Multi-level Indicators of Ecosystem Integrity in Alpine Lakes of the Sierra Nevada

EPA Grant Number: R827643
Title: Multi-level Indicators of Ecosystem Integrity in Alpine Lakes of the Sierra Nevada
Investigators: Oris, James T. , Miller, Glenn C. , Reuter, John E. , Guttman, Sheldon I. , Bailer, A. John
Institution: Miami University , University of Nevada - Reno , University of California - Davis
Current Institution: Miami University , University of California - Davis , University of Nevada - Reno
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: September 13, 1999 through September 12, 2002 (Extended to September 12, 2003)
Project Amount: $894,627
RFA: Ecological Indicators (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Aquatic Ecosystems , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


The overall objective of the proposed research is to develop protocols for environmental assessments of alpine lakes in the Sierra Nevada with a range of human impacts. These assessments will be conducted over the range of levels of biological organization (molecular to ecosystem) utilizing currently available assessment techniques and with the addition of two new ecological indicators. The use of population genetics analysis as a response indicator and the use of molecular biomarkers of exposure to contaminants as a diagnostic indicator are proposed for incorporation into monitoring and assessment programs for surface waters. These indicators will provide critical information concerning the status of population diversity and stability and concerning the exposure to non-persistent, nonbioaccumulative contaminants. This is information that is missing from current monitoring and assessment protocols.


Over the three year project period, we propose to conduct standard environmental assessments of a select group of alpine lakes with a defined range of human impacts. There will be a total of 16 assessment sites. Those selected for assessment include 4 minimally impacted areas (Castle Lake, Eagle Lake, Marlette Lake, and Upper Angora Lake), 8 areas with a range of moderate impacts (Fallen Leaf Lake, Gold Lake, Lake Tahoe at Sand Harbor, Prosser Reservoir, Spaulding Reservoir, Stampede Reservoir, Topaz Lake, and Twin Lakes), and 4 highly impacted areas (Boca Reservoir, Donner Lake, Lake Tahoe at Tahoe City, and Lake Tahoe at South Lake Tahoe). In addition to the standard assessment, we will conduct population genetic assessments in fish and invertebrates at these same sites. Allozyme electrophoretic analysis and Randomly-Amplified Polymorphic DNA (RAPD) analyses will be conducted on two organisms common to the lakes of the region (fish: Lahontan redside; invertebrate: Signal crayfish). We will also conduct contaminant exposure assessments in fish using molecular biomarkers of exposure in the gills of fish. Five markers indicative of exposure to a wide variety of chemical contaminants (persistent and non-persistent) and that can account for interactions among complex mixtures of contaminants will be measured over time in the assessment areas using caged rainbow trout. We will then apply these additional techniques to current assessment protocols. Because we will be examining a group of lakes with defined levels of human impacts, we will be able to analyze the discriminatory ability of the assessment techniques using the current protocols compared to the protocols with the two new indicators added. We hypothesize that since current protocols do not account for genetic diversity or non-persistent contaminants, the addition of these new indicators will greatly enhance monitoring and assessment programs for surface waters.

Expected Results:

The outcome of these experiments will be the development of a response indicator and a diagnostic indicator to be added to current environmental monitoring and assessment protocols. The response indicator proposed is the use of population genetics analysis. Current assessments utilize the analysis of organism assemblages which account only for the presence or absence of particular species. The presence of a species is a good indicator of habitat suitability for that species, but the mere presence of a species does not indicate the diversity or stability of the population. Since the ability of a species to survive and adapt to changing environmental conditions may be increased by it possessing a greater pool of genetic variability that can respond to varying selection forces, it is important to conduct assessments of genetic characteristics of these populations. The diagnostic indicator proposed is a suite of molecular markers that can be used to detect sublethal exposures of fish to mixtures of contaminants in freshwater ecosystems. Current monitoring and assessment protocols measure the presence only of persistent, bioaccumulative contaminants. Less persistent, but still potentially very toxic, contaminants are not accounted for in these assessments. The use of gill tissue as the main site of contact and accumulation is novel and will account for the interaction of multiple chemicals (persistent and nonpersistent) on the induction and quantification of these molecular markers of contaminant exposure. This procedure will enable researchers to take serial samples over time from the same fish, allowing individual fish to serve as internal controls, and will decrease the number of organisms required to conduct exposure assessments. Agencies that would benefit from this research include the U.S. EPA, U.S. Geological Service, NOAA, and various State and Regional authorities, all of which have exposure assessment and monitoring programs. This proposal specifically address

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 25 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

water, sediments, ecological effects, animal, cellular, population, enzymes, stressor, genetic polymorphisms, susceptibility, chemicals, PAH, heavy metals, pesticides, toxics, ecosystem indicators, aquatic, integrated assessment, ecology, genetics, EMAP, measurement methods, EPA Region 9,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Waste, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecology, Contaminated Sediments, Genetics, Environmental Chemistry, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Chemistry, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecological Risk Assessment, Biology, West Coast, EPA Region, Mercury, Ecological Indicators, ecological exposure, anthropogenic stresses, EMAP, molecular genetics, Region 9, contaminated sediment, sediment, metal release, biomonitoring, ecosystem indicators, Sierra Nevada, aquatic ecosystems, contaminant impact, DNA, population-based, fish , genetic differentiation

Relevant Websites:

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000 Progress Report
  • 2001 Progress Report
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • Final Report