Research

Current Projects

Developing a Wetland Baseline at the Watershed Scale
panorama of field

The Wading River is a minimally disturbed tidal wetland located in the area near the mouth of the Mullica River. Due to the pristine state of the Wading River it is ideal to use as an example to establish a baseline for a relatively undisturbed tidal wetland; and to develop an underlying framework for restoration success criteria that optimize production and connectivity to nearby habitats including the open waters of the estuary. This will be accomplished through in field assessments of the marsh drainage network and dominant vegetation. The baseline created from the field work at the Wading River will assist in forecasting potential changes in tidal wetland structure and function when confronted with land use changes, sea level rise and climate change patterns.

Phosphorus study in Lake Hopatcong (NJ) Sediment
collecting samples in Lake Hopactcong

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) has identified Lake Hopatcong (NJ) as being impaired because of high phosphate concentrations. Surface runoff from the surrounding watershed and septic systems are among the most frequent sources. When nutrients like phosphorus (P) or nitrogen (N) are present in excess, eutrophication, algal blooms, and overgrowth of invasive plant species are common consequences, leading to the loss of native species. This project allows us to identify areas of high P storage at the bottom of the Lake Hopatcong (P sediment hot spots). We pre-selected 157 sampling points, throughout the lake basin. The phosphorus in the samples was extracted by acid digestion in autoclave, and analyzed using a Flow Injection Analyzer (FIA). The sampling site with the highest concentration of TP coincided with the deepest point in the center of the lake. This lake-wide, intensive sedimentary phosphorus assessment allows us to gain a better understanding of phosphorus storage in the lake sediment and help prioritize areas for future remediation efforts. View the report of the study

Multidisciplinary Environmental Project at Greenwood Lake (NJ)

Greenwood Lake is an interstate lake between the states of New Jersey (Passaic County) and New York (Orange County). Because of high phosphorus (P) concentrations the EPA's Northeast Water Region identified Greenwood Lake as being impaired for designated uses (bathing/recreation). The most significant sources of phosphorus identified are surface runoff, poorly maintained septic systems and internal load from the sediment (NJDEP, 2004; NJDEC, 2005). Upon request of the Greenwood Lake Environmental Commission, Passaic River Institute at Montclair State University assessed the water quality of the lake at 11 sampling sites selected throughout the lake. Parameters including dissolved oxygen, pH, salinity, conductivity, transparency, total phosphorus in sediment, total phosphorus in water, orthophosphate, zooplankton, phytoplankton, macroinvertebrates, plants, and total coliform, were studied to assess the condition of the lake. Results confirmed that the lake is indeed a nutrient rich waterbody and that strategies to control P loading are imperative to improve water quality. Among the algal community, 86% was represented by cyanobacteria with the potential to produce cyanotoxins. Analysis of the toxin content revealed the presence of microcystin. This multidisciplinary project is repeated every early Fall in occasion of a course project at Montclair State University.

The trash problem in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary and efforts to solve it at the source

There have been important improvements in the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary in terms of floatable debris, in particular thanks to the implementation of the Floatables Action Plan (FAP). NYC DEP has a well-established program to capture and remove marine debris (floating barriers, skimmer vessels, underflow baffles and screens) as well as source control programs (street sweeping, clean streets-clean beaches, adopt-a-basket, water-on-the-go, adopt-a-catch-basin and a B.Y.O campaign). New Jersey also has programs in place to capture and remove debris from the waterways (netting or screening facilities, street sweeping programs, and skimmer vessels to remove floatable debris from the Passaic River). In spite of the progress achieved, floatable debris continues to negatively impact our region, and current efforts mostly deal with debris after the fact rather than attacking the root of the problem. This project will help characterize and identify sources of trash focusing on floatables entering local waterways and local conditions contributing to trash dispersal in order to target specific actions for reducing trash at the source; build on Columbia University’s 2016 data collection efforts in NYC (funded by NYC DEP); identify the most effective source reduction actions; educate local businesses and residents about trash impacts and solutions to encourage responsible vendor and consumer behavior and stewardship. Locations for collecting data are likely to be areas within the separate storm sewer areas that are highly impacted by trash, close to public shorelines and other environmentally sensitive areas, as well as other area with special considerations, including identification of low-income communities. PRI will be conducting street litter surveys at pre-determined sites along the Lower Passaic River and its tributaries in New Jersey. Following data collection, analysis and reporting, HEP will present the results to the communities where the data was collected and work with local partners, municipalities and other stakeholders and a “Community Trash Reduction Toolkit” for local stakeholders will also be developed.

