Photo by Brian Mattes

The application of deicers like NaCl in the United States has increased from 1-2 million tons in 1950 to nearly 20 million tons in 2010. The salinization of freshwater ecosystems is troubling because laboratory studies have shown that freshwater organisms can be negatively affected by increases in salinity. Observational studies and controlled laboratory toxicity tests have led to a growing concern about the potentially negative effects in aquatic environments. Additionally, the increased costs of NaCl, potentially negative effects on human health, and the possible degradation of roadside habitats has driven agencies to seek alternative deicers and organic additives that make NaCl more effective. Numerous alternatives and additives are being applied across North America, without any knowledge of their effects in aquatic ecosystems. Some commonly used additives include organic distillation byproducts and beet juice byproducts. Starting in 2015, I initiated the first ever experiments of road salt alternatives and additives on aquatic communities. These studies are extremely important for understanding how food webs, biodiversity, and species’ life-history traits are altered by deicers and deicer additives. I have found that alternative deicers and deicer additives alter food webs, change phosphorus cycles, increase microbial activity, and affect species life-history traits like timing of reproduction and emergence frequency. Future research will focus on the effects of these organic additives on microbial composition, and algal competition dynamics in freshwater systems.