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.