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: Thousands of citizen-scientists help researchers map kelp forests

Related Stories

Ribbed mussels could help improve urban water quality

November 22, 2017

Ribbed mussels can remove nitrogen and other excess nutrients from an urban estuary and could help improve water quality in other urban and coastal locations, according to a study in New York City's Bronx River. The findings, ...

Living on thin air—microbe mystery solved

December 6, 2017

UNSW-Sydney led scientists have discovered that microbes in Antarctica have a previously unknown ability to scavenge hydrogen, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide from the air to stay alive in the extreme conditions.

Three ways to preserve a Neolithic site

October 31, 2017

An EPFL study commissioned by the Canton of Bern has come up with three possible ways of protecting the Sutz-Lattrigen archaeological site, which offers a rare insight into the lives of pile dwellers. Sutz-Lattrigen was listed ...

Recommended for you

Looking to the sun to create hydrogen fuel

January 18, 2018

When Lawrence Livermore scientist Tadashi Ogitsu leased a hydrogen fuel-cell car in 2017, he knew that his daily commute would change forever. There are no greenhouse gases that come out of the tailpipe, just a bit of water ...

A new, dynamic view of chromatin movements

January 18, 2018

In cells, proteins tightly package the long thread of DNA into pearl necklace-like complexes known as chromatin. Scientists at EPFL show for the first time how chromatin moves, answering longstanding questions about how its ...

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.