Macroinvertebrate Assemblages in Selected New Jersey Springs
insect in a jar

The springs included as part of this study are lotic systems where groundwater discharges to the surface. Spring water quality is influenced by the discharge and geologic origins of a spring. Biological indicators, such as aquatic macroinvertebrates, are used to assess the health of spring ecosystems due to their sensitivity to pollution. Currently, there are no published studies on the aquatic macroinvertebrate assemblages in New Jersey springs. The objective of this study was to examine macroinvertebrate assemblages of New Jersey springs and to investigate the effects of geologic and hydrologic variables on macroinvertebrate community assemblages. Macroinvertebrate assemblages of six springs in New Jersey were studied from August 2014 to August 2015. This study found diverse macroinvertebrate communities in New Jersey springs and suggested that spring hydrology and geology affect macroinvertebrate assemblages. Routine monitoring is recommended for spring macroinvertebrate communities.

Phytoplankton & Cyanobacteria Projects
collecting samples from stream

This project includes building phytoplankton libraries for use with the Flowcam instrument, which is used for dynamic imaging particle analysis. These libraries are specific for New Jersey freshwater lakes and reservoirs and are ultimately useful tools for rapid identification of freshwater microorganisms for drinking water quality control and detection of cyanobacteria in lakes. Ultimately, a list of freshwater phytoplankton species of NJ will also be developed since there one does not currently exist. Data and samples were obtained and analyzed from the Passaic Valley Water Commission, New Jersey American Water and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. This is an ongoing project since it takes multiple years to build reliable libraries.‌

Another research activity in progress involves phytoplankton identification and cyanotoxin analysis of New Jersey freshwater lake samples through the NJDEP Lake Monitoring Network. Cyanotoxins are an important public safety hazard in recreational lakes and drinking water reservoirs due to their detrimental effects on human health.

Aquatic Habitat Connectivity and Culvert Assessments
scenic bridgeImproving Wildlife Habitat Connectivity
Roads present a partially penetrable or complete barrier to movements for many species in a variety of habitats including aquatic habitats. Culverts, bridges, and other crossings can reconnect habitats if properly planned, implemented, and maintained. However, undersized or poorly designed crossings might not fulfill their purpose and continue to fragment habitats, contribute to erosion, and increase flooding hazards.
Third River project
In 2014, the Passaic River Institute and Friends of Bonsal Preserve secured a grant from the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission to conduct pathogen monitoring of the Third River. This citizen science project collaborated closely with the NY-NJ Harbor Estuary Program, NJDEP, and US EPA to train both PRI and community members to collect and produce viable pathogen indicator data to be submitted to the EPA Storage and Retrieval Data Warehouse. During the Summer of 2014, Third River water samples were monitored for the pathogen indicator enterococcus using IDEXX Enterolert. Researchers are using source tracking methods to further identify possible sources of pollution.
Herpetofauna River Road Crossing Project in Bedminster, NJ
wildlife crossing sign

In the Spring of 2010, Montclair State University surveyed amphibian and reptile populations along River Road at Bedminster, New Jersey. The study recorded 782 reptiles and amphibians within the 8 weeks study period. The results of this study signified that road mortality might have tremendously impacted the urban herpetofauna populations and might have been major causes of the current trend of population decline.

With an Award of Federal Transportation Enhancement Grant, Bedminster Township plans to construct three amphibian and reptile tunnels along the River Road during winter 2015. Montclair State University will conduct a pre-construction survey to estimate herpetofauna populations utilizing the segment of River Road during spring and early summer migration. Additionally, we will conduct a post-construction survey to quantify the actual utilization of the wildlife crossing tunnels by herpetofauna populations.

