Director of the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory; Associate Professor of Aquatic Ecology in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources with a secondary appointment in the Department of Biology

My research interests focus broadly on food web dynamics, with specific interests in how animal behavior and environmental conditions affect trophic interactions. I work in systems ranging from small, hyper-eutrophic ponds to large, deep oligotrophic lakes, and on organisms ranging from phytoplankton to apex piscivores. My active areas of research include the influence and impact of diel vertical migration on invertebrate population structure, how cyanobacteria blooms influence energetic pathways, the impact of spatial resource subsidies on winter food web interactions, and the role of environmental disturbance on phytoplankton biodiversity. For more information see my google profile.

Undergraduate and Graduate Students

Ben Block Walleye Picture.jpg

Ben block

PhD Department of Biology

Research topics that I am primarily interested in focus around the lake ecosystem level. How trophic levels interact with one another, how food webs are constructed and vary with seasonality, and how lake ecosystems will respond to climate change are all large scale questions I focus on. Specifically, I am interested in seasonality and how food webs change as the seasons change. I will conduct the majority of my research during the winter months to compare and contrast changes that occur in food web structure, predator-prey interactions, animal behavior and more, between summer and winter months.


BSc Student in the Rubenstein School

I have been studying the vertical migration of the macroinvertebrate Mysis in Lake Champlain since 2013. I am comparing fatty acid profiles of benthic- and pelagic-caught Mysis to test for evidence of partial migration.



MSc Student in the Rubenstein School

My research interests include aquatic ecology, environmental toxicology, and understanding how chemical substances affect single organisms and entire ecosystems. I am fascinated with understanding how organisms cope with these stressors, how they enter environments, and how they may be mitigated or monitored. My Master’s project is focused on cyanobacteria toxins in fish. These toxins present a serious health concern to humans and are associated with various ailments, such as cancer and neurological disorders. My work will include a meta-data analysis of cyanotoxin levels in lakes and fish tissues on a global scale. Additionally, I will sample Lake Champlain and Shelburne pond to provide baseline data on cyanotoxins in local fish.



PhD Student in the Department of Biology

My research focuses on the use of lipids, specifically fatty acids, to quantify the relative importance of different food-web pathways in sustaining both pelagic and benthic ecosystems. I work on Missisquoi Bay, a eutrophic bay of Lake Champlain that experiences annual cyanobacteria blooms. I am also interested in the role of essential fatty acids as possible limiting nutrients for higher trophic levels such as zooplankton and fishes, their potential impact on fish health, and how environmental conditions may trigger or terminate such impacts of blooms on the health of food webs.

Photo Credit: Sally McCay

Photo Credit: Sally McCay


BSc Student in College of Arts & Sciences, Honors College

I have been identifying phytoplankton from Shelburne Pond and Mississquoi Bay samples since 2014 on an inverted microscope and the lab's fluid particle analyzer, FlowCam. I am currently working towards my senior Honors College undergraduate thesis, which explores vertical migration of phytoplankton under ice in Shelburne Pond.



PhD Student in the Department of Biology

I am interested in winter limnology, specifically community and food web ecology in plankton communities under ice. As precipitation patterns are altered and temperatures increase with climate change, temperate lakes may experience decreased snow cover and subsequent increased light penetration, as well as decreased ice cover. These changes may lead to higher inoculum concentrations of some phytoplankton groups (e.g. cyanobacteria) as they emerge from winter, potentially leading to higher magnitude or frequency of harmful algal blooms later in the year. I use a combination of lab work, field experiments, and quantitative methods to explore these hypotheses related to how winter severity influences plankton communities throughout the year.


MSc Student in the Rubenstein School

My research investigates how climate change may influence the success of cisco recruitment in the Great Lakes, with a focus on the impact of reduced ice cover and warmer temperatures have on eggs as they incubate over winter. I am applying a genetics approach to help delineate whether the changes we expect to see are due to environmental impacts on genetics or superior parental genetics that have lead to better adaptation to these changes.


BSc Student in the Rubenstein School

I started working in limnology the fall of 2014, learning to do various nutrient analyses on samples from Shelburne Pond. I then learned to identify and count phytoplankton on a microscope and process samples with the FlowCAM. Now, as a third-year student, I am conducting research on zooplankton migrations under-ice in Shelburne Pond as an independent project. I use a microscope and counting pad to identify, measure, and count zooplankton, and then will look at how their density and biomass change over the course of 24 hours.


