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Biologists Use Clams to Solve Environmental Pollution

biologists use clams solve environmental pollution


Environmental protection is just one aspect of focus among a myriad which biologists find compelling as it affects the sustainability of life on our planet. With our society becoming ever more dependent on technology one of the major concerns biologists face is the ever increasing pollution byproduct our technology produces. Some of the ecosystems most commonly affected by chemical byproducts are freshwater habitats such as lakes, rivers and streams. However there is a new local hero being used to help provide better analysis of environmental factors which could plague these ecosystems, and this can currently be found in clams!

Yes clams, once thought of only as a delicious food source, these creatures have proven to be a useful tool for scientists to analyze the pollution content of fresh water ecosystems. Since clams are filter feeders their process of acquiring nutrients involves them sucking up water, filtering out nutrients and excreting the excess back into their water source. This process in turn leaves a chemical imprint in the clam’s tissue which is being used to determine what kinds of pollutants are present in certain waterways. Clever biologists have discovered that by strategically placing clams at the source of a waterway will help investigate both the cause and source of environmental pollution.

river habitat

When clams are placed at the source of the waterway they will naturally be driven downstream. Collecting samples of these clams at various points in the waterway can then indicate which sections contain higher amounts of pollution which can lead to further investigations into where these pollutants may be originating from. The latest application of this technique is with biologists working with high school students to dig up clams from local water sources to investigate the health of the habitat. Clams are known as natural filters since their feeding habits in nature help to clean the water supply.

field biologist

Another technique has been implemented by biologists to mimic what geologists have long used to identify environmental factors. As it turns out, the shell of a clam can give scientists and indication of what types of chemicals could have influenced an ecosystem in the past. This process is referred to as a stable isotope technique which analyzes the makeup of the clams shell matrix. Nitrogen is one of the key components which is looked for to determine the influence of urbanization on an ecosystem. This research is heavily geared towards locating human made wastewater input into natural ecosystems to help biologists determine whether changes in an ecosystem are occurring due to natural environmental changes or through manmade influences.

These latest developments are expected to greatly assist coastal research by helping researchers identify first whether the habitat has undergone drastic human influence or whether there is some unknown environmental factor influencing the ecosystem. Although environmental damage is often seen in the most negative of lights, recent information has changed the view of some ecologists in the last few years. Discoveries of certain types of clams which thrive in oxygen depleted waters (commonly called coastal dead zones) has brought some hope back to the pursuit of ecological stability. It was once believed that these areas of the coastline were doomed through human intervention, however the ability for some species to adapt to these changes has amazed scientists.

conservation ecologist

The increase of these coastal dead zones has become ever more apparent around the United States and is attributed to pollution and climate change. Previously ecologists were most concerned with which species are dying off in these zones (which is still an important point of research) however not much was studied regarding which species can still thrive in these areas. As it turns out, the resilient clam has proven to be more remarkable than once believed in these areas. Despite this positive aspect, the fact of the matter is that these dead zones are still not a beneficial phenomenon, however this research has shown that there may still be a silver lining for ecologists in these deteriorating habitats.

river ecology

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