Field research updates from SNRE master’s and doctoral students

Finally taking data!


Hi everyone, sorry I’ve been gone for so long but the past few weeks have been slow on the research front. I’ve mentioned before that I use Acoustic Doppler Velocimetry to measure velocity in three directions in streams. A quick introduction to ADV- it uses the Doppler

Our large ADV (too large for the Maple!)

Our large ADV (too large for the Maple!)

principle to measure velocity by bouncing sound waves off of particles in the water. Since the speed of sound in water is constant at a given temperature, the difference between the time when the sound leaves and returns to the probe can be converted to the speed and direction of flow. The three probes on the bottom allow the instrument to measure not only streamwise velocities (the primary flow direction which you can easily see from shore) but velocity across the stream (from bank to bank) and vertical velocity in the water column. It sends out sound waves many times a second, which is really important when you want to see small eddies and turbulence patterns in the flow.

I brought an ADV with me to UMBS (shown at right mounted on its tripod) but by the first week of July the water level in the Maple River was too low to use this instrument. So we switched to the UMBS ADV, which is smaller and more suited to shallow water, but it is also much older. On our first trip to the field we found out that the battery was so old it couldn’t hold a charge anymore. We ordered a new battery and went

From left- me, Jenn and Paul snorkeling and counting fishes.

From left- me, Jenn and Paul snorkeling and counting fishes.

snorkeling and used a Marsh-McBurney (which is an electromagnetic flow meter which gives primary flow direction) while we waited. But, upon getting our new ADV batteries, we found that the laptop which runs the ADV also had old batteries which could no longer hold a charge! Rather than try to track down a new battery for a 10 year old laptop, we moved the ADV program to my personal laptop, which also took a few days.

We also lost a day last week when someone pulled up about a third of the flags which mark our research sites. That setback was probably the most frustrating one to me, because people up here are usually very supportive (and almost always curious) about the research that we are doing when we explain that we are from the Biological Station. I’m sure someone thought they were doing the right thing by taking all the flags out of the river and off the bank, but it took us a whole afternoon to put them back.

Anyway, today we took our first set of data! It was very exciting to finally be collecting the information that we came for, and I was quite relieved to see everything working as it should. We haven’t seen the fish response to our habitat modification that we were hoping for, so further changes to our research plan are forthcoming. But right now it’s time for dinner, so I’m signing off. Hopefully I’ll have a chance to write another update in a few days!

My research assistant Danielle collecting some ADV data at our most upstream site.

My research assistant Danielle collecting some ADV data at our most upstream site.

Site investigation


We wrapped up site selection at the end of last week. As promised, here’s a photo (courtesy of my research partner Danielle) from our preliminary investigations. I’m holding a Marsh McBurney flow meter which we used to measure in-stream velocity at potential sites.

In stream flow measurement

In stream flow measurement

Now we’ve selected our fifteen sites for habitat modification, but before adding the blocks to create different flow patterns we need to see what’s there in the first place. We’ll be measuring existing flow patterns with the ADV and snorkeling to see where the fish are. Here’s me doing some snorkeling looking for fishes.


Looking for some fishes in the East Maple River

My last photo for today is (I think) the most interesting. While snorkeling at one of our sites, I turned my head to the left and saw this guy almost completely hidden beneath some woody debris. If my identification skills are accurate it’s a male Nocomis biguttatus, or hornyhead chub (but if I’m wrong, someone please correct me!), since you can clearly see orange-tinted fins, a strong stripe that goes through his eye and the tubercles above his nostrils. The big gash on his side is probably why he was hiding, as well as why he stayed still long enough for me to get this picture of him; he was clearly very wounded and hardly moved at all as I approached. My guess is that a heron or some other fish-eating bird took a swipe at him but he got away. Any other theories out there?

A wounded male hornyhead chub

A wounded male hornyhead chub

Well that’s all I have for today. My next post will probably be on our flow measurements with the ADV, as those should be beginning tomorrow. I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July weekend, and until next time!

Mussels, friendly neighbors, and bug sex


Field work began 2 weeks ago in the Paw Paw River, a large tributary of the St. Joseph River. At 50 sites along the Paw Paw, my field assistant, Jamie, and I are collecting habitat data such as flow, substrate composition, bug collections, and qualitative information. Later in the season, I will be doing mussel surveys – native, not zebra! – in these same 50 sites with Pete Badra from the Michigan Natural Features Inventory. Pete has done mussel surveys throughout Michigan. For now, as we collect the habitat data, we are doing a quick visual search for mussels to note presence or absence. So far we have hit 20 sites and have only found 2 live mussels and several dead shells – not all that encouraging, but I’m hoping Pete will help us find more.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of landowners. Most of the Paw Paw River watershed is private property, so I was a little nervous about accessing the river off 50 private property sites. Before surveying each site, we approach each landowner’s house to ask permission to access the river. Most everyone has been extremely kind and generous! They seem to really care about their river and keeping it clean and healthy. Many landowners are interested in what we are doing, and excited to learn that native freshwater mussels can be indicative of a healthy system.

