Got Nature? Blog

Quagga mussels, which arrived in Lake Michigan in the 1990s via ballast water discharged from ships, have colonized vast expanses of the Lake Michigan bottom, reaching densities as high as roughly 35,000 quagga mussels per square meter. The invasive species that can have major economic impacts filters up to 4 liters of water per day, and so far seems unaffected by any means of population control. It is also a constant threat to other systems, as it is readily transported between water bodies.

Researchers have long known that these voracious filter feeders impact water quality in the lake, but their influence on water movement had remained largely a mystery.

“Although Lake Michigan is already infested with these mussels, an accurate filtration model would be imperative for determining the fate of substances like nutrients and plankton in the water,” Purdue University PhD candidate David Cannon said. “In other quagga mussel-threatened systems, like Lake Mead, this could be used to determine the potential impact of mussels on the lake, which could in turn be used to develop policy and push for funding to keep mussels out of the lakes.”

For full article and video view Purdue Researchers Get to the Bottom of Another Quagga Mussel Impact.

Resources:
A Field Guide to Fish Invaders of the Great Lake Regions, Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Lady Quagga Announces Latest Tour, llinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
Protect Your Waters, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service & U.S. Coast Guard

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG)
University of Illinois Extension and Purdue University Extension


You’ve heard about all the traditional careers. But what about being an outdoor scientist? Introducing the world to The Familiar Faces Project which shares careers in fisheries, acquatic sciences, forestry, wildlife and sustainable biomaterials. This video will show by example what it’s like to be an outdoor scientist, walking you through a typical work day of Megan Gunn. For more information about The Familiar Faces Project, contact thefamiliarfacesproject@gmail.com.

Resources:
Aquatic Ecology Research Lab, Forestry and Natural Resources

Megan Gunn, Aquatic Ecology Research Scientist
Purdue University Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


QSalamander Photouestion from Josh L Lady: Which salamander is this?

Answer:
The picture posted is one of our mole salamanders (family Amystomatidae). This common family name comes from their habit of staying underground and in burrows of other creatures, except when breeding. Species in this family can be difficult to tell apart at times. Adding to the confusion, there is a species called the Mole salamander (Ambystoma talpoideum) which in Indiana is only found in the extreme southwestern part of the state.

The species below is likely a Small-mouthed Salamander (Ambystoma texanum). It can be found throughout Indiana except the extreme northwestern and southeastern portions of the state. The Small-mouthed Salamander is a moderate sized salamander characterized by its slender head and small mouth. Most individuals are dark gray to grayish brown with light gray speckles (often resembling lichen-like markings), particularly on the lower sides of the body. Adults usually reach 11-19 cm in length and have an average of 15 costal grooves (i.e., the “wrinkles” on the sides of the body; range 13-15).

I say it is likely a Small-mouthed Salamander because they are nearly identical to in appearance to the Streamside Salamander (Ambystoma barbouri). There are minor differences in the teeth and premaxillary bones between the two species; however, these structures are not readily observable in the field. Geographic location and habitat type are the best ways to distinguish these two species. Streamside Salamanders are restricted to extreme southeastern Indiana, occupy hilly areas, and breed in streams. Small-mouthed Salamanders exist nearly statewide, occur in wooded floodplains, and breed in ephemeral wetlands.

Resources:
Salamanders of Indiana, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center.
Appreciating Reptiles and Amphibians, The Education Store
Forest Management for Reptiles and Amphibians: A Technical Guide for the Midwest, The Education Store
Ranavirus: Emerging Threat to Amphibians, The Education Store

Brian MacGowan, Wildlife Extension Specialist
Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources


Help The Hellbender PosterThe eastern hellbender is a large, fully aquatic salamander that requires cool, well-oxygenated rivers and streams. Because they require high-quality water and habitat, they are thought to be indicators of healthy stream ecosystems. While individuals may live up to 29 years, possibly longer, many populations of this unique salamander are in decline across their geographic range. It is the largest salamander in North America, found in and around rivers and streams in 17 states from New York to Missouri. Many hellbender populations are in decline within their geographic range. This publication provides information on identifying and preserving this important aquatic animal. You can find Help the Hellbender, FNR-536-W, as well as other great resources that can be found at the-education-store.com.

Resources:
How Anglers and Paddlers Can Help the Hellbender, The Education Store
Hellbender ID, The Education Store
Improving Water Quality by Protecting Sinkholes on Your Property, The Education Store
Improving Water Quality at Your Livestock Operation, The Education Store
Healthy Water, Happy Home – Lesson Plan, The Education Store

Nick Burgmeier, Research Biologist and Extension Wildlife Specialist
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Dr. Rod Williams, Associate Head of Extension and Associate Professor of Wildlife Science
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


The Eastern hellbenders are the largest salamander in North America and have survived unchanged for nearly 2 million years. Hellbender populations are declining across their range, from Missouri to New York. This decline is likely caused by human influences such as habitat degradation and destruction. Many states are developing conservation programs to help the hellbender. To find out what you can do visit helpthehellbender.org.

