Date of Award


Document Type

Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biological Sciences (MS)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Biological Sciences


Nancy Ann Auer


Heavy metal-rich copper mine tailings, called stamp sands, were dumped by mining companies directly into streams and along the Lake Superior shoreline, degrading Keweenaw Peninsula waterways. One of the largest disposal sites is near Gay, Michigan, where tailings have been moved along the shoreline by currents since mining ceased. As a result, the smallest sand particles have been washed into deeper water and are filling the interstitial spaces of Buffalo Reef, a critical lake trout spawning site. This research is the first to investigate if stamp sand is detrimental to survival and early development of eggs and larvae of lake sturgeon, lake trout, and Northern leopard frogs, and also examines if the presence of stamp sands influences substrate selection of earthworms. This study found that stamp sand had significantly larger mean particle sizes and irregular shapes compared to natural sand, and earthworms show a strong preference for natural substrate over any combination that included stamp sand. Additionally, copper analysis (Cu2+) of surface water over stamp sand and natural sand showed concentrations were significantly higher in stamp sand surface water (100 μg/L) compared to natural sand surface water (10 μg/L). Frog embryos had similar hatch success over both types of sand, but tadpoles reared over natural sand grew faster and had higher survival rates. Eggs of lake sturgeon showed similar hatch success and development over natural vs. stamp sand over 17 days, while lake trout eggs hatched earlier and developed faster when incubated over stamp sand, yet showed similar development over a 163 day period. Copper from stamp sand appears to impact amphibians more than fish species in this study. These results will help determine what impact stamp sand has on organisms found throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula which encounter the material at some point in their life history.

Included in

Biology Commons