MSU and EPA researchers examine nutrients and aquatic plants in variety of water bodies

A team of scientists from Michigan State University and the Environmental Protection Agency examined patterns of nutrients and aquatic plants in lakes, wetlands and streams. A paper on the project was published in the journal Ecological Applications.


Scientists usually study either lakes, streams or wetlands, thinking that these three types of water bodies are very different from one another. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) coordinates summer sampling across the U.S. that rotates among lakes, streams and wetlands each year.

Using the resulting dataset of around 3,500 freshwater bodies, a team of scientists from Michigan State University (MSU) and the EPA examined patterns of nutrients and aquatic plants in lakes, wetlands and streams. 

They found that patterns in nutrient concentrations are very similar in lakes, wetlands and streams across the United States. For example, nutrients tended to be higher in all fresh waters in areas with high agriculture. High amounts of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen can cause unwanted algal blooms, which cause water to be murky and reduce its suitability for things like recreation and animal habitat. 

“This research suggests that land use changes are affecting all freshwater ecosystems across the nation, so any national policy changes will impact lakes, streams, and wetlands,” said lead author Katelyn King, a doctoral candidate at MSU. “Freshwater systems can be connected to each other and to the landscape, so the way we treat one water body can have effects on another.” 

This is the first study to look at all freshwater bodies at the national scale. King said that this research, published in the journal Ecological Applications, would not be possible without the sampling efforts of states, tribes, federal agencies and other organizations.

“One of the unique aspects of EPA’s National Aquatic Resource Surveys program is that we place equal emphasis on collecting data from all major water body types to answer national-scale questions about the condition of water resource,” said Amina Pollard, US EPA Office of Water. “We are pleased when the publicly available data collected through this effort are used by researchers to answer additional questions and provide new insights on freshwater systems across the country.”

Coordinated sampling efforts across the nation make future studies of this magnitude possible.

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