As we do quick bug collections at each site, we are noticing that the damselfly family, calopterygidae, is very abundant and widespread in this watershed. I’ve found the larvae at almost every site thus far. I also have noticed the adults in these sites and have enjoyed watching their mating behaviors. After taking an aquatic entomology class last semester I have learned to truly appreciate bugs! The adult males are a striking iridescent green color. When they mate with the females they grab them with claspers and the two create a heart shape with their bodies. The female then flies down to the water and deposits her eggs while the male watches over her and chases away any other males that approach.

One more week of habitat data collections then on to mussels!

Male Adult Calopterygidae

Male Adult Calopterygidae

Male Adult Calopterygidae

Male Adult Calopterygidae

Giant Floater?

Giant Floater?

Selecting research sites


Hello everyone! I returned from Guatemala nearly two weeks ago and have since started research and classes at the University of Michigan Biological Station (hereafter UMBS, the Bio Station or the Bug Camp). Everything is going well, even if tomorrow is supposed to be cold and rainy like today, which makes fieldwork a lot less fun than usual. Right now we are in the process of site selection. My teammate Danielle and I have been in the Maple River three times now marking possible sites where we are planning to modify local flow conditions using concrete blocks and then measure these flow changes and see what sort of response we get from the local fish populations. Site selection takes time and we’re trying to expand the ranges of velocities, depths and substrates that we’re studying, so tomorrow we’ll be finding the last few potential sites and then making the final decision on Thursday with Paul Webb, the supervising professor. Then we’ll be actually doing the habitat modifications and beginning to take data.

On the class front, I’m very much enjoying the chance to learn more about fishes. After just a week I’m better with a dichotomous key than I ever expected to be (although there is much room for improvement) and I’m surprised at how many species I’ve already learned by sight. I’ve always admired biologists of all stripes for their ability to identify plants and animals, and it’s fun to begin to acquire this skill myself. This Friday we’ll be going snorkeling in the Maple to study fish populations and community structure, and I’m very much looking forward to that. However, that means tomorrow Danielle and I have to remark the research sites because the flags we’re currently using might get caught in a seine!

Sorry there aren’t any photos associated with this post; I have some but the UMBS computers do not have any Flash plug-ins, and those are most popular for downloading photos. I’ll remember to make the next post from my personal computer. In the meantime, I hope everyone has a great Fourth of July weekend and I’ll post again as soon as I can!

Insect ID woes


I hate small flies. No really, I do.

GAA Adventures

We are concluding a hot week here in the Chicago! While it has been tempting to ditch the morning train for a dive in Lake Michigan, I have been diligently swimming in a week of research at the Global Alliance for Artists office. This has primarily consisted of exploring three different topics:

  1. Artists with Social/Environmental Causes – What an intriguing project! GAA is currently working on building its artist coalition (basically a membership of artists dedicated to solving social and environmental issues). I am researching artists that fit the GAA mission and who would be interested in joining. Through this process, I have come across some really interesting artists. For example, dancer/choreographer Jennifer Monson has initiated a dance project called “Bird Brain” that promotes awareness of preserving habitat for migratory species. The dance “investigates migratory patterns and habits of birds and other animals, as well as their biophysical and metaphorical relationships to humans as fellow travelers in the world.” Musicians are playing their part too – check out Eric Hutchinson’s song “Modern Age” for a strong statement on climate change. There are also an incredible number of artists ranging from filmmakers to fashion designers working on human rights issues. It’s been really exciting to explore these people and interesting to observe how humanitarian and environmental problems often overlap.
  2. Grants – As I mentioned in my last entry, I have also been researching and completing grant applications for GAA. I have actually been able to find a substantial number of opportunities especially for the Art and Nature program. This has also been really valuable for me since I intend to work in the non-profit sector after SNRE. I am getting a good feel for various grant databases and the types of applications they are seeking. Hopefully some of these opportunities come through!
  3. Environment Programs – The Art and Nature program is what initially attracted me to GAA, but they are also interested in working on additional environmental projects in the future. Because the other GAA staff have art and business backgrounds, I feel especially adept in helping them increase their environmental resources. Since their program is currently based in Chicago, I am researching urban environmental issues in the Chicago area and the type of work other organizations utilize to solve them. There are many, MANY environmental organizations in Chicago! This is great because it provides a range of potential partners for GAA to engage in future art and environment projects.Between these three topics, I have kept very busy this week! I was also able to attend the GAA board meeting last night. Because GAA is a younger non-profit, it was especially interesting to observe their process for approaching future growth and operational maintenance. While it certainly seems challenging to cultivate a young organization in midst of an economic recession, I am continually impressed by the enthusiasm and innovation of the GAA board members and staff. I feel very fortunate to have this summer opportunity – there is always something new to learn!

