York University               


Research in Dr. Quinlan’s Lab


Aquatic Ecology, Limnology, Paleolimnology


Freshwater aquatic ecosystems are currently affected by multiple anthropogenic stressors. These stressors include recent climate change, acid rain, contaminant pollution, nutrient enrichment (eutrophication), land-use change (vegetation clearance for agriculture, urbanization etc), reservoir/impoundment construction and exotic species invasions, to name a few.  Environmental monitoring programs of aquatic systems that are based on an ecological perspective (simultaneous monitoring of biological, chemical and physical variables) are relatively new as early programs were designed to monitor the impacts of acidic deposition in the 1970s.  As a consequence, long-term ecological datasets (>20 yrs data) are extremely rare and located primarily in geographic regions downwind of major acidic deposition (north-eastern USA and central Ontario region of Canada).  This lack of long-term ecological data presents difficulties in answering some basic questions that are important to consider when assessing the ecological impacts of stressors: What are ‘natural’ or pre-disturbance conditions of the ecosystem?  What is the natural variability of the system?  It is possible to obtain this long-term data through proxy methods, such as through examination of paleoecological data archived in lake and pond sediments.  Sediments are natural archives of ecological data, with a host of physical, chemical, and biological variables providing insights into past aquatic ecosystem conditions.


64141508610_0_BGMy area of research specialization involves examining the chitinous subfossil remains of midges (Diptera: Chironomidae; “chironomids”) in lake and pond sediments, to generate paleoecological assessments of past aquatic ecosystem changes.  However, my research interests are broad, as I am interested in a breadth of paleoecological and ecological methods (including “real-time” environmental monitoring) and indicators (including algae (e.g. diatoms) and zooplankton (e.g. Daphnia and Chaoborus)) to examine aquatic ecosystem responses to a variety of human-induced stressors.  My research interests, and the projects undertaken by my graduate students, encompass numerous types of aquatic systems, ranging from embayments of the Laurentian Great Lakes in southern Canada to shallow ponds in the northern tip of the Canadian High Arctic.






Recent publications (last 2 years)

(underlined names are students from the Quinlan lab)


Medeiros AS, Taylor DJ, Couse M, Quinlan R, Hall RI & Wolfe BB. 2014. Biological and nutrient responses to catchment disturbance and warming in small lakes near the Alaskan tundra-taiga boundary. Holocene 24: 1308-1319.


Wazbinski KE, Quinlan R. 2013. Midge assemblages and their relationship to biological and physicochemical variables in shallow, polymictic lakes and reservoirs of New Jersey and New York State. Freshwater Biology 58: 2464-2480.


North RL, Barton D, Crow AS, Dillon PJ, Dolson RML, Evans DO, Ginn BK, Hawryshyn J, Jarjanazi H, King JW, La Rose JKL, León L, Lewis CFM, Liddle GE, Lin ZH, Longstaff FJ, Macdonald RA, Molot L, Ozersky T, Palmer M, Quinlan R, Rennie MD, Robillard MM, Rodé DL, Rühland KM, Schwalb A, Smol JP, Stainsby E, Trumpickas JJ, Winter JG, Young JD.  2013.  The state of Lake Simcoe (Ontario, Canada): long-term responses to multiple stressors.  Inland Waters 3: 51–74.


Ginn BK, Rühland KM, Young JD, Hawryshyn J, Quinlan R, Dillon PJ, Smol JP.  2012.  The perils of using sedimentary phosphorus concentrations for inferring long-term changes in lake nutrient levels: Comments on Hiriart-Baer et al., 2011.  Journal of Great Lakes Research 38: 825-829


Larocque-Tobler I, Stewart MM, Quinlan R, Trachsel M, Kamenik C, Grosjean M.  2012.  A last millennium temperature reconstruction using chironomids preserved in sediments of anoxic Seebergsee (Switzerland): consensus at local, regional, and Central European scales. Quaternary Science Reviews 41: 49-56


