2018 Undergraduate Research Day

Bacterial source tracking of human, bovine, dog, and goose fecal contamination in the Little Sac Watershed

First place poster presentation winner in Bio - Ecology, Conservation and Wildlife!
  • John Kincaid, Marc Owen, Dr. Robert T. Pavlowsky
  • Faculty Advisor: Dr. Babur Mirza

Due to urbanization and fast agricultural developments, impairment of water quality by fecal pollution is a global public health concern. In this study, we monitored the potential fecal contamination of human, bovine, dog, and goose in the Little Sac watershed in Greene and Polk Counties. Water samples were collected from five different location of the Little Sac watershed on September 22nd and October 6th, 2017. Genomic DNA was extracted, and the abundance of Bacteroidetes specific markers associated with human, bovine, dog, and goose fecal material were quantified using real-time PCR. In addition, the abundance of indicator microorganisms (total coliform and E.coli) in the water samples were quantified using IDEXX Colilert test kits. Results of the Colilert testing showed the presence of both E. coli and coliforms. At most of the sites, coliform concentrations exceeded the upper limit of the procedure (>2,420/100 mL). The qPCR results indicated the presence of fecal contamination at four of the five sites for at least one marker gene. At sampling locations (PR_102) adjacent to urban areas, fecal contamination of both human and goose were found. In conclusion, the presence of fecal contamination suggests that continuous monitoring and further testing of potential pathogens is needed at these sites.

Accumulation of lead in sycamore trees in a mining contaminated gravel bar in Big River, Missouri

Second place poster presentation winner in Bio - Ecology, Conservation and Wildlife!
  • Trang Tran, Jordan Heiman, Dr. Robert T. Pavlowsly
  • Faculty Advisor: Dr. La Toya Kissoon-Charles

Big River, located in the Old Lead Belt of southeast Missouri, contains sand and gravel bars with high levels of residual lead resulting from over 200 years of lead mining pollution. Vegetation on gravel bars can affect sediment deposition, soil erosion, and metal movement in river channels. Previous studies focused on sediment contamination and lead concentrations in organisms, such as birds and fish in the Big River ecosystem. However, data on metal concentrations of vegetation in this river ecosystem are lacking. Plants are at the base of the food chain, thus exploration of metal uptake by vegetation could inform us of the potential transport of metals to organisms at higher levels of the food chain. We collected samples of bark, stem, branch, and leaf from sycamore trees at different locations on gravel bars in contaminated and non-contaminated reaches of Big River. Plant samples were dried, crushed, acid-digested, and analyzed to determine lead concentrations using ICP-MS. Preliminary results indicated that sycamore trees on the contaminated gravel bar have higher concentrations of lead compared to trees on the non-contaminated gravel bar. Among the different tree parts sampled, sycamore bark had the highest lead concentrations, which could indicate compartmentalization of this toxic metal.  

Spatial variability of sediment size and lead concentrations on a mining-contaminated river bar in Big River, Southeastern Missouri

First place poster presentation winner in GGP- Geography, Geospatial Science and Planning!
  • Madeline Behlke-Entwisle
  • Faculty Advisor: Dr. Robert T. Pavlowsky

Assessment of sediment contamination and associated environmental risk requires an understanding of the spatial variability of toxicity within sedimentary environments.  The purpose of this study is to examine the spatial distribution of lead contamination across the surface of a vegetated bar in the Big River channel at St. Francois State Park, Missouri. Underground mining for lead began in the area in 1864, and globally important deep-shaft mining occurred in the Old Lead Belt district until 1972.  Large volumes of mine tailings were released into the Big River resulting in ecologically toxic lead concentrations in channel sediment for 171 kilometers. Seventy-five surface (0-5 cm) samples of bar sediment were collected along 15 cross-channel transects, GPS-located, and analyzed for metals using Xray fluorescence (XRF) and sieved grain-size. Metal levels in the <2 mm sediment fraction were high, with lead concentrations averaging 1113 ppm and ranging from 362 to 2719 ppm, far above the probable effects concentration (PEC) of 128 ppm. Higher concentrations of contaminants tend to occur at the bar head and longitudinally down the bar center. Geographic patterns of sediment size, vegetation, and lead concentrations will be further analyzed to better understand the relationships among bar morphology, vegetation, and lead contamination.

Coastal mangrove survey along Bluefields Bay, Westmoreland, Jamaica

  • Leslie Hatch
  • Faculty Advisor: Dr. Robert T. Pavlowsky

The Bluefields Bay Fish Sanctuary (BBFS) plays a pivotal role in the protection of Jamaica’s coast. To maintain the marine life present in the BBFS such as coral reefs, sea grass, and mangroves, fishing is not permitted. This study reports on an inventory of mangrove species and their characteristics within an environmental education area along the bay during January 2018.  The species and location of each tree was marked using GPS and mapped with GIS software. In addition, information on diameter breast height, stem habit, and landform/soil type was recorded for each tree.  In total, 18 mangroves were sampled with the majority being Red Mangroves (38.8%) and White Mangroves (38.8%). Additional mangrove species sampled were the Button Mangrove (16.6%) and Black mangrove (5.5%). Mangrove distributions correlated with expected patterns for this field environment. Red and Black Mangroves were found on lower elevation/wetter sites and Button and White Mangroves were found on higher/drier sites. The results of this study will support educational and conservation goals for the community.

Spatial distribution of riparian forest flood damage on tributaries of the North Fork of the White River in Southern Missouri

  • Josh Hess
  • Faculty Advisor: Dr. Robert T. Pavlowsky

Climate change has increased the frequency of large floods in rivers draining the Ozarks Highlands. The effects of larger floods on the channel system include recent trends in higher rates of channel sedimentation, bank erosion, and damage to infrastructure. This study examines the effects of a large flood (>500 year recurrence interval) during April-May 2017 on riparian forests along five tributary streams in the North Fork of the White River watershed in southern Missouri. The riparian zone is the interface between land and river often including floodplain and wetland areas which flood a few times a year. This study aims to assess the spatial patterns of riparian forest damage in relation to channel position, landform, and tree characteristics. Riparian forest characteristics are delineated and quantified using GIS analysis of high resolution drone imagery and GPS-surveys of bottomland landforms. Preliminary results indicate extensive uprooting of trees along channel bends, some channel bars and low floodplain areas. Further, damage appears to be more extensive in medium-sized streams in contrast to smaller and larger streams.  This information will be used to help predict ecological disturbance by floods and to improve land management practices used in Mark Twain National Forest.