K-State researchers develop new method to study streams

The sun rises above the bridge to the International Student Center as water flows gently through the stream running through the heart of campus Jan. 27. University scientists and collaborators, lead by Walter Dodds, distinguished professor of biology, have developed a new method for studying various types of streams across continents. (Evert Nelson | The Collegian)

Professors across K-State’s campus are doing research projects to further improve and enrich their field of study. Walter Dodds, university distinguished professor in biology, is one of them.

Dodds led a team of researchers in creating the Stream Biome Gradient Concept, which enables researchers to evaluate streams and the environment that surround them in a new way.

“This model will help us understand how to regulate and conserve streams and protect water quality,” Dodds said in a K-State news release. “It’s important to think in broad terms and in the context that people, plants and animals interact with streams. Understanding biodiversity is crucial.”

The researchers introduced the concept in the Freshwater Science article “The Stream Biome Gradient Concept: factors controlling lotic systems across broad biogeographic scales.”

Dodds worked with several other researchers, from K-State and other universities. The team included Keith Gido, professor of biology, and Bartosz Grudzinski, visiting assistant professor of geography. Other researchers include Melinda Daniels, adjunct professor of geography at K-State and associate research scientist at the Stroud Water Research Center in Pennsylvania; and Matt Whiles, professor of zoology at Southern Illinois University.

Gido, an aquatic ecologist, said he was drawn to the project because of how it could affect the fish and other marine life in streams.

“This concept helps me understand how changes in land cover influences the fish communities in these streams, as well as all the other animals that live in the streams,” Gido said.

Gido said that although the team devoted several years to this paper, he feels the team members have been dedicated to this cause for their entire careers, whether they realized it or not.

Although the concept started off as a method of just studying prairie streams, it developed and their research showed that it was applicable worldwide. Gido compared the Stream Biome Gradient Concept to the River Continuum Concept, led by Robin L. Vannote in 1980, which measured the physical proportions of a stream or river and attempted to make assumptions off of those proportions.

The River Continuum Concept states: “This gradient should elicit a series of responses within the constituent populations resulting in a continuum of biotic adjustments and consistent patterns of loading, transport, utilization and storage of organic matter along the length of a river.”

Conversely, the Stream Biome Gradient Concept measures the impact of plants and other variables in the biome surrounding the stream to provide what researchers believe to be a more thorough scope of the environment.

“I hope that people understand that when they modify the land, like putting in a field or a parking lot, that that has an influence on what happens to the streams and the quality of those streams,” Gido said.

The researchers received funding support from the National Science Foundation, the Konza Long-Term Ecological Research program and the International Grasslands Center.

“We’re hopeful that this work will help people develop a broader and more comprehensive view of the way that stream ecosystems function,” Dodds said in a K-State news release. “Stream research is getting more mature and focused on large-scale questions. It’s a natural progression to think in the largest possible terms and link our conceptual research to a scale where people interact with aquatic habitats.”