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Imagine That! - Aquatic Food Change

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! - Aquatic Food Change

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Some lake fish enjoy a beautiful breezy day as much as we do... for all the food that blows or falls right into their...uh...laps!

Imagine that!

The underwater food chain is a tough thing to observe, since it all goes on...underwater. But scientists have long suspected that for organisms making their homes in lakes, terrestrial matter (stuff that comes from the air and land outside of the lake) has big impact on the plants and animals shopping for food under the surface. But they had only limited evidence to support that...until now.

At the Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, senior scientist Michael Pace and his colleagues found that by adding carbon-thirteen, a stable isotope, to a lake, they were able to trace the algae and underwater plants through the food chain to see if they alone provided enough food for the lake organisms to survive on.

And the answer is, they didn't! Leaves, twigs, and insects that fell into the lake provided a major necessary portion of food for lake dwellers as well! Michael Pace explains:

Pace: "It turns out these flows from the land to the lake are quite significant and support the ecology of the lake."

So, development to surrounding areas has an impact on the land and water creatures. Though fish aren't about to crawl up onto the shore for food, they do appreciate some good surf and turf now and then. I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at

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