Mohonk Lake is a summer destination for swimming, kayaking, fishing and hiking, but for SUNY New Paltz rising senior Paloma Rosario ’23 (Biology; Creative Writing), it’s also a perfect spot for ecosystem research.
Rosario, who originally hails from Brooklyn, is working with peer students and Professor of Biology David Richardson on an ambitious research project, supported by New Paltz’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience program, that builds on Richardson’s previous work examining and tracking levels of vital substances at local lake ecosystems.
“I have always said that I wanted to be a scientist to explore our vast and diverse planet, and to protect and advocate for it,” added Rosario. “After this summer with Professor Richardson and my other team members, I know now more than ever that this is where I belong.”
Once a week during summer 2022, Rosario, Richardson and three additional student interns (New Paltz AC2 Program member Lydia Sandoval ’22 (Biology); SUNY Orange student Hannah Cerezo, who is supported by the Orange AC2 program; and Smith College sophomore Rachel Reinking) visited Mohonk Lake to study its ecosystem and how its inhabitants are adapting to its evolving climate.
“They have been brilliant and thoughtful companions to have along,” said Rosario. “I think that it’s necessary when you’re working on a team to have people that you really trust to propose ideas that you never would have thought of yourself.”
Rosario’s research focuses primarily on extracting zooplankton, a subset of water plankton that Richardson calls “the cows of the sea” for their diet of phytoplankton, photosynthetic protists that are the green base of the lake food web.
“They eat all the green yummy stuff that grows in the water and just have the time of their lives,” Rosario said.
Given their place near the bottom of the food chain, changes in the quantity of zooplankton in the water can have massive implications for the broader ecosystem. Rosario’s work contributes to long-term investigations into how the steadily rising temperatures of lake water may be affecting aquatic life in the Shawangunks.
“When you go out and do some sampling, you see how much biodiversity exists in the water here,” said Rosario.
The goal for Estess and Richardson is to take their research nationwide via a collaboration with New Paltz alum Heather Wander ’18 (Biology), who is currently pursuing her Ph.D. at Virginia Tech and has been conducting similar research with her Sky Lakes project. They plan to collaborate on a scientific manuscript for a peer-reviewed journal about the daytime activities of zooplankton in regional lakes.
“It is rewarding to work with a student like Rosario during the summer,” Richardson said. “She has been an exceptional researcher on this ongoing project.”