Medeiros A, Biastoch RG, Luszczek CE, Wang XA, Muir DGC, Quinlan R.  2012.  Patterns in the limnology of lakes and ponds across multiple local and regional environmental gradients in the eastern Canadian Arctic., Nunavut, Canada.  Inland Waters 2: 59-76


Medeiros AS, Friel C, Finkelstein S, Quinlan R. 2012.  A high resolution multi-proxy record of pronounced 20th century environmental change at Baker Lake, Nunavut.  Journal of Paleolimnology 47: 661-676


Quinlan R, Paterson MJ, Smol JP.  2012.  Climate-mediated changes in small lakes inferred from midge assemblages: the influence of thermal regime and lake depth.   Journal of Paleolimnology 48: 297-310.


Summers JC, Rühland KR, Kurek J, Quinlan R, Paterson AM, Smol JP.  2012.  Multiple stressor effects on water quality in Poplar Bay, Lake of the Woods, Canada: A midge-based paleolimnological assessment of hypolimnetic oxygen conditions over the last two centuries.  Journal of Limnology 71: 34-44


Hawryshyn J, Rühland K, Quinlan R, Smol JP.  2012.  Long-term water quality changes in a multiple-stressor system: a diatom-based paleolimnological study of Lake Simcoe.  Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 69: 24-40


Current graduate students in Dr. Quinlan’s lab



RayBRaymond Biastock, PhD Candidate (currently on leave)

The examination of patterns in the limnological and biological differences of Arctic lakes and ponds as a function of their position in the landscape.


Using a hierarchical classification of Arctic aquatic systems to select study areas, I will sample the physical, chemical, and biological traits of lakes and ponds.  I aim to determine the relative influences of local, watershed-specific factors vs. regional, climate-mediated factors on aquatic ecosystem functioning and structure. With estimates of the relative importance of regional-scale factors on freshwater ecosystems, it would be possible to estimate the relative effects of predicted future climate warming on Arctic lake, pond and river ecosystems.




ChrisLChristopher Luszczek, PhD Candidate

An assessment of the composition, structure and variation of benthic communities in Canadian Arctic lakes and ponds


I will examine the variables responsible for structuring aquatic macroinvertebrate communities Across mainland Nunavut.  I will determine whether community composition primarily represents habitat-scale variables (such as littoral substrate) or landscape-scale variables (such as climate, surrounding watershed vegetation and geology). As such, these research findings have important implications for rapid ecosystem assessment and creating biomonitoring programs. This research will hopefully provide valuable information for better understanding ecosystem functioning in these sparsely studied Arctic systems






  Ryan Scott, PhD Candidate - The ecology and biogeography of benthic macroinvertebrates in the Mackenzie River Delta, Northwest Territories


My study aims to examine invertebrate community ecology and food web structure in small lakes and ponds in the Mackenzie River Delta in the Northwest Territories, focusing on the response of aquatic communities to gradients in floodplain connectivity. The scope of my project involves analyzing benthic assemblage composition, food web structure using stable isotope analysis, and biogeographic history and dispersal using genetic markers. My research will shed light on ecosystem structure and function in Arctic floodplain environments, and be of value in monitoring and predicting climate-driven changes in sensitive northern aquatic ecosystems.



Dmitri Perlov, MSc Candidate - Inferring past deepwater oxygen in the central basin of Lake Erie using a paleolimnological approach


My thesis will using a paleolimnological approach, using subfossil Chironomidae remains preserved in Lake Erie sediments, to reconstruct past hypolimnetic oxygen conditions.  Climate change and nutrient loading have had substantive effects on Lake Erie’s productivity and deepwater (hypolimnetic) oxygen concentrations. To date, numerous limnological papers have been published on the subject of hypolimnetic oxygen dynamics in the central basin of Lake Erie. However, such studies provide information on hypolimnetic oxygen during a period of monitoring that comprises approximately five decades of data, while a paleolimnological approach may generate centuries of data, providing background or baseline environmental data which can be used to better understand Lake Erie’s ecosystem dynamics.



