Current WRP Projects: Project 29

Is the Muddy Creek food web affected by coalbed natural gas inputs?

  • Project Number:  29
  • PIs: 
    • Dr. Lusha Tronstad, Research Scientist, Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, University of Wyoming,, 307-766-3115
    • Dr. Wendy Estes-Zumpf, Research Scientist, Wyoming Natural Diversity Database, University of Wyoming,, 307-766-3042
  • Status:  Ongoing.
  • Period:  March 10 - Feb 11


The Muddy Creek watershed is a unique ecosystem because the stream contains a distinctive fish assemblage, is physically degraded, and will soon be influenced by oil and gas development. Separating the effects of multiple stressors can be challenging; however, having prior data can be very useful. In the proposed study, we will attempt to separate the effects of physical degradation, and oil and gas development by sampling prior to oil and gas development (now) and afterwards (in 3 years). To extract oil and gas, groundwater must be pumped to the surface; groundwater associated with oil and gas resources can contain detectable concentrations of trace elements. The produced groundwater is often discharged into streams or ponds. Trace elements in produced water can be taken up into food resources (e.g., algae) and transferred to higher trophic levels in the food web through predation. We will collect animals from each trophic level in the Muddy Creek food web at 2 locations (above and below the current coalbed natural gas input) and measure their tissue for trace element concentrations. Concurrently, we will measure each organism for trophic position using δ15N. As a result, we will plot trophic position (δ15N) against trace element concentration for each organism (e.g., μg Se/g tissue) to measure how trace elements are moving through the food web. Additionally, we will estimate the concentration of trace elements in different organisms at each trophic level. The organisms we are measuring vary greatly in size (single-celled to birds and fish), and makes comparing the amount of trace elements in each organism difficult. Therefore, we will calculate a common unit for easy comparison. The results of the proposed study will describe the links between these animals and how trace elements are passed between predators and prey. By understanding the Muddy Creek ecosystem now, land managers and developers can make informed decisions about management needs and potential mitigation efforts.

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