How Muskoka’s lakes and waterfleas can save the world’s lakes
Why is this important?
In a world where environmental issues, including potential negative impacts to freshwater lakes and rivers, arrive faster than our current methods of evaluation can manage, we are developing new, faster, and more comprehensive analytical methods to stay ahead of these threats, increase accuracy, reduce assessment time and preserve the health of our lakes today and for tomorrow.
The Watershed Problem
Muskoka’s environmental riches are also its environmental assessment dilemma. Our 1600 lakes differ in shape, size and depth and thus in basic limnological conditions including deep-water anoxia; in elevation and thus in glacial history and the presence of glacial species such as opossum shrimp; in development pressures and thus in microbial pollution, water quality and introduced invading species; in geology and thus in trophic status, hardness and vulnerability to acidity; in geography and thus in water colour and vulnerability to mercury pollution; and in distance to winter-maintained roads and thus in salt pollution. All our lakes are unique in their mix of physics, chemistry, and biology and this diversity is a joy; however, environmental issues and vulnerabilities may also differ in each lake and this is a challenge to understanding and management. Currently, we assess the condition of only a fraction of Muskoka’s lakes, and we are assessing them for only a fraction of their potential environmental issues, focused on issues of the past, i.e. eutrophication and acid rain. The threats of the future remain essentially unassessed, but there are many such emerging issues, not the least of which is climate change, which will directly or indirectly affect the sensitivity of Muskoka lakes to many other stressors. Currently, applied ecology, limnology and ecotoxicology as disciplines do not have the methods capable of underpinning comprehensive (in terms of sites and threats) and timely assessments of environmental condition. However, given we can use what we do know about the condition and natural environmental gradients in Muskoka lakes, to build 21st century approaches to environmental assessments that have promise at delivering these joint needs of comprehensive and timely assessments.
- To provide proof of principle for rapid and comprehensive environmental assessments using the transcriptome and metabolome of the eco-responsive water flea, Daphnia, after exposure to natural gradients of lake acidity, trophic status, colour, calcium, road salt, metals, and presence of the spiny water flea, and thus
- Build a working relationship with toxicogenomic scientists in the Biosciences Department at the University of Birmingham, UK, and
- provide the science to underpin an entirely new approach to environmental assessment which will merge detection of non-compliance with diagnosis, greatly accelerating the knowledge basis for management.
- We have formed working relationships with the needed researchers, i.e. daphniid toxicologists at Ontario universities with active research programs in Muskoka (Dr. S. Arnott at Queens University and Dr. J. McGeer at Wilfred Laurier University), and the Dorset Environmental Science Centre (DESC), and professors of daphniid genomics and transcriptomics at the University of Birmingham, John Colbourne and Mark Viant.
- We will sample lakes covering all important natural gradients in Muskoka, bringing waters from the lakes to the DESC where our academic collaborators will expose individuals from a single clone of daphnia to all these waters, assessing the influence of the gradient of interest on daphniid survival, growth, development and fecundity. Exposed animals will be flash frozen and shipped to the UK, where their metabolome and transcriptome will be assessed, producing 1000s of data points, from which unique signatures of the environmental issues will be distinguished.
- These biochemical signatures will be uniquely linked with the performance metrics of the animals as the first step in producing fingerprints of unique stressors and combinations of stressors.
Our Specific Actions
- Identify academic and government partners in Ontario — Completed.
- Collaborate with J. Colbourne to prepare a grant proposal in the UK — Ongoing
- Work with the DESC, the DM and the MLA to identify lakes to sample
- Fundraise for our part of the project
- Proof of principle for an entirely new approach to environmental assessment — Environment Care.
- Demonstration that what we learn in Muskoka has global implications for the health and management of lakes.
We are looking to raise $400,000 in financial support for the lake sampling and, primarily, the ecotoxicological research in Muskoka. The total cost of the project is $2M , most of which will be raised in the UK.
Implications of Inaction
- Continuation of slow progress from problem identification to diagnosis.
- As in the past, environmental issues will not be detected until they are very severe.