Heat waves cause ripples in lake ecosystem, expert says

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This year’s dry and hot weather conditions expose tangible consequences for local ecosystems, according to an expert in the field.

Xinyu Sun, a doctoral candidate in aquatic ecology at Queen’s University, told the Whig-Standard that one of the most notable results of an unstable climate this summer has been rising heat, which has impacted lakes.

“Heat waves have become more frequent, longer and more intense than before,” Sun said, explaining that research predicts this trajectory will continue into the future.

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“Those exposed to the weather (during a heat wave) experience short-term but more extreme temperatures compared to typical long-term warming.”

This can cause acute disturbances for organisms whose temperature limit cannot withstand high heat, she added.

“I study zooplankton – tiny little animals that live in water. These are the main food sources for large invertebrates and fish,” she said.

In his studies, Sun found that zooplankton are sensitive to drastic changes in temperature, and therefore heat waves can cause their presence to drop dramatically.

“They play an important role in aquatic systems…they eat algae and we expect the decline in zooplankton abundance may trigger algal blooms,” she said.

Algal bloom occurs when there is a rapid buildup of algae in fresh water. The greenish substance that we often see in Lake Ontario would grow excessively.

“What’s even worse is that some of the algae can produce toxins and release them into the water, making the water toxic to humans and animals,” Sun said.

Ecosystems are very delicate, Sun said. When a species disappears, it causes an imbalance. Since zooplankton also serve as food for other organisms, it could lead to fish declines and impact commercial fisheries.

Such problems are difficult to manage, according to Sun, because there is not much we can do in terms of big changes. However, it is still important to be aware of your own footprint.

Climate anxiety has affected the mental health of people around the world, especially young people who are growing up with alarm bells ringing about the future of the planet. Their main fear is that they do not have the power to make the necessary changes and get out of the disaster.

Sun said she shared the frustration but tried to focus on what she could control.

“Yes, climate change is happening, but all ecosystems are really disrupted by more than one stressor,” Sun said. “Climate change is affecting these ecosystems, but we are also polluting the environment.”

Trash, hunting and excessive driving can put a strain on the already fragile environment, she said.

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