UCARE: Undergraduate Creative Activities & Research Experiences


Date of this Version

Spring 2020

Document Type



Chen, M., Kimnach, S., Vondracek, K., and Corman, J., 2020. Impacts of human recreation on nutrient availability and periphyton abundance on the Niobrara River. Poster.


Copyright 2020 by the authors.


In freshwater ecosystems, eutrophication can create many problems. Excess nutrients, like nitrogen or phosphorus, promote algal or cyanobacterial growth. This growth also leads to increased organic matter production and decomposition, a process that can reduce oxygen concentration in the water. When this happens, species diversity declines, transparency of the water declines, and anoxia may lead to fish kills . Of particular concern is the possibility of cyanobacteria blooms that create compounds toxic for humans. Many of the waters across Nebraska receive excessive nutrients from human activities, largely related to agriculture (Dickey 1982). However, there is one river, the Niobrara River, that is exceptional in Nebraska for its relatively undisturbed condition. Home to over 160 distinct plant and animal species, 76 miles of the Niobrara River are classified by the National Park Service (NPS) as a National Scenic River. This means that the river has a mostly undeveloped shoreline, is free-flowing (no dams) and most importantly, it is free of contamination. Despite the protection, the very reason that the Niobrara is so important culturally - because of its high water quality - is the very thing that might be threatened. Every year, nearly 80,000 visit the Niobrara River, with most of the activity happening during the summer (Learn). In certain areas of the Niobrara summer tourism is suspected to cause an influx of nutrients or cause physical disturbances, potentially harming the ecosystem. The following question was asked as we began our project; Do human recreational activities have a direct impact on the river ecosystem?