Past students in Dr. Quinlan’s lab



biomon7Andrew Medeiros, PhD 2011

A biogeographic examination of climate driven impacts to Arctic aquatic systems










KristinW.jpgKristin Wazbinski, MSc 2011

Paleolimnological analysis of nutrient enrichment for criteria development in New Jersey and New York lakes


Kristin examined surficial intervals of sediment cores from shallow, polymictic lakes in the New Jersey and New York states in USA, to determine which limnological variables were influencing ecological gradients in subfossil Dipteran (Ceratopogonidae, Chironomidae, Chaoboridae, Simuliidae) and Ephemeropteran assemblages.







Armin Namayandeh, MSc 2009

Diversity and distribution of benthic invertebrates in lakes and ponds of Nunavut, Canada


Armin examined patterns in benthic macroinvertebrates in a suite of lakes and ponds in the vicinity of Rankin Inlet and Iqaluit, Nunavut.  Shoreline samples of benthic invertebrates were collected using 500-µm mesh D-nets, and community composition of these samples was analyzed using multivariate statistics (e.g. Redundancy Analysis, RDA) to determine which environmental gradients are primarily responsible for structuring macroinvertebrate communities in these water bodies.



Danielle on boatDanielle Rodé, MSc 2009

A paleolimnological approach to assessing the sustainability of the Lake Simcoe cold-water fishery based on historic habitat quality and fish abundances


Danielle used a paleolimnological approach to determine how hypolimnetic dissolved oxygen concentrations and fish abundances have changed in Lake Simcoe since European settlement.  Historic hypolimnetic oxygen levels were quantified using a chironomid-based inference model. Fish abundances were reconstructed using subfossil Daphnia ephippia as indicators of past planktivorous predation pressure (as a proxy for fish abundance).  The purpose of this research is to determine if current rehabilitation goals to remediate Lake Simcoe water quality represent natural historic conditions of the lake system.





[utf-8] Copy of IMG_1248Fatemeh Panahi Dorcheh, MSc 2007

Inferring past fish abundance from Daphnia ephippia size in south-central Ontario lakes


Fatemeh processed surficial intervals of sediment cores from 50 lakes located in the Sudbury and Muskoka-Haliburton regions of south-central Ontario.  An inference model was developed using the dorsal length of subfossil Daphnia ephippia as a proxy indicator of fish abundance (expressed as planktivorous fish CPUE).







Dmitri Perlov – Honours thesis, BIOL 4000 8.0, April 2015

A paleolimnological study examining chironomid assemblages in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut


Cameron Christensen – Honours thesis, BIOL 4000 8.0, April 2013

Sampling effort of benthos in subarctic Manitoba lakes: do three lake samples more accurately represent benthic invertebrate community composition than one sample?


Sarah Payne – Honours thesis, BIOL 4000 8.0, April 2010

Effects of a 2007 pesticide influx on the macroinvertebrate community of Spencer Creek, Dundas, ON from 2008-2009


Luana Sciullo – Honours thesis, BIOL 4000 8.0, April 2007

Reconstructing the abundance and predation intensity of planktivorous fish in Leech Lake, Ontario, using historical changes in Daphnia ephippia as a paleoindicator


Christine Gibson – Honours thesis, BIOL 4000 8.0, August 2006

Examining the relationship between chironomid communities and environmental gradients of Wapusk National Park, northern Manitoba


Jan Moryk – Honours thesis, BIOL 4000 8.0, August 2006

Changes in zooplankton communities in Lake Opeongo, Algonquin Park, in response to changes in summer water temperatures


Mark Townsend – Honours thesis, BIOL 4000 3.0, December 2005

A comparison of different methodologies designed to assess ecological recovery in freshwater ecosystems