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Road salt harms zooplankton. “It prevents him from having spring hatching success.”

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Road salt, which is used in winter, negatively affects the hatching of zooplankton. – If for some reason zooplankton develops worse or there is less of it, then there may be more frequent or stronger blooms of cyanobacteria – said Dr. Sebastian Szklarek, an ecohydrologist from the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Zooplankton are tiny animal organisms floating beneath the surface of water in bodies of water that control the amount of phytoplankton, which are microscopic plant organisms found in water, including but not limited to cyanobacteria.

– If for some reason zooplankton develops worse or there is less of it, then there may be more frequent or stronger blooms of cyanobacteria – said Dr. Sebastian Szklarek, ecohydrologist from the Polish Academy of Sciences, popularizer of water science and founder of the “Świat Woda” blog.

One of such reasons may be excessive salinity of the reservoir, among others due to road salt (in the form of sodium chloride NaCl). – Road salt flows into local freshwater, then affecting the entire ecosystem throughout the year. Reservoirs located next to smaller rivers, fed by runoff from rainfall or snowmelt (rainwater drainage), will dilute this salt to a greater or lesser extent after winter. However, if we have reservoirs fed only by runoff from parking lots or roads, excessive salinity remains there much longer, accumulating over the years, Szklarek said.

Road salt affects the spring awakening and hatching of zooplankton

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In his research, the scientist analyzed how the salinity of a water reservoir, caused by road salt runoff, may affect the spring awakening of zooplankton and its spring hatching. – In short, the impact is negative, although different species react differently. The species is known for being used as food in aquariums Daphnia magna (Waterfly), an effective phytoplankton eater, sensing spring conditions, began to hatch, but due to the salinity of the water, the process stopped. I assume that either this salt penetrates the eggs, or – when they open slightly – it gets through the holes into the embryo, which dies. Daphnia magna Therefore, there is no developed mechanism that would “warn” against excessive salinity and “order” to wait out these unfavorable conditions – explained the ecohydrologist. The second species tested – Thamnocephalus platyurus he behaved slightly differently. – At high salinity, the eggs simply did not hatch. They probably have this “warning” and “waiting” mechanism, because after rinsing with clean water, the eggs of this species hatched, Szklarek said. – The two species of zooplankton I have selected are model organisms that can be treated as indicators. Therefore, it can be said that the salinity of the reservoir with road salt has a negative impact on the spring hatching success of zooplankton, which in turn will cause worse water filtration, phytoplankton growth and larger blooms, including cyanobacteria, emphasized Szklarek.

Negative impact of increasing salinity on freshwater ecosystems

The results of his research were published in the journal “Ecohydrology & Hydrobiology”. They were carried out in laboratory conditions. Sebastian Szklarek plans to also conduct them in environmental conditions. The above topic is part of the broader research interests of Dr. Sebastian Szklarek, including the impact of increasing salinity in freshwater ecosystems. – Last year’s disaster on the Oder clearly showed what long-term salinization of water can lead to. Therefore, we need to study these long-term dependencies on the entire ecosystem to be able to predict the directions in which this problem may develop – he emphasized.

Szklarek reminded that road salt used in winter (in the form of sodium chloride NaCl) is still the cheapest, most available and effective agent.

– There are alternatives, although they are more expensive. However, it is worth asking about long-term environmental costs. If the price of the product included the environmental value lost due to pollution, the use of currently more expensive alternatives would not be so expensive – concluded the ecohydrologist.

Main photo source: Adobe Stock

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