Hey everyone! Took me a bit longer to get back on track after my recent travels and some very busy time at work, but I’m getting a Friday 5 up today. Woo! Feeling good about that.
I spent a big chunk of today working with various volunteers to collect data around the field station. We tracked one of our box turtles this morning, and then I had a quick lunch before one of my school groups came out for their regular data collection. The group I was working with today is a really excellent group of high schoolers from a nearby charter school. They’re incredibly smart (they know it, but they’re really down to earth too) and they are all excited about learning. They come every three weeks after school with their biology teacher to work with me as part of a research club they’ve developed at their school. That’s right: these young men and women are coming to do science for fun on their own time, just because they want to learn something. How can you resist loving a group like that?!
We have examined the stream to try to understand why there are so few insects living in what seems to be lovely water. I’ve mentioned in a past blog post that I think flooding is to blame in this particular case, but my high schoolers are helping me monitor the stream as we try to solve the mystery of the missing bugs together. They actually did a lot of the prep work for the project and have developed their own protocols and methods for the sampling they do. I think it’s awesome, so let me take you through today’s visit so you can learn about what they’re doing! First, we measured several water quality parameters:
We’re using Vernier probes for this. Someday I’d love to get a grant to buy a Hydrolab or some other swanky probe so we can measure all the water quality parameters at one time rather than plugging and unplugging every probe to get the readings, but for now it’s a long, involved process to get the data recorded. We’re looking at temperature, dissolved oxygen, flow, salinity, nitrate, conductivity, turbidity, and pH. Then we collect an insect sample from the stream. I sadly didn’t get a photo of this part of the process, but they lay down what is essentially a quadrat (a plastic frame they built themselves) in the stream, hold a net at the end, and shake the hell out of the materials inside the quadrat to wash any insects into the net. It’s a sort of MacGuyvered serber sampler. Works pretty well!
Once we have a sample in the net, we sort the insects from the rest of the crud that ends up in the net with the insects:
Picking is a pretty easy process. You just dump the sample into a white dish pan and remove any bugs you find. We transfer any bugs we find into a super fancy sorting tray:
Okay, okay, so our sorting trays are ice-cube trays. They work well! At this point, all the insects are still alive, swimming around in the water. Everyone watches them moving around and makes comments about what they think they might be doing. However, because we can’t identify them down to a useful level at the stream, we preserve the bugs in alcohol and the group takes their samples back to school with them. We’re planning a sorting/identification date so we can identify our insects to family and genus, and then all the data will go into a database. At some point, we’ll tackle the data analysis and see what sorts of water parameters might be leading to the lack of insects in the stream. Over the 3-4 years we’re planning to keep this project going, we’ll also be able to see seasonal patterns in the life histories of several of the insects and will document the aquatic insects living in the Prairie Ridge stream in a systematic way for the first time.
While I know the group enjoys the data collection part of the experience, we typically take the scenic route back to the top of the hill, wandering slowly about the grounds. We’ve sampled grapes and persimmons. We’ve watched birds and looked at plants. We go exploring up and down the stream. A couple of trips ago, the group found an enormous cow femur in one of the pools upstream of their sampling area, and that was absolutely thrilling to them! This time we wandered down to look at the pool where the damselfly nymphs live, and it had some lovely reflections:
And just because they hadn’t done it yet, today we wandered into the Nature PlaySpace, a nature-based play area we recently built for families with young kids to help get everyone out in nature. I’ve got to say that it was really entertaining to see high schoolers running all over the play area like maniacs, sliding down the slide, and climbing up the center of the mole hill:
Five of them packed into the opening at the top of the mole hill at one point and had their teacher take a picture of them. They all giggled the whole time!
All in all, a pretty good day! A little chilly, but I spent a lot of time in the water, and that’s always good. Add a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers into the mix and it’s even better!
Hope everyone has a good weekend, and to my American readers, have a great LONG weekend!