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Dr. Jonathan J. Cole

Limnologist | PhD,1982, Cornell University

Expertise: freshwater ecosystems, biogeochemistry

Cole is now an emeritus scientist. During his active research career, Jonathan Cole studied the sources of carbon and its movements in rivers, lakes, and estuaries. Cole focused on the connections between these ecosystems and their surrounding watersheds. He and colleagues have shown that at a global scale, up to 50 percent of the carbon that is stored in soils is eventually exported to streams, rivers, and lakes, in the form of particles and dissolved organic matter or turned to carbon dioxide in these inland aquatic environments.  

Because of the transfer of land-based carbon to surface waters, the food webs of aquatic ecosystems are often partially supported by their watersheds. Working in both the Hudson River and in Wisconsin lakes, Cole and colleagues determined the size of this subsidy to fish populations and to invertebrate consumers. To put the question in simple terms, are fish and other aquatic consumers made of carbon that originates from aquatic plants or maple leaves?

To date, Cole’s research has shown that a surprisingly large fraction of the biomass of fish (and of the aquatic invertebrates they consume) is derived from land-based carbon. Using ambient radiocarbon (carbon 14), Caraco and Cole have determined that organic carbon in the Hudson River is 1,500 to 5,000 years old. Some invertebrates in the Hudson consume this ancient carbon. Thus, the food web in the Hudson is connected to carbon that was sequestered on land thousands of years ago.

Studies of food webs appear solely academic, but these answers strike a chord with fishermen. As fishing is the second largest recreational activity in the United States being able to talk with fishermen about where their fish come from offers an exciting opportunity to educate and interest a significant public group about ecology.