Resources:
How Anglers and Paddlers Can Help the Hellbender, The Education Store
Hellbender ID, The Education Store
Improving Water Quality by Protecting Sinkholes on Your Property, The Education Store
Improving Water Quality at Your Livestock Operation, The Education Store
Healthy Water, Happy Home – Lesson Plan, The Education Store

Nick Burgmeier, Project Coordinator, Research Biologist & Wildlife Extension Specialist
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Dr. Rod Williams, Associate Head of Extension and Associate Professor of Wildlife Science
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


Posted on October 5th, 2016 in Aquaculture/Fish, Aquatic/Aquaculture Resources | Comments Off on Mitchell T Zischke

buoy2What happens when you take water buoys and pair them with Twitter? That is the question that spurred the creation of the twitter account @TwoYellowBuoys, a twitter feed that shares live data collected by these two buoys on Lake Michigan.

Data from the buoys is crucial and continues to help boasters, anglers, or paddlers, make decisions about their personal safety, as the buoys provide them with a way of assessing the conditions for the day.

To see the full article and learn more, visit the IISG blog here.

Resources:
Using Buoy Data to Teach about Lake Michigan Conditions and Current Issues, Got Nature?
New Buoy Offers Real-Time Lake Michigan Data in Indiana, Got Nature?
Meet the buoys of summer who help Purdue and Illinois study Lake Michigan: BTN LiveBIG, BTN

Carolyn Foley, Assistant Research Coordinator
Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant (IISG) & Purdue Forestry and Natural Resources


Human changes to the environment, like urbanization and climate change, have caused and will cause many wildlife extinctions. Efforts to conserve species occur all over the world, but not all species are seen as equal. In the animal conservation world, charismatic species play the lead roles in a show, while lesser-known or less-attractive species act as stage crew: we all know they are present, but we’re largely uncertain of what they do or how they play into the whole picture. As a result, we tend to see less conservation funding for these species.

Charismatic species are often large, fluffy, or cute: polar bears, narwhals, pandas, and koalas are excellent examples. They dominate news stories, children’s books, and most forms of media. In contrast, non-charismatic species are more difficult for humans to relate with: mussels, mice, and small fish fall into this category.

Societal bias towards charismatic species starts young: if you ask any child what their favorite animal is, chances are high that the species will be either cute and cuddly like a rabbits and foxes, or big and fearsome like bears or sharks. Chances are low that it will be a something slimy, small, or otherwise unattractive like a fish, reptile or bug.

Why is funding so low, or non-existing, for the not so furry, not so cute endangered species?
According to a study in the U.K., adults are more likely to donate money to causes represented by photos of charismatic species than non-charismatic species. This bias appeal results in the majority of research and conservation funding being dedicated to a small group of about 80 well-known, charismatic species. These species have what Dr. Hugh Possingham of the National Environmental Research Program (NERP) refers to as “donor appeal”. The remaining, non-charismatic species, tend to fall by the wayside, receive less funding and research interest. As a result, they tend to go extinct at higher rates. As Dr. Possingham says, “…if you’re an obscure animal or plant in a remote place, you have next to no hope of getting conservation resources.”

Clubshell mussel

Clubshell mussel.

Thrasher the Clubshell mussel.

Results showing that the public are not excited to conserve non-charismatic wildlife is not surprising to Belyna Bentlage, a Purdue University outreach specialist, who specializes in research and outreach related to mussels. “People like to protect species that they feel they can relate to, that they can imagine owning as pets, like bear cubs or playful monkeys. It’s difficult to feel a connection to a hellbender or mussel. These animals don’t move as much, aren’t very interactive, and are not very cute. People just can’t relate to them in the same way as more charismatic species,” says Bentlage.

The lack of relate-ability of non-charismatics can spell disaster for many species. Belyna says, “When people don’t feel connected to a species, they won’t give money to fund research or protect the species. Lawmakers aren’t interested because the public isn’t interested, so it’s left up to researchers. So little is known about the ecological role of many of these species, that it’s difficult for researchers to justify why they should be studied. With the competitive funding climate in research, less charismatic species loose out.”

With a tight funding climate, uninterested lawmakers, and a fickle, how can we protect these threatened non-charismatic species?
One solution might just be in making non-charismatic species charismatic. Outreach coordinators like Belyna Bentlage are working cooperatively with biologists to change the way humans perceive of slimy, spiny, gross or otherwise unattractive species.

snuffbox mussel

Snuffbox mussel.

Duke the Rayed Bean Mussel

The project Belyna works on, with Purdue FNR Professor Linda Prokopy and Associate Professor Rod Williams gives super-hero personalities to non-charismatic mussels. Each mussel species has a special power that reflects something about its innate characteristics, like the snuffbox and clubshell mussel images shared in this blog.

