University of Vermont

Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory

Undergraduate Student Research: Frances Iannucci

Climate Change and Cyanobacteria


Frances Iannucci is a senior undergraduate student from Wappingers Falls, NY studying Wildlife and Fisheries Biology. During the three years she’s been at the Rubenstein Lab, she’s been investigating the influences of climate change on fish near and far.

Two summers ago, Frances participated in an NSF-funded research project examining the impacts of climate change on the food web in Lake Hovsgal, Mongolia. Her Honor’s Thesis examines the impact of cyanobacteria bloom and climate on fish using laboratory experiments. The main premise behind her research is that cyanobacteria blooms are a lower quality food source than other types of phytoplankton. So, if the base of the food web includes a greater proportion of this low-quality food, how does this affect organisms such as fish that are higher up in the food web? She is using laboratory experiments to simulate how diets based on cyanobacteria blooms and increased temperatures predicted by climate change models will affect the metabolism of fish.

Frances enjoys learning how things work, and why things do the things they do: “the answers to these questions of how things work in an ecological context, while they might be difficult to determine, are all the more fascinating when you do figure them out, because you discover all these interconnected systems linking everything back to everything else. Sometimes those systems can be very complex, but other times they're surprisingly simple. Either way, I'm always amazed at how things in nature have evolved to function together to make the environment we see around us.”

Her research is looking at how one small part of this system functions in aquatic ecosystems, and how anthropogenic pressures may be influencing the way it works. And since it seems that climate change is going to be a pretty significant presence in the world, at least for the time being, she thinks it is important to understand how it might affect the environment around us, especially its effects on the ecological interactions that are less obvious, but still important to how the system works.

Looking forward, Frances hopes to continue to explore the ecology of aquatic environments, particularly those surrounding food web dynamics. “At the moment I have this idea in my head of branching out into marine systems, and maybe moving a little higher up the food web to something like seals, because who doesn't love seals? But we'll see how that actually plays out.” While she doesn’t necessarily have her heart set on studying fish forever, she knows they'll still pop up in whatever research she ends up pursuing. And that's fine by her, because she’s discovered during her time at UVM that “fish are pretty cool critters”.