Freshwater animals rely on chemicals dissolved in the water that provide information about the location of food, the risk of predation, or even the reproductive status of potential mates. Environmental contaminants from human activities, such as industrial operations (e.g., mining, smelting) or surface runoff from cities, can interfere with an animal's ability to perceive and respond to these important chemical cues. Failure to respond to these cues can lead to starvation, an inability to avoid a predator, or impaired reproduction. Research conducted in my lab focuses on understanding the causes and consequences of contaminant-induced chemosensory impairment in freshwater animals.
We work on animals that represent several different trophic levels typical of freshwater ecosystems, including bottom-dwelling (benthic) invertebrates, zooplankton, fishes, and amphibians. We test chemosensory function by using behavioural or neurophysiological assays in animals before and after they have been exposed to environmental contaminants.
By developing an understanding of how low concentrations of environmental contaminants can affect chemosensory function among aquatic animals, we can improve our ability to evaluate ecological risk. Good ecological risk assessments are critical for managing industrial or municipal receiving waters.