“Making these animals more relatable and fun allows both children and adults to better understand their importance. People consciously pick their favorites, compare the drawings, and then get excited when they see these species in the wild. It creates a public that is really interested in protecting the species,” Bentlage explained.

Erin Kenison, a PhD student at Purdue University, has helped use similar tactics to promote conservation of hellbenders. The poorly named species is actually a giant salamander that used to inhabit all Indiana rivers, but is now restricted to the Blue River giant salamander that used to inhabit all Indiana rivers, but is now restricted to the Blue River.

The large, green, slimy creature is aptly nicknamed “old lasagna sides” because of its flappy skin that bunches at its sides. The Help the Hellbender project uses costumes, cartoons, coloring pages and games to generate public attention for the species.

“Historically, its been believed that hellbenders had evil powers and could even cause the death of babies,” says Kenison. “Making the hellbender more relatable dismantles a lot of these beliefs, making it more likely that river-users won’t try to harm them.”

Are we willing to learn more about the non-charismatic species and help with conservation efforts?Hellbender MascotHellbender
While there are many challenges for the conservation of non-charismatic species, Belyna Bentlage also says that the public’s lack of familiarity with these species may be a strength. “When people don’t know much, they are often willing to learn and adapt their actions. They are not as set in their ways, so it’s more likely that we can introduce new behaviors to protect a species. Overall, people generally want to help threatened species, not hurt them.”

Non- charismatic wildlife, as slimy or spiny or unattractive as they may be, are an important part of the natural ecosystem. Next time you see a mussel, hellbender, or similar creature, take a photo, but leave it be. These species need your help and support to survive, even if their beauty is mainly on the inside.

If you would like to find out how you can help or learn more about these endangered species, see the resources listed below:
Heart of the Tippy, protecting endangered mussels
Help the Hellbender
Endangered Plant and Wildlife Species, Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR)

Zoe Glas, Graduate Research Assistant
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


Improving Water Quality At Your Livestock Operation videoHellbenders have been rapidly declining since the 1980s due to various factors, including poor water quality.  Many ecological issues contribute to poor water quality, and one important issue we can focus on is how we use the land around rivers and streams. Livestock operations produce a lot of nutrients – largely in the form of manure. When next to a river, this can flow into the water, which reduces water quality through the high nutrient input and added sedimentation.  However, livestock owners can greatly reduce the impact of their operations on water quality using a number of different management practices.

In this new video “Improving Water Quality at Your Livestock Operation,” we focus on how livestock owners can use management practices on their farm that improve water quality while still meeting their production goals. Bob Sawtelle, a livestock owner along the Blue River, uses a forested riparian buffer to filter out runoff from his cattle pen, resulting in cleaner water and healthier wildlife. In this video, he discusses the ecological and economic benefits to this practice in further detail.

Please visit the Help the Hellbender website for more information about other management practices that improve water quality, and also check out the National Resource Conservation Services website (NRCS) for news and other information related to soil and resource conservation.

Resources:
Improving Water Quality At Your Livestock Operation – The Education Store, Purdue Extension Resource Center
Improving Water Quality Around Your Farm – The Education Store
Options for Farmers – Help the Hellbender
Identifying Benefits and Barriers Associated with Reforesting Riparian Corridors – Purdue Engineering
Riparian Area Management – United States Environmental Protection Agency

Megan Kuechle, Undergraduate Extension Intern
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Dr. Rod Williams, Associate Head of FNR Extension and Associate Professor of Wildlife Science
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


Posted on May 25th, 2016 in Aquatic/Aquaculture Resources, How To | No Comments »

Improving Water Quality Around Your FarmHellbenders have been rapidly declining since the 1980s due to various factors, including poor water quality.  Poor water quality is caused by a variety of ecological issues, one of which is land use along the river. Farmers can reduce the impact of their farming practices on water quality using a number of different management practices.

In this new video “Improving Water Quality Around Your Farm,” we focus on how farmers can use management practices on their farm that improves water quality while still meeting their production goals. Todd Armstrong, a farmer on the Blue River, uses cover crops and no till farming to reduce soil erosion and describes the ecological and economic benefits to these practices in this video.

Please visit the Help the Hellbender website for more information regarding other management practices that improve water quality, and also check out the National Resource Conservation Services website (NRCS) for news and other information related to soil and resource conservation.

Resources:
Improving Water Quality Around Your Farm – The Education Store, Purdue Extension Resource Center
Options for Farmers – Help the Hellbender
Water Quality – National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)
Managing Cover Crops: An Introduction to Integrating Cover Crops Into a Corn-Soybean Rotation – The Education Store
Adoption of Agricultural Conservation Practices: Insights from Research and Practice – The Education Store

Megan Kuechle, Undergraduate Extension Intern
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources

Dr. Rod Williams, Associate Head of FNR Extension and Associate Professor of Wildlife Science
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


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