Research in the Pennuto Lab  SampleSorting08.jpg


My lab has been active in several research areas over the years and I continue to accommodate students with diverse interests. Although my research activities have been influenced significantly by geography, I am firmly centered in aquatic ecology. I think of my activities as ‘the funded stuff’ and ‘the unfunded stuff’.


Funded research


Invasive species effects: The Great Lakes have experienced hundreds of species introductions, mainly inadvertent, since the turn of the century. The range of effects invasive species have on Great Lake ecology runs from undetectable to catastrophic. In my lab we are investigating the effects of the round goby (Neogobius melanostomus) on tributary stream and nearshore lake habitats. We have examined swimming and station holding performance in an attempt to understand why some physical or hydraulic situations appear to restrict upstream passage of round gobies and others do not. Additionally, we survey regional streams for the presence/absence of gobies and macroinvertebrate communities. We are performing field experiments on ecosystem processes (periphyton accumulation, leaf decomposition, etc) in sites with and without round gobies. These projects have been funded by NY Sea Grant and other agencies. We also document RG abundances in the nearshore of Lake Erie using underwater video. Other invasive species projects focus on invasive amphipods. My lab is investigating predator avoidance behavior as a causal mechanism leading to successful colonization of new habitats by invading taxa. Amphipods have shown strong abilities to quickly identify predatory and non-predatory fish species and seem to have differential predator avoidance strategies based on which fish species are present.


Great Lakes nutrients, Cladophora, and invasives: Over the last few years we have had projects or parts of larger projects examining nutrient effects on nearshore habitats in Lakes Ontario and Erie. These projects are providing insights into the resurgence of nuisance Cladophora blooms in the lower lakes and its correlation with Dreissena mussel and round goby establishment.


Mercury in Great Lakes food webs: Lastly, my lab has had several mercury contamination projects funded. We have investigated mercury transfer from emerging benthic insects to riparian zone spiders and the potential for lateral dispersal through the riparian zone. I have also contracted on projects examining the movement of mercury through riparian food webs (Sudbury River, Massachusetts), in crayfish of New England lakes/rivers, and crayfish of the Great Lakes.




Unfunded research


Symbioses:  Symbiotic interactions can be broadly thought of as interactions between pairs of species in close proximity to one another. My lab has investigated the ecology of insect ectosymbionts in the Chironomidae (aquatic Diptera) and their associations with fishfly (Megaloptera: Corydalidae) and stonefly (Plecoptera) hosts in streams of Maine and southern New York. This research includes life history, habitat, and behavioral ecology of hosts and symbionts.


Ecological stoichiometry: Aquatic ecologists, primarily limnologists, re-invigorated stoichiometric approaches into ecological thinking recently. Basically, we can think of organisms and ecosystems as large chemical reactions that ultimately balance inputs and outputs. Research seems to indicate that many heterotrophs are fairly homeostatic in their elemental ratios. Most elemental ratio research focuses on C, N, and P since these three elements are 3 of the most abundant 6 elements in living organisms (the other 3 being H, O, and Ca), and they are elements that are known to potentially limit growth in aquatic systems. My lab is investigating ontogenetic changes in C:N:P ratios in aquatic organisms and using C:N:P ratios to document nutrient movement in and out of streams associated with seasonal migrations of invasive fish (round goby).


Predator avoidance behavior: My lab uses both amphipods and crayfish as model systems to investigate the role of predator avoidance behavior in life history evolution. In this research we are adding to the understanding of learned avoidance by rearing animals that are never exposed to predator scent and then exposing them to scents of different predators with or without conspecific alarm cues.  


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