The Project Goals and Objectives aim to evaluate the use of the wildlife tunnels by herpetofauna and whether road mortality events have been reduced post-construction of the tunnels. We will:

A turtle crossing the street
  1. Quantify the amount of herpetofauna road mortality along River Road prior to the construction of wildlife tunnels in spring and early summer 2014
  2. Quantify the herpetofauna populations utilizing the wildlife tunnels in spring and early summer 2015
  3. Estimate the percentage of obligate vernal pool breeders migrating to breeding pools across River Road
  4. Identify the return route of herpetofauna populations after breeding activities.
Wildlife Guardians
Student photographing dead turtle in the road

Wildlife need to be able to move through the landscape to find food, mates, and other resources. New Jersey's extensive road network has been shown to impact wildlife populations in multiple ways, including direct mortality of individuals and creating complete barriers to wildlife movement. As a part of the NJ Statewide Habitat Connectivity Plan, Montclair State University in collaboration with New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, Endangered and Non-game Species Program are currently working to enhance the state's wildlife habitat quality by increasing the ability for wildlife to safely cross on roadways.

Squished frog in the road

During the Spring of 2013, volunteers and Montclair State students surveyed selected road segments in Northern New Jersey for any wildlife crossing and wildlife road mortality. The results will aid in identifying road mortality hotspots. The selected road segments will also be assessed to determine habitat characteristics essential for wildlife use and to predict other possible mortality hotspots. The goals of the project are to identify wildlife crossing hotspots in New Jersey, to prioritize those road segments for future monitoring and mitigation and to ensure the long-term persistence of wildlife species in New Jersey.

Bioaccumulation of Mercury in New Jersey Aquatic Ecosystems

Mercury contamination in aquatic food webs poses a significant threat to aquatic ecosystem health. Mercury's capability to bioaccumulate and biomagnify in aquatic ecosystems is of special concern. Therefore it is important to determine bioaccumulation and biomagnifications factors. My study will examine the mercury concentration in a simplified aquatic food web at several distinct habitats throughout New Jersey that vary in the levels of mercury contamination. The aquatic food web leading to snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) was chosen as the simplified representative. This species was chosen based on their ability to bioaccumulate and biomagnify mercury. Turtles are also often harvested for human consumption furthering the importance of understanding the food web dynamics occurring. Samples from each trophic level in the turtle's food web will be collected for mercury analysis, carried out using a cold vapor spectrophotometer. The results of this study will allow us to understand if and how mercury contamination can affect and be transferred throughout the aquatic food web and varying habitats. The analysis of mercury concentration among the different trophic levels will allow us to gain further understanding of the health of the aquatic food web leading to turtle consumption by humans.

Human Consumption Safety of Snapping Turtles and Diamondback Terrapins
A student on the river's edge with fishing cages

The common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina serpentina) and diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are legally harvested throughout the State of New Jersey. Turtles are usually sold for human consumption at both local and global markets. Since turtles are long-lived omnivores, they can bioaccumulate high concentrations of pollutants in their tissues, such as mercury. Mercury is of special concern because it is the one metal that biomagnifies (due to the common organic form, methylmercury, or MeHg, found in aquatic environments, having a predilection for lipidrich tissues). High levels of mercury have been reported in turtle eggs, fat, organs, blood, shell, and muscle. This study aims to identify a quick and benign method to measure mercury contents in turtle muscles in order to assess human consumption safety of snapping turtles and diamondback terrapins. We plan to analyze mercury concentrations carapace, blood and front leg muscle of both turtle species collected from the Cape May area and the NJ Meadowlands.

student holding a snapping turtle towards the camera

The common snapping turtles are long-lived organisms with a delayed sexual maturity and high egg and juvenile mortalities; thus, harvesting wild snapping turtles might be unsustainable. Another component of this project is to assess the sustainability of the common snapping turtle populations in NJ. Currently, the State of New Jersey has limited regulation toward snapping turtle harvesting. Snapping turtles can be legally harvested commercially from March through October and recreationally throughout the year with the exception of nesting season (May 1st to June 15th). “Any person with a valid fishing license or those entitled to fish without a license” may take up to three snapping turtles a day either by traps or with hands, either in water or on land, either adults or juvenile, with no reporting requirement (NJDEP). In recent years, increases have been documented in numbers of snapping turtles harvested and commercial harvesting permit holders in NJ. This research project will estimate the current snapping turtle population size at selected waterbodies and assess sustainability of the populations. We will also examine the economic impacts of eliminating the current snapping turtle harvesting program in NJ.