Wilkinson, Grace M., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, Ryan D. Batt, Cal D. Buelo, and Jason T. Kurtzweil. 2018. “Early Warning Signals Precede Cyanobacterial Blooms In Multiple Whole-Lake Experiments”. Ecological Monographs 88 (2): 188 - 203. doi:10.1002/ecm.1286.
Prairie, Y.T., Jukka Alm, Jake J. Beaulieu, Nathan Barros, T. J. Battin, Jonathan J. Cole, P. A. del Giorgio, et al. 2018. “Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Freshwater Reservoirs: What Does The Atmosphere See?”. Ecosystems 21 (5): 1058 - 1071. doi:10.1007/s10021-017-0198-9.
Cole, Jonathan J. 2017. “How Many Limnologists Does It Take To Fix The Plumbing? The Established Researcher”. The Bulletin Of The Ecological Society Of America 98 (2): 100 - 102. doi:10.1002/bes2.1316.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Cal D. Buelo, Jonathan J. Cole, and Michael L. Pace. 2016. “Exogenously Produced Co2 Doubles The Co2 Efflux From Three North Temperate Lakes”. Geophysical Research Letters 43 (5): 1996 - 2003. doi:10.1002/2016GL067732.
Liu, Heping, Qianyu Zhang, Gabriel G. Katul, Jonathan J. Cole, F. S. Chapin III, and S. MacIntyre. 2016. “Large Co2 Effluxes At Night And During Synoptic Weather Events Significantly Contribute To Co2 Emissions From A Reservoir”. Environmental Research Letters 11 (6): 64001. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/11/6/064001.
Pace, Michael L., Ryan D. Batt, Cal D. Buelo, Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Jason T. Kurtzweil, and Grace M. Wilkinson. 2016. “Reversal Of A Cyanobacterial Bloom In Response To Early Warnings”. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences 114 (2): 352 - 357. doi:10.1073/pnas.1612424114.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, Robert A. Johnson, and Maxwell J. Kleinhans. 2015. “Physical And Biological Contributions To Metalimnetic Oxygen Maxima In Lakes”. Limnology And Oceanography 60 (1): 242 - 251. doi:10.1002/lno.v60.110.1002/lno.10022.
Carpenter, Stephen R., Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, and Grace M. Wilkinson. 2015. “Response Of Plankton To Nutrients, Planktivory And Terrestrial Organic Matter: A Model Analysis Of Whole-Lake Experiments”. Ecology Letters 19 (3): 230 - 239. doi:10.1111/ele.2016.19.issue-310.1111/ele.12558.
Pace, Michael L., Stephen R. Carpenter, and Jonathan J. Cole. 2015. “With And Without Warning: Managing Ecosystems In A Changing World”. Frontiers In Ecology And The Environment 13 (9): 460 - 467. doi:10.1890/150003.
Batt, Ryan D., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, Robert A. Johnson, Jason T. Kurtzweil, and Grace M. Wilkinson. 2015. “Altered Energy Flow In The Food Web Of An Experimentally Darkened Lake”. Ecosphere 6 (3): art33. doi:10.1890/ES14-00241.1.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Jonathan J. Cole, and Michael L. Pace. 2015. “Deuterium As A Food Source Tracer: Sensitivity To Environmental Water, Lipid Content, And Hydrogen Exchange”. Limnology And Oceanography: Methods 13 (5): 213 - 223. doi:10.1002/lom3.10019.
Hamilton, D., Cayelan C. Carey, L. Arvola, P. Arzberger, C.A. Brewer, Jonathan J. Cole, E. Gaiser, et al. 2015. “A Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (Gleon) For Synthesising High–Frequency Sensor Data For Validation Of Deterministic Ecological Models”. Inland Waters 5 (1): 49 - 56. doi:10.5268/IW-5.1.566.
Hanson, Paul C., Michael L. Pace, Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, and Emily H. Stanley. 2015. “Integrating Landscape Carbon Cycling: Research Needs For Resolving Organic Carbon Budgets Of Lakes”. Ecosystems 18 (3): 363 - 375. doi:10.1007/s10021-014-9826-9.
Yang, Carol, Grace M. Wilkinson, Jonathan J. Cole, Stephen A. Macko, and Michael L. Pace. 2014. “Assigning Hydrogen, Carbon, And Nitrogen Isotope Values For Phytoplankton And Terrestrial Detritus In Aquatic Food Web Studies”. Inland Waters 4 (2): 233 - 242. doi:10.5268/IW10.5268/IW-4.2.700.
Mendonça, Raquel, Sarian Kosten, Sebastian Sobek, Jonathan J. Cole, Alex C. Bastos, Ana Luiza Albuquerque, Simone J. Cardoso, and Fábio Roland. 2014. “Carbon Sequestration In A Large Hydroelectric Reservoir: An Integrative Seismic Approach”. Ecosystems 17 (3): 430 - 441. doi:10.1007/s10021-013-9735-3.
Strayer, David L., Jonathan J. Cole, Stuart E. G. Findlay, David T. Fischer, Jessica A. Gephart, Heather M. Malcom, Michael L. Pace, and Emma J. Rosi-Marshall. 2014. “Decadal-Scale Change In A Large-River Ecosystem”. Bioscience 64 (6): 496 - 510. doi:10.1093/biosci/biu061.
Hondula, K. L., Michael L. Pace, Jonathan J. Cole, and Ryan D. Batt. 2014. “Hydrogen Isotope Discrimination In Aquatic Primary Producers: Implications For Aquatic Food Web Studies”. Aquatic Sciences 76 (2): 217 - 229. doi:10.1007/s00027-013-0331-6.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, and Michael L. Pace. 2014. “Use Of Deep Autochthonous Resources By Zooplankton: Results Of A Metalimnetic Addition Of 13C To A Small Lake”. Limnology And Oceanography 59 (3): 986 - 996. doi:10.4319/lo.2014.59.3.0986.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Michael L. Pace, and Jonathan J. Cole. 2013. “Terrestrial Dominance Of Organic Matter In North Temperate Lakes”. Global Biogeochemical Cycles 27 (1): 43-51. doi:10.1029/2012GB004453.
Wilkinson, Grace M., Stephen R. Carpenter, Jonathan J. Cole, Michael L. Pace, and Carol Yang. 2013. “Terrestrial Support Of Pelagic Consumers: Patterns And Variability Revealed By A Multilake Study”. Freshwater Biology, n/a - n/a. doi:10.1111/fwb.12189.