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Building Tools to Enhance Lake Bioassessment - Development of a Web-based Key and Genetic Barcoding

By James F. Haney

Department of Zoology, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire

The use of organisms as indicators of lake conditions is a potentially powerful tool, as species as well as communities can integrate the impacts of physical, chemical and biological stressors. Zooplankton occupy a central position in the food web of ponds, lakes and oceans, and therefore reflect the collective impact of a broad range of factors. The utility of bioassessments is often limited by the lack of clear and feasible objectives, the expertise needed to accurately identify organisms to species and the ability to share information.

To address these needs, we are developing an image-based key to freshwater zooplankton that also serves as a broader resource for bioassessment studies. The key also provides the user with an objective-driven selection process that guides the user to select an appropriate sampling design and sample analysis program. By using a combination of verbal description and form recognition, the species key can be effectively used by novice or trained personnel. The key also will incorporate the molecular tool of genetic barcoding that allows for confirmation of species identifications as well as identification of immature stages, for which there are no conventional keys. Importantly, identifications will be based on a shared common genetic data base, reducing the reliance on regional taxonomic keys. Also, planned is the development of standardized data and analysis forms that will allow for more efficient sharing and utilization of data from a wide range of regions and laboratories.

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