Pathogen Indicator

Coliform bacteria are pathogen indicators that originate from environmental and animal sources. Fecal coliform and more specific E. coli are often used to regulate recreational waters based on the number of colonies present. High levels of coliform can indicate high levels of other pathogenic organisms can be detrimental to the public. In this study, water samples are taken from 22 sites along the Passaic River, including tributaries: Pompton River and Indian River. Samples are tested for fecal coliform and E. coli through EPA adapted fecal coliform and total coliform filtration methods. The goals of this study are to identify high areas of bacterial contamination for future remediation and regulation.

Microbial Source Tracking (MST)

Micobial Source Tracking (MST) is the use of molecular and biochemical techniques to genetically identify coliform bacteria sources. Stemming off the Pathogen Indicator Project, coliform samples are analyzed via Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) and real time PCR (qPCR) for animal sources. These include human, Canadian geese, dog, deer, horse, and other common farm sources. Results will be correlated to surrounding farms to identify non-point pollution sources. Areas with human sewage pipes can also be reviewed to find if sewage pipes have been compromised due to recent natural disasters or pipe leakage.

Passaic River Nutrient Analysis

This study aims to analyze nutrient concentrations in the Passaic River, NJ. 24 sites were chosen along the length of the river. Orthophosphate, ammonia, nitrate, nitrite, total kjeldahl nitrogen, and total kjeldahl phosphate were concentrations were measured using flow injection analysis.

Ultrasonic Control of Aquatic Invasives

Species introduction is a leading cause of biodiversity loss. All around the globe, exotic species are replacing native species and altering ecosystem they invade. One major vector of species introduction is through discharge of ship ballast water. Thousands of ships travel around the world daily and can carry up to thousands of gallons of ballast water in order to maintain stability during voyage. Sea water along with marine creatures living in the water can be ballasted from a coastal port and be transported to the next destination of call where the water may be deballasted along with organisms it carries.

Zebra mussel is one of the many notorious invasive species introduced into North America via discharge of ship ballast water; zebra mussel invasion has caused detrimental ecological and economic impacts including the endangerment of native North American bivalves.

For the past eight years, Dr. Wu and collaborator Dr. Junru Wu of University of Vermont have been working on the development of an ultrasonic device to control aquatic species introduction and invasion supported financially by the Sea Grant and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Ultrasound is a sound wave above human audible frequency range. When directly encounter with aquatic organisms, ultrasound can form cavitation bubbles that damage/kill target organisms. The sound energy dissipates naturally as it travels in the water without causing secondary environmental impacts.

We identified a specific ultrasonic frequency that is most effective in controlling aquatic invaders and is developing a treatment system to control unwanted aquatic invaders before ballast water is released at coastal ports. Our goal is to stop hitchhikers in ship ballast water and to preserve aquatic biodiversity for future generations.

Potential of Phytoremediation, Translocation of Heavy Metals
A student looking at measuring tape in a field

Wetland plants are capable to absorb heavy metals from contaminated soils and store them in plant tissues. This study focuses on understanding the natural processes of translocation of heavy metals in plants and aims to assess the potential of phytoremediation on contaminated soils.

Our study site is located at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ. Liberty State Park is a brownfield site caused by past industrial land use. There are over 23 acres of freshwater wetlands within the park including various habitat types of swamp, shrubs, and emergent marshes. Diverse vegetation assemblages provide an unique setting for this study assessing potential of phytoremediaton and wetland rehabilitation.

