From the BUBL to Invasive Species Trouble (Day 4)

July 28, 2010

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The day started with a visit to Niagara University and the biology laboratory of Dr. Bill Edwards [pictured in (1) above]. “We’re interested in learning how tributaries influence nearshore areas of the lakeshore,” Edwards said of his current research. He’s working with, among others, University at Buffalo’s Joe Atkinson, SUNY College at Buffalo’s Chris Pennuto, SUNY Brockport’s Joe Makarewicz and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Greg Boyer on this Lake Ontario Nearshore Nutrient Transport Study (LONNS). Investigators on the LONNS project have been assessing the hypothesis that nutrients are being trapped in the nearshore region, limiting offshore productivity and impacting the nearshore through benthic algae blooms and beach closures.

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After Edwards’ lecture on Lake Ontario’s thermal bar, nearshore currents and water movement in the Lake, our group of educators had the opportunity for some experiential learning. Some of the teachers spent time testing water samples for nitrate (2), dissolved oxygen [(3), left), salinity [(3), right], pH, conductivity and other parameters, while others observed Lake Ontario plankton under a microscope (4) (5). Eunice Reinhold and Scott Krebbeks, teachers in, respectively, Hamburg and Conesus, NY, excitedly identified copepods, blood worms, and even a juvenile quagga mussels in the sample they checked out.

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Some of the teachers also familiarized themselves with maps of the Great Lakes (6). Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface and volume. Lake Ontario, the 14th largest lake in the world, is the smallest of them in surface area. It ranks fourth among the Great Lakes in maximum depth, but its average depth is second only to Lake Superior.

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After the work in the laboratory, the group had the chance to learn about the Tuscarora Nation from Rene Rickard, a member of the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force (7). After a welcome in her native language, Rene shared information about the environmental ethic of her people. Using artifacts such as native corn and beans, beaded moccasins and woven baskets, she shared historic messages and future concerns about the Great Lakes.

As Rene explained, she and her fellow members of the Tuscarora Nation continually give thanks for Mother Earth, the water, plants, animals, trees, birds, winds, stars, and other natural elements. Of the water, she said, “We give thanks to all the waters of the world. Water is life. We know its power in many forms - waterfalls, rain, mists, streams, rivers, and oceans.”

Rene has contributed to other COSEE Great Lakes workshops and her presentations have also been very well received by participants. The educators were impressed with her passion for the environment as she shared the words of thanks that are spoken by the “People of the Longhouse” concerning water, animals, fish and the moon and stars. At the close of Rene’s discussion (8), one teacher asked, “How can you be so thankful for all the elements with all the hardships you face today?” Rene replied, “Our teachings show us we can’t fault people and we need to appreciate what we have.”

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The journey continued east to Rochester, where educators got to experience the Bathysphere Underwater Biological Laboratory (BUBL), located at the Rochester Museum of Science. BUBL is part of Monroe BOCES and helps students learn about Lake Ontario through a simulated journey below the lake to work at a functional laboratory scenario. Using math, science and technology visiting students learn about the biology, chemistry and shipwrecks of Lake Ontario.

Peter Robson, the technology education educator at BUBL, regaled the group with facts about Lake Ontario and provided a tour of one of the two laboratories that visiting students utilize.

The educators also had the opportunity to view the “Mysteries of the Great Lakes” at the Museum’s IMAX theater (9). The movie focuses on efforts underway to restore lake sturgeon, the largest fish found in the Great Lakes. These prehistoric-looking fish can actually live over 100 years! For more on the movie, check out the Science North Production’s Web site

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Chuck O’Neill, the Interim Associate Director of New York Sea Grant, met our group for dinner and afterwards provided us with a lecture on invasive species (10). O’Neill is renowned for his work with the Invasive Species Clearinghouse and the Partnerships for Invasive Species Management (PRISM) in New York (14). His presentation covered the characteristics of invasive species, their ecological and economic impacts and information on some of the notorious plant and animal species found throughout the state. Some quick facts he provided include:

  • As of 2005, about 5,000 non-indigenous species had established free-living populations in the U.S.
  • There are over 185 aquatic invasive species (AIS) in the Great Lakes basin
  • In New York State, there are approximately 400 aquatic and terrestrial invasive species
  • 15% of all invasive species have caused severe harm to agriculture, industry, human health, and the environment
  • invasive species are second only to habitat loss as a prime cause of decreased biodiversity.

At the close of his discussion, O’Neill provided the teachers with some resources on invasives (15). “I was impressed with his talk,” said teacher Scott Krebbeks. “Particularly, I was pleased to see that there are things that me and my students can do to help.” Kristin Sheehan, a teacher from Pulaski, NY, added, “I have a much clearer and greater depth of knowledge on invasive species now. I can’t wait to share my ideas with my students in the form of new lessons and activities.”

“I didn’t realize the impact that invasive species have in the region,” said Chris Cybulski, a teacher from Angola, NY. “I was surprised to see that zebra mussels have cost us $1.5-2 billion from 1989 to 2009.” Since colonization of the Great Lakes, these benthic filter feeders have covered the undersides of docks, boats, and anchors. They have also spread into streams and rivers nationwide. In some areas they completely cover the substrate, sometimes covering other freshwater mussels. They can grow so densely that they block pipelines, clogging water intakes of municipal water supplies and hydroelectric companies. Zebra mussels thrive because they out-compete with indigenous clams and mussels for both food and habitat.

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Prior to the talk, teachers viewed specimens of some of these invasives, including the fishhook waterflea (Cercopagis pengoi) (11), bloody red shrimp (Hemimysis anomala) (12), and zebra & quagga mussels (Dreissena spp.) [(13), quagga mussels].

SUNY Brockport’s Joe Makarewicz has investigated the fishhook waterflea for New York Sea Grant (see related article, pdf).

In a currently-funded New York Sea Grant (NYSG) research project, a team led by Cornell University’s Lars G. Rudstam is investigating such aspects of the bloody-red shrimp as diet, feeding rates, habitat preferences, growth rates, temperature and light preferences. The information from these studies will be used to help predict the likelihood that Hemimysis will contribute to food web disruption in the Great Lakes and provide valuable information useful for effective management of this new invader.

For more on zebra and quagga mussels, as well as a host of other invasive critters, check out NYSG’s Aquatic Invasive Species site. In addition to information on numerous species, there are links to Web sites of the National Aquatic Nuisance Species Clearinghouse and other Sea Grant, federal, state, local and non-governmental organization invasive species programs.

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