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Everhart Studies Ecology of Alpine Lakes
Jennifer Everhart ’11
High above the Canadian Rockies, near the border of Alberta and British Columbia, Jennifer Everhart '11 prepared for the first helicopter ride of her life. She would be traveling with two of her professors at Franklin & Marshall College, Janet Fischer and Mark Olson, to collect data on the ecology of alpine lakes in the region. The Canadian wilderness was a stunning backdrop for the research flight, with pristine lakes hidden in the rugged mountains coming into view from above.
After the flight, however, members of the F&M contingent realized one thing was missing: the data.
"Things went smoothly, except that the instrument we used to collect the data malfunctioned," Everhart says. "So, we had to take a second flight to collect the data."
The second flight proved to be more memorable than the first. The group was unable to land at the lake they wanted to study because a grizzly bear and her cub had wandered close to the landing site. "It was pretty exciting to see a grizzly bear," Everhart says. "We had a group meeting to discuss what to do in case we saw one, and then we did see one. The best way to see a grizzly bear is from the air."
The bear sighting was just one adventure during Everhart's two-plus weeks in Yoho National Park last August. She explored the alpine lakes for a research project titled "Interactive Effects of Chemical and Physical Conditions on Daphnia middendorffiana Life History in Alpine Lakes," which she presented last week at the spring research fair in the Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building.
The seeds of Everhart's research were planted during her youth, when she became interested in environmental issues. "I've always enjoyed being outside," says the environmental science and Spanish double major. "My father was active in conservation projects, and that stuck with me. I volunteered at a land trust in high school and learned about land conservation."
Everhart was eager to explore her interests when Fischer, her adviser, asked if she wanted to do research in the Canadian Rockies last year. Her goal was to determine the implications of environmental changes on Daphnia, a type of zooplankton also known as the "water flea." She concentrated on two lakes, Lake Hungabee and Lake Oesa, high in the mountains.
"There are no fish in these lakes," Everhart says. "One is shallow, warmer and has lots of nutrients. The other is deep, cold and has very few nutrients. We were expecting that the Daphnia would do better in warmer water, so we were surprised when we put them in Lake Oesa (the deep, cold lake) and they were still surviving."
Perched high in the Canadian Rockies, Lake Hungabee was a scenic laboratory for Everhart and her professors last summer.
The journey to the lakes was an adventure each day. Everhart, Fischer and Olson drove one hour to Yoho National Park, followed by a 20-minute bus ride up a bumpy road and a one-hour hike up to the lakes. Once at the lakes, they had to inflate a boat to perform their research. "We got some funny looks on the hike up to the lakes," Everhart says. "People wanted to know why we had life preservers and paddles."
The trips up the mountain were worth the effort. The F&M group found significant interactive effects of physical conditions and water chemistry on the relative survival and reproduction of Daphnia, although Everhart says the effects of climate change on alpine zooplankton are likely to be complex.
Everhart will have more alpine adventures this summer, when she returns to western Canada to repeat and build upon her experiments with Fischer. And if a grizzly bear happens to wander by, she hopes to be enjoying the view from the air.