Laura Rack defends Ecology Master’s Thesis

Written by Mikey Fager, OSE undergraduate and Rosemond lab member

Humans and aquatic biota both rely heavily on the many services that river and stream systems provide. Water managers and conservation scientists need to determine the possible effects that increases in the frequency and duration of droughts due to climate change may have on ecosystem processes within these systems. Looking at the ways that different taxa in the systems respond to low-flow conditions can be immensely helpful in improving water infrastructure and management for both humans and aquatic organisms

Laura’s masters thesis research does just this, as she analyzed a variety of literature to assess how algae, invertebrates, and fishes respond to extended periods of low flow in streams and rivers, using the Upper Flint River Basin as her focal system. In the first two chapters, Laura hypothesized that algal biomasses would increase, while richness and density of aquatic invertebrates (particularly filter-feeders) and fish abundance would decrease during periods of low flows. She also outlined the different studies she would be reviewing for each taxonomic group, while noting the importance of considering study context such as stream size and average flow variation when drawing conclusions and discussing implications. Laura found that when low-flow events occur, abundance of algae generally increases, while the numbers of aquatic invertebrates and fishes tend to decline. She goes on to explain that droughts can lead to other events like loss of key plant species and warmer overall channel temperatures, which will likely compound the effects of low flows. Laura’s research expertly identifies the areas of concern that water managers, conservationists, and other stakeholders need to consider. Her work highlights essential research to be done towards understanding the explicit responses perennial systems have to low-flow events, in order for managers and ecologists alike to alleviate the stress that droughts may cause. 

Rack, L., 2020. Evaluating Low Streamflow Effects on Biota to Support Management in Perennial Systems. Master’s Thesis, University of Georgia.