PhD Student in the Rubenstein School

The topic of phytoplankton disturbance and succession is well documented and studied (Reynolds 1988). But if we consider storm events as a form of disturbance, disturbances to phytoplankton assemblages may be a more ubiquitous phenomenon than we realize. Through the international collaboration GEISHA (Global Evaluation of the Impacts of Storms on freshwater Habitat and structure of phytoplankton Assemblages) we have compile a vast high frequency data set of phytoplankton, weather, and other lake variables. With this collaboration and data set we hope to: (1) describe and define a storm events, (2) determine how storms of varying strength physically affect lakes of varying size and shape, and (3) determine how phytoplankton communities within these lakes change in response to storms.


BSc Student in the Department of Biology

My research project is on the food web in Shelburne Pond. I am looking at the effects of phytoplankton community composition changes on the zooplankton Daphnia mendotae. In this study I use fatty acids as a biomarker to track these relationships.


BSc Student in the Rubenstein School

I am  interested in the aquatic plants in Lake Champlain, in particular phytoplankton. Currently I’m working with Haley Grigel, where she is teaching me how to use the inverted microscope and FlowCam for phytoplankton analysis.


PhD Student in the Rubenstein School

As invasive species, shifting nutrient regimes, and climate change alter trophic pathways in aquatic food webs, understanding how biota respond to different stressors seems paramount. Overall I am interested in quantifying energy flow through aquatic food webs, from primary producers to top predators, and also the underlying mechanisms driving animal migrations specifically factors influencing Mysis diel vertical migration. I earned a BSc from SUNY-ESF and worked in the Great Lakes region on a food-web study of Lake Huron and a project evaluating the importance of Lake Ontario’s deep chlorophyll layer. On a more narrow scale, I am interested in predator-prey dynamics of zooplankton, mysids and fish in large lakes. My research aims to provide scientists and resource managers with adequate knowledge of ecosystem structure and function to make informed management decisions using an ecosystem-based approach.


BSc Student in the Rubenstein School, Honors College

I have been working in the lab since fall 2015 identifying rotifer samples from Shelburne Pond. My research explores the food web dynamics of Shelburne Pond by testing if there is a relationship between rotifer community dynamics and the presence of larger zooplankton, Daphnia. This research is part of my Honors College senior thesis.


BSc Student in the Rubenstein School

I am currently working with Taylor Stewart to help maintain cisco embryos currently being exposed to various light treatments. I help assess mortality and keep the tank system a clean environment during embryo development. I have an interest in how climate change is impacting global ecosystems, which fits in well with Taylor’s work on how environmental processes are affecting cisco.


PhD Student in the Department of Biology

My research interests focus on population ecology and how climate change is affecting habitat and population structures of aquatic ecosystems. I’m currently working towards quantifying and modeling environmental variability influencing cisco recruitment bottlenecks in Lake Superior. Cisco and other related Coregonid species worldwide have experienced population declines due to fishing pressure and environmental changes that appear to have reduced recruitment. The reason for declining recruitment is unknown, but winter ice conditions appear to play a role in recruitment success and ice and water temperature regimes have changed over the past 20 years. I am tracking cisco egg development from the post-spawning egg stage to hatching under various environmental treatment levels to identify the mechanistic relationship between each factor and egg hatching rates and survival.


BSc Student in the Department of Biochemistry

I am interested in understanding the chemical and molecular basis of aquatic ecosystems as well as finding new ways to share science using film and storytelling. At the Stockwell Laboratory I am helping Allison Hrycik comparing results from traditional microscopy of phytoplankton samples with results from the FlowCam particle analyzer system.

Former Students & Staff


PhD, Rubenstein School, 2016

Current Position: Post-doc at Umea University in Sweden

Victoria Pinheiro

MSc, Rubenstein School, 2015

Current Position: Executive Assistant to the Assistant Dean, College of the Environment, University of Washington; MSc Candidate, University of Washington Communication - Digital Media


Post-doc, Rubenstein School, 2014-2015

Current Position: Assistant Professor, Rollins College


MSc, Rubenstein School,  2015

Current Position: PhD student, Department of Biology, University of Vermont


MSc, Rubenstein School, 2014

Currently Position: Science teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy