Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2016MT302B

Characterizing Microbial Activity as Related to Water Quality in the Clark Fork Headwaters: A Baseline Study

Institute: Montana
Year Established: 2016 Start Date: 2016-03-01 End Date: 2018-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $30,000 Total Non-Federal Funds: $60,738

Principal Investigators: Alysia Cox

Abstract: This project will produce the first view of microbial diversity and activity in the headwaters of the Clark Fork, providing both an indication of metal contamination from past mining on the overall health of the system and serving as a baseline for evaluating the effects of future climate change on microbial and chemical processes in this ecosystem. This work will also serve to link microbial activity to water chemistry, informing how microbial activity relates to water quality at this vital location on the Clark Fork watershed. The results will be generalizable to other similarly impacted ecosystems. A paucity of information is available on microbial activity in this area and how it may be affected by and influencing the system, although interactions between water chemistry and insects and vertebrates has been investigated and modeled (Nimick et al., 2007; Luoma et al., 2009; Balistrieri, 2012; Langner et al., 2012). This research will address the following basic questions: What is the baseline microbial community and activity in the headwaters of the Clark Fork and how do they relate to the water chemistry? What is the level of metal contamination reached in these headwaters and does the microbial community reflect that? How will microbial activity change with the climate (lower water flow, higher CO2 available for photosynthesis)? The microbial community and activity is expected to correlate with the water chemistry and reflect the level of metal concentrations in these waters. These results will contribute to water quality and remediation solutions now and in the future.