These shells don't clam up: Innovative technique to record human impact on coastal waters

December 2, 2008
Mercenaria mercenaria Have Tales to Tell
Stable isotope techniques used on Mercenaria mercenaria have yielded valuable information on wastewater inputs in coastal waters. Credit: Dr. Ruth Carmichael, Dauphin Island Sea Lab

With their sedentary lifestyles and filter-feeding habits, clams have been silent witnesses to the changes that humans have inflicted upon their waters. These clams are silent no more, as Dr. Ruth H. Carmichael of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and her colleagues have reported in their recent paper in Aquatic Biology.

Using stable isotope techniques, Carmichael demonstrated it is possible to identify and trace wastewater inputs to estuaries and coastal food webs by studying the organic matrix in the shell of the hard clam Mercenaria mercenaria.

This work presents a novel application of established biochemical techniques that can be applied to refine diet analyses for shellfish, trace nitrogen entry to coastal waters relative to changes in urbanization or climate, and help discern natural from human-driven influences on coastal ecosystems.

Using this new technique will allow coastal researchers and managers to document increases in waste loadings to coastal waters over longer periods of environmental change.

"This technique is exciting because it gives scientists and coastal managers a way to look into the past and trace human influences, in this case wastewater pollution, into local waters and ultimately into the organisms living there," said Dr. Carmichael. "Tools that help us define and trace specific sources of human-influence on our coastal waters are essential to inform management and future research efforts."

Source: Dauphin Island Sea Lab

Explore further: To track winter flounder, researchers look to ear bones

Related Stories

To track winter flounder, researchers look to ear bones

August 27, 2015

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire are turning to an unusual source —otoliths, the inner ear bones of fish—to identify the nursery grounds of winter flounder, the protected estuaries where the potato chip-sized ...

Researchers seek water test for invasive species detection

July 7, 2015

Detecting invasive lake and river species using just a water sample would be a dream come true for wildlife managers and regulators in the state. And University of Maine researchers may soon make this an inexpensive reality.

California oil spill gushed like hose 'without a nozzle'

June 26, 2015

Firefighters investigating a reported petroleum stench at a California beach last month didn't take long to find a spill—oil was spreading across the sand and into the surf. Tracing the source, they found crude gushing ...

Faster, portable microbial analysis in the field

May 25, 2015

Until recently, it took hours – sometimes days – to analyze biological samples after they were frozen in the field and brought back to the laboratory. But now there is a faster, cheaper and smaller way for researchers ...

Recommended for you

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.