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Darrin Fresh Water Institute

Effects of Acid Rain in Adirondack Lakes

Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute is studying how Adirondack lakes are recovering from impacts of acidification.

Effects of Acid Rain in Adirondack Lakes

Researchers have long known that acid rain can severely decrease the diversity of plant and animal communities in fresh water lakes and ponds. However, little is known about how microscopic bacteria, which form the foundation of freshwater ecosystems, respond to acidification.

To address this knowledge gap, researchers at Rensselaer’s Darrin Fresh Water Institute have developed one of the most comprehensive databases in existence on the impacts of acid rain at the foundation of the biological community.

The team found a general link between increased acidity and decreased bacterial diversity, but surprisingly, most of the dominant species of bacteria were not directly impacted by acidification. However, some rarer types of bacterial populations were significantly or strongly correlated to acidity, rising and falling with fluctuations in water pH. The findings could eventually allow scientists to use these bacteria as indicators of lake recovery, according to Sandra Nierzwicki-Bauer, director of the Darrin Fresh Water Institute and professor of biology.

The research is part of a much broader study on how Adirondack lakes are recovering from the impacts of acidification. “We are seeing a number of these lakes on a trajectory to recovery, but we have had little understanding of the changing biodiversity of microbial communities within the impacted lakes as they recover,” Nierzwicki-Bauer says. “I hope this study will help other scientists expand on the research and use this data to uncover additional information on how acid-impacted lakes and their ecosystems are recovering and how we can hasten that process.”

The researchers are in the process of expanding their study to include an additional 13 Adirondack lakes. They also plan to further investigate the role of specific types of bacteria in the ecosystem to better understand why certain bacteria are so directly impacted by acidity while others appear relatively unaffected.

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Rensselaer (ISSN 0898-1442) is published in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter by the Office of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180-3590. Opinions expressed in these pages do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors or the policies of the Institute. ©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.