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Robert W. Sterner


Graduate Faculty Memberships

Conservation Biology; Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior; Water Resources Science.

Research Interests

Limnology; plankton ecology; food webs; aquatic biogeochemistry; nutrient dynamics.

The Sterner Lab


My research combines ecosystem science, for example nutrient flux, with population and community processes such as competition and predation. I have become intrigued by the fact that the content of essential elements, such as N and P, varies both inter- and intraspecifically. This observation helps unite studies on community structure with those on nutrient processing. Work performed by myself and others in my lab has dealt with: nutrition (specifically mineral element limitation) in freshwater zooplankton; importance of recycled N and P for algae and bacteria; nutrient limitation of algal growth; the role of fish in nutrient cycles in lakes; and mathematical models for nutrient cycling by consumers. Work has ranged from pure mathematical models, to carefully controlled laboratory experimentation, to the nitty gritty of whole-lake studies and whole ecosystem experimentation. Most of this research has been sponsored by the National Science Foundation. For more information on the lab, I invite you to browse the "Sterner Lab" website linked below.

I like to refer to myself as a limnologist because this allows me a huge amount of freedom to study intriguing things, be they chemical, physical or biological, and I may utilize many different approaches to solving questions. I am currently pursuing questions from the sub-organismal to the whole ecosystem. It is the opportunity to integrate facts about our natural world that seem disparate, independent, even conflicting, that most intrigues me about ecology.

Selected Publications

Finlay, J. C., G. E. Small, and R. W. Sterner. 2013. Human influences on ecosystem nitrogen removal in lakes. Science 342:247-250.

Hood, J. M. and R. W. Sterner. 2010. Diet mixing: Do animals integrate growth or resources across temporal heterogeneity? The American Naturalist 176:651-663.

Sterner, R. W. 2008. On the phosphorus limitation paradigm for lakes. International Review of Hydrobiology 93:433-445.

Sterner, R. W. 2011. C:N:P stoichiometry in Lake Superior: Freshwater sea as end member. Inland Waters  1:29-46.

Sterner, R. W., E. Anagnostou, S. Brovold, G. Bullerjahn, J. Finlay, S. Kumar, R. M. L. McKay, and R. M. Sherrell. 2007. Increasing stoichiometric imbalance in Earth's largest lake. Geophysical Research Letters 34:L10406.

Sterner, R. W., T. Andersen, J. J. Elser, D. O. Hessen, J. M. Hood, E. McCauley, and J. Urabe. 2008. Scale-dependent carbon:nitrogen:phosphorus seston stoichiometry in marine and freshwaters. Limnology and Oceanography 53:1169-1180.


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