Past Projects

  • Assessment of the First Herpetofauna Tunnels in New Jersey
    • Toad Road
      During the spring migration season, pool-breeding amphibians leave their wintering ground in the forested habitat and migrate to breeding ponds. Often these habitats are separated or segmented by roads. This was the case at River Road in Bedminster. In December of 2014 the Township of Bedminster installed five wildlife-crossing tunnels along the River Road, the first of their kind in the state. the purpose of the wildlife-crossing tunnels is to aid the migrating amphibians and other species while connecting essential habitats. We will be conducting a post construction survey to estimate herpetofauna populations utilizing the tunnels along River Road during spring and early summer migration to determine the effectiveness of the wildlife-crossing tunnels.
  • Snapping Turtle Survey
    • turtle in kiddie pool
      In New Jersey, the snapping turtle harvest is under the jurisdiction of the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries. The state currently allows both recreational and commercial harvesters to collect turtles throughout the year in freshwaters of the state except during the nesting season from May 1 to June 15th. The New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife states “Any person with a valid fishing license or those entitled to fish without a license” may take up to three snapping turtles a day either by traps or by hand, either in water or on land, adults or juvenile, with no reporting requirement however, these turtles are for personal consumption only and may not be sold. On the other hand, commercial snapping turtle harvesters pay $2 for a permits that allows the unlimited harvest of snapping turtles from 10 freshwater bodies. Montclair State University and the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries developed a survey to gain a better understanding of the snapping turtle harvest in the state. This study will allow the Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries to further understand harvester's circumstances and opinions when it comes to making regulations and policies.
  • REU: Multidisciplinary Environmental Research
  • Amphibians Facing Challenges on Urban Landscape: Potential Impact of Human Transportation and Pathogens
  • Habitat Selection Criteria of Wood Turtles
  • A Comparison of Designations Wetland Status by NWI Maps and Army Corps Methods
  • Developing a Wetland Monitoring Program and an Invasive Management Plan for Boquet River Watershed, NY
  • Developing a Comprehensive Wetland Program for Ausable River Watershed, NY
  • The Effects of Dominant Vegetative Type and Water Depth on Methane Flux Rates from a Freshwater Lake
    • Methane is a greenhouse gas produced in anoxic environments of the earth's natural and artificial wetlands and lakes. Transport of methane gas from soil to the atmosphere is mediated by the aerenchymal systems of hydrophytic vegetation. Different types of vegetation will affect methane flux rates differently due to their structure and role in oxygenating underlying substrate. This study aims to analyze the effects of dominant vegetative types found at Lake Wapalanne, Sussex County, NJ on methane flux rates in the lake's littoral zone. Portable gas sampling chambers were used to sample Phragmites australis, Typha latifolia, and Carex spp. dominated areas. Methane can also be emitted into the atmosphere from the lake water surface through diffusion or ebullition. Water depth above the lake's substrate has been found to play a role in these processes. Floating portable gas sampling chambers were used to sample at both shallow (0.5 m) and deep water (1.95 m) regions in the lake's open water area.
  • The Anthropogenic Effects on Periphyton Biomass in Northern NJ
    • The biotic integrity of many aquatic ecosystems has significantly declined due anthropogenic effects on these environments, such as land use and land cover. This study evaluated land use effects on periphyton growth at three different watersheds (urban, agricultural and forested) in Northern NJ. Periphyton biomass, growth rate and carrying capacity were assessed at both headwater and downstream sites of these three watersheds. Periphyton was sampled using artificial substrates during the summer and fall of 2012. The dry biomass at each site was evaluated at a weekly interval. The results indicate that the agricultural watershed provided the best growing conditions for periphyton. The dry biomass of periphyton at the downstream of the agricultural watershed was the highest 76.167mg, greater than urban 13.050mg and forested 12.300mg downstream biomass. Additionally, the highest periphyton growth rate was found at the downstream of the agricultural watershed 4.9476mg/d, greater than urban 2.900mg/d, and forested 1.236mg/d downstream growth rates. After seven weeks of exposure, periphyton growth leveled off in the agricultural watershed, reaching carrying capacities of approximately 47.368mg/m2 at the downstream and 42.105 mg/m2 at the upstream sites.
  • Greenhouse Gas Fluxes of Wetlands
    • Marshlands

      This study aims to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from tidal salt marsh into the atmosphere. As recent concerns have increased to restore wetlands in order to avoid greenhouse gas emissions it is pivotal to assess the potential benefits wetlands have with regard to CO2 sequestration, and potentially obliterate the concern for methane and nitrous oxide emissions. The study site is located at the Marsh Resource Meadowlands Mitigation Bank, Charlstadt, NJ. Gas sampling chambers were installed to measure ground level diffusive methane and nitrous oxide emissions at various vegetation assemblages.

      A student standing in a marsh collecting samples

      This project is a collaborative project with Dr. Karina Schafer at Rutgers University Newark, Drs. Gil Bohrer and William Mitsch at Ohio State University, and Dr. Peter Jaffe at Princeton University. Dr. Schafer's group measure CO2 fluxes with an eddy flux tower continuously measuring 3D wind, virtual temperature, CO2, H2O and CH4 concentrations. Dr. Jaffe's lab focuses on below ground emissions and soil pore water chemistry. A research team led by Drs. Gil Bohrer and William Mitsch is conducting a comparative study on freshwater marsh at the Wilma H. Scheirmerier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park.