Monday, June 25, 2012
Biology professor contributes to article published in "Science"
Oakland University's Dr. Scott Tiegs, assistant professor of biological sciences, is among a group of scientists who recently enjoyed the rare honor of seeing their article on nutrient pollution of streams and rivers published in the prestigious journal "Science."
Tiegs contributed to a pan-European experiment that explored the possibility of using the rate at which leaves decompose in rivers as a means of assessing river ‘health.’ To do this the researchers studied 100 streams that had been variously impacted by nutrient inputs, such as those that originate from urbanized and agricultural areas.
Results from the study suggested that rivers and streams with low levels of nutrients were only slightly impacted in terms of the rate in which litter decomposed in them. Once the rivers and streams were polluted beyond moderate nutrient levels, however, the resulting oxygen depletion and disappearance of invertebrate organisms that consume organic matter stymied the decomposition process.
“Had traditional means of assessing stream and river health only been used on these streams, very different conclusions would have been reached," Dr. Tiegs explained. "This illustrates the need for using a suite of tools and approaches when evaluating the condition of streams, rivers and other ecosystems.”
Tiegs and other investigators argue that current methods by which environmental investigators evaluate the health of waterways rarely includes measuring ecosystem processes, such as litter decomposition. Their study, however, indicates that this informative and relatively inexpensive form of monitoring can greatly enhance the means by which resource managers and legislators work to protect the water quality and biodiversity in rivers and streams.
“I feel really fortunate to have been a participant in this large-scale research project, and I’m optimistic that the attention the article in 'Science' is getting is going to translate to changes in how we assess the ecological health of streams and rivers.”