Research helps restore streams


Over the past several semesters, MCLA environmental studies students have been involved in some important research on streams with Professor Elena Traister.

"People are increasingly trying to reverse damage to streams with river restoration projects," Traister said. "There is a great deal of money being spent on these projects, yet so far very
little research has been done on the effectiveness of these projects. Thus, this research is important for continuing efforts to maintain and improve the quality of stream ecosystems."

Currently, Traister's research is focused on how physical disturbances to streams influence several aspects of stream ecology. This includes stream biodiversity and carbon cycling. She is hopeful that this type of research will be useful in stream restoration planning.

MCLA is a great location for this type of research, she said.

"We have some of the most pristine streams in the state at the same time as some of the most disturbed, such as the Hoosic River's concrete flood chutes in Adams and North Adams. Also, at this time there are three planned river restoration projects in Northern Berkshire County," she explained.

Nine students recently worked with various aspects of Traister's research. Several students presented their work at MCLA's Undergraduate Research Conference. In addition to gaining experience with specific lab and field techniques, the students gained first-hand experience in how scientific research is conducted, which contributed to stream conservation efforts and is especially important for those going to graduate programs.

Graduate Regina Rancatti '09 said the research involved many hours of hard work, but it paid off. "It was ultimately very rewarding, fun and beneficial to my future education," she said. "The project gave me a good sense of what kind of research to expect to take part in while attending grad school and how to work effectively and efficiently in the field. Until I worked with Elena on her stream research, I had done mostly just lab work, so this project gave me the chance to gain valuable experience in the field. 

This fall, Rancatti will attend the University of Maine in Orono, where she will work with stream systems as she earns her doctorate in biology.

Said Traister, "People have had a huge impact on rivers throughout the world both directly, by building dams, channelizing rivers as was done to the Hoosic River in Adams and North Adams, and indirectly by altering the landscape with impervious pavement and deforestation. To better protect these aquatic ecosystems, it is important to understand how they function and how we are changing them. It also is important to better understand the role of streams in the carbon cycle, and to what degree changes to stream ecosystems may also influence climate change."