Stanton Assists in Faculty Research on Algae in Chesapeake Bay

By schwartzsa | August 5, 2011

Biology major Sarah Stanton ’12 has elected to stay on campus over the summer to conduct research on aquatic ecosystems with Dr. Christopher A. Binckley, Assistant Professor of Biology. The two are investigating phytoplankton diversity patterns and Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in the Chesapeake Bay. Stanton plans to use her contributions as part her Senior Capstone project.

Stanton first encountered HAB data as part of her Biological Research Methods course with Binckley. However, when it was time to begin work on her Senior Capstone project, she considered becoming more involved.

“At that time, I had recently started working as Dr. Binckley’s lab assistant and thought it would be really interesting to take part in his research,” says Stanton. “Dr. Binckley helped me develop my research and has made this experience less stressful than it could have been. He is extremely supportive and makes me feel more confident in myself with this project.”

HABs occur when specific species of algae grow quickly and produce toxins while depleting oxygen when they decompose, notes Binckley. These negative effects cascade through the food web and can have adverse ecological and economic consequences.

Since 1990 the Chesapeake Bay monitoring program has measured phytoplankton composition, density and primary productivity at 35 stations each month. Using this data set, Stanton is measuring the number of HABs in four species of toxic dinoflagellates (Prorocentum minimum, Cochlodinium polykrikoides, Heterocapsa rotundata, and Heterocapsa triquetra) and a single species of toxic cyanobacteria (Microcystis aeruginosa). Her Capstone project will examine whether HABs increase in frequency at lower latitudes since these parts of the Chesapeake Bay are warmer and receive more sunlight, also testing if HABS occur more often in areas of high primary productivity as productivity is driven by nutrient concentrations in water. These areas tend to be located near major urban areas in the Chesapeake watershed (Washington, D.C., and Baltimore, Md.).

“I hope my research leads to developments that are useful in the field of ecology and could perhaps be published in a scientific journal,” she says. “Personally, I am so thankful for Dr. Binckley’s help, and I hope to develop a friendship that lasts well after my years at Arcadia.” Stanton plans to enroll in medical school following graduation.

“One of the very best things that Arcadia offers its students is the opportunity to conduct state-of-the-art research one-on-one with our gifted faculty,” said Arcadia’s President Carl (Tobey) Oxholm III. “Here, discovery and innovation are not just read about in books—they are experienced with the hands and a mentor. These experiences prepare our students well for graduate schools and careers and help to ensure that our country will have creative minds eager to take on new challenges. But these experiences also create informed citizens, as our students know firsthand how difficult true scientific inquiry is and are better able to evaluate and participate in public discourse about scientific issues that will have local, national and global significance in the coming decades.”