Virginia Tech® home

2022 | Organismal Responses to Salinization for All Freshwater Taxa

shrimp underwater

IGC Capstone Project | Interfaces of Global Change

Organismal Responses to Salinization for All Freshwater Taxa

Student Members:
Faculty Mentors:

As part of their Interfaces of Global Change Capstone Project, a team of four PhD Fellows worked together and alongside members of the GCC Freshwater Salinization Working Group to review six decades of literature published on animal responses to increased salinities across different taxonomic and ecological contexts and identified knowledge gaps. From 585 journal articles, they characterized 5,924 responses of mollusks, crustaceans, zooplankton, non-arthropod invertebrates, insects, fishes, and amphibians to salinization in freshwater environments. Their findings, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, add to the growing literature suggesting that all freshwater biota are threatened by rising salinities, both directly and through complex environmental interactions. 

Anthropogenic salinization of freshwater habitats is a major component of global change that alters biological communities and impairs ecosystem services. Organismal responses to salinization most commonly focused on aquatic macroinvertebrates (31% of responses) and fishes (21% of responses). Responses were recorded primarily in temperate climates in North America (37% of articles) and Europe/Russia (25% of articles). Key anthropogenic sources of salinization were urbanization or mixed land use, as well as and/or road salts, and the most common ions studied included Cl- and Na+. Negative responses to salinization were most common for all organismal groups reviewed. Their review identified key knowledge gaps regarding freshwater animal responses to salinization and suggests additional management of salinization is warranted. This project allowed them to collaborate across departments as part of a team led by USGS partners and apply their research specialties towards a collaborative outcome. Throughout this capstone project, they strengthened skills in scientific writing, data manipulation and visualization, and utilized interdisciplinary expertise to interpret data from different organisms.