Everyone knows that clean water is important. But for the state of Michigan, surrounded on three sides by the Great Lakes, it is absolutely essential – to the economy and the environment. That's why the research being done by U-M professor Vincent Denef is so critical.

Denef, an LSA assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been studying microbes and their relation to the aquatic systems of the Great Lakes region since 2000, when he first came to Michigan to work on his doctorate at Michigan State University. Denef's research focuses on invasive species such as zebra and quagga mussels, and attempts to answer questions about how mussel invasion affects different bacteria and how the mussels themselves are actually changing what is happening in the lakes.

"Part of my research focus is on the effect of mussels on cyanobacteria (blue-green algae, so named because of the 'cyan' blue color of the bloom), trying to learn more about things like under what conditions do they get eaten, what determines how they get eaten, how does this change over time and are those changes happening because of evolution," Denef said.

Denef's research will contribute to a better understanding of mussels and other invasive species, leading to a cleaner environment and improved water quality, which in turn results in economic benefits to fisheries, the tourist industry and a better healthy overall food web.

The Denef lab currently is working on three interconnected research projects:

• Invasive species: a long-term assessment of the the zebra mussel invasion in the inland lakes of southern Michigan (with MSU);
• Land use and climate change: a study of how climate-affected environmental factors constrain the structure and function of the Great Lakes "food web," with a look toward predicting how climate change will impact carbon emissions (with Grand Valley State University and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration); and
• Interactions between phytoplankton and heterophic bacterioplankton: a look at the inlandlakes of southern Michigan to determine how phytoplanktonic algae can compete succcessfully with other algal species.

Read the full press release, which was written for the 2015 winter issue of “Michigan Impact,” U-M President Mark Schlissel’s alumni newsletter. Previously on the U-M Gateway.