Young UW-Madison freshwater scientists noted by Great Lakes group

June 30, 2010

by David Tenenbaum

Two researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology won major awards at the recent meeting of the International Association for Great Lakes Research in Toronto.

Post-doctoral fellow Scott Higgins received the Young Scientist Award, while Ph.D. Student Gretchen Hansen was given the Young Student Award. "These students are representative of the many outstanding young scientists who go on to greater glory after their training at UW-Madison," says Jake Vander Zanden, the associate professor of limnology who advises both awardees.

Higgins was recognized for his work studying the growth of a filamentous algae called Cladophora throughout the Great Lakes. Cladophora is a natural part of the lake ecosystem, but uncontrolled growth can clog power-plant cooling intakes and leave stinking masses on beaches, reducing property values and possibly harboring dangerous bacteria.

Higgins linked the resurgence of Cladophora to the arrival of the zebra mussel in the Great Lakes. "The zebra mussels created an ecosystem-level change, affecting water clarity, the availability of phosphorus, and providing a solid anchor for growth," he says.

Hansen received the award for her work on the management of sea lamprey, a primitive, parasitic fish that has infested the Great Lakes. "The lampreys spawn in streams," she says, "where the larvae live for a number of years before they enter the lake, where they parasitize valuable sport fish such as lake trout and salmon. We try to kill larvae before they leave the stream, and my work focused on developing a better way to determine when that is about to happen."

Hansen's assessment method was adopted by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission in 2008.

"Both Scott and Gretchen are brilliant researchers," says Vander Zanden. "These awards recognize the innovative research they have already conducted at this early stage in their careers."