition findings

 In 2011, when Dr. Edwin Wong, associate professor of molecular biology, and Dr. Mitch Wagener, chairperson of the Biology and Environmental Sciences department at Western, decided to use Candlewood Lake for an extension of teaching and research, they discovered that their scientific findings are significant to public and environmental strategy across the region.

This past summer, Dr. Wagener, Dr. Wong and one of their research students, Catrina Morgan ‘12, accompanied by Western’s President James Schmotter and his wife Daphne Jameson; Larry Marsicano, the director of the Candlewood Lake Authority; and several residents of Candlewood Lake cruised by pontoon boats to the research sites where sampling and statistics are being accumulated.

One objective of the trip was to demonstrate ways Western students are able to access hands-on experience. By using Candlewood Lake, students investigate and collect data focusing on two invasive species: the Eurasian milfoil, “an aquatic weed that now dominates much of the lake,” as well as the zebra mussel, “a small but fast-growing mussel that has entered the nearby Housatonic River in the past several years.” Zebra mussels are known for attaching themselves to many hard surfaces, then consuming organic material and in turn, diminishing the water’s biodiversity.

Dr. Wong states, “Though adult zebra mussels have yet to be found in Candlewood Lake, it may only be a matter of time before they invade.” Dr. Wong, working alongside two graduate students,  is using molecular technology to identify DNA in plankton samples. By using DNA fingerprinting, Dr. Wong also may be able to determine the original location of these zebra mussels, thus resulting in the ability to track all possible sources of transport.

In order to learn more about the expansion of this particular invasive species, Dr. Wong and his team need additional funding. “The Western zebra mussel monitoring project runs on a shoestring budget, with funding from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, also known as DEEP, but we could do so much more if we had adequate funds. These boat trips, we hope, will galvanize more community interest and investment in this project,” Dr. Wong said.

The partnerships between Western and community stakeholders can have a profound impact on the future of Candlewood and surrounding lakes. Dr. Wong and Dr. Wagener look forward to developing a number of solutions to combat these invasive species.


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