Chicago Experience


Runoff on rivers and children with kittens,
Bright towers of metal where homeless are sittin’,
Lake winds attack you and tied up trains sing,
These a few of Chicago’s strange things,

Cream colored grants apps and organic noodles,
An office with door bells and chocolate poodles,
Evading the droppings beneath pigeons’ wings,
These a few my everyday things,

Connect children to nature through art in their classes,
Or Millennium Park workshops while hoping rain passes,
A non-profit group that’s beginning to swing,
These are a few of my favorite things!

…I thought I would try to intrigue you with my unique compilation of favorite things, but I think it is time to break the news that I am a bit of a poser in this “Field Research” series. My field, as you probably have guessed, is Chicago (not many field left in this city), and my research would be more appropriately described as an experience. Thus, let me share with you my Chicago experience. (more…)

DR Wrap-up


I’m finishing up my last week in the Dominican Republic and I thought I’d try to zoom out a bit from the narrow, focused research I’ve been working on and end with a couple of broader observations. The work we’ve been doing is ultimately aimed at helping the people of the DR adapt to climate change, but the country has obstacles to overcome. People living in poverty often don’t have the luxury of preparing for climate hazards, and are forced to be reactive instead. They have higher priorities (like survival) than concerning themselves with how their actions might adversely affect the natural environment. Finally, the most vulnerable people I saw, those who are most in need of outside support, are living in rural areas that are disconnected from larger population centers. These people don’t constitute a significant voting body, and as a result the federal government often ignores their needs and focuses its resources in the big cities like Santo Domingo and Santiago.

My experiences here have been valuable. I’ve gained insights that will make the data that’s been collected more meaningful to me. But more than that, I think I’ve gotten a slightly better understanding of why climate change truly is the challenge of our time. In the U.S., a couple of degrees temperature change likely won’t have a drastic impact on people’s daily lives, at least in the short term. We’ll find the money to build sea walls to protect prime coastal real estate from the rising tide, or construct more dams to overcome water shortages. But most of the world isn’t like the U.S. Many people in less developed countries lose everything they own when hurricanes and floods hit, and barely have time to rebuild their lives before the next disaster. Others are one big drought away from starvation. Without help, a rise in temperature of a couple of degrees could be the difference between survival and not making it for much of the world. If nothing else, this trip has vividly taught me this lesson.

Learning from the experts – scouting


Last week, Katie and I shadowed a professional IPM (integrated pest management) scout named Jeanette at one of our study orchards. For 15 years, Jeanette has made a career out of monitoring insects and disease on orchards in the Flint, MI area. She visits the orchards weekly and uses a mix of visual scouting, beating branches to see what falls out, and specialized traps such as pheromone traps for pest moths. She then relays what she finds to the farmers, who use that information to decide if and when to spray.

I thought that seeing an orchard through Jeanette’s eyes would help us train our own eyes to better see pests and predators. And boy was it true! Jeanette is amazing– she moves through the orchard at what feels like a hundred miles an hour, with her hand lens, beating stick and tray in constant motion. She would tear off a leaf, glance at the back, and point out predatory (beneficial) mites that are near-microscopic and translucent. Katie and I spent most of the time scrambling to catch up with her and peering through our hand lenses trying to even see what Jeanette could identify with her naked eye.

It was a great example of how learning to see is a key part of any kind of scientific work or deeper understanding. I still remember how after my field botany course in undergrad, I discovered that the woods and fields had transformed from a collection of random green plants to a group of friends with cool names– “oh, look, there’s Daucus!” It’s exciting to start to really see the orchards, and make friends like Amblyseius fallacis, the tiny, nearly translucent mite that can eat more than its weight in pest mites.

A. fallacis, greatly magnified

A. fallacis, greatly magnified

First postcard (from the lab)


Good morning everyone, and I’m sorry I haven’t begun posting here sooner. As a new blogger, I’ve been avoiding this first post because I haven’t been able to think of a good way to start talking about what I’m working on; the only option seems to be jumping right in at the middle and filling things in as I go along! So pardon my seeming disorganization and please feel free to ask for clarification or leave comments on any post. Here goes . . .

My past month has been filled with two main projects that have kept me quite busy. The first is work in the hydraulics laboratory with my advisor, Dr. Aline Cotel. We spent the past semester gathering data on turbulence in vegetated marshes by creating a model marsh with Plexiglass rods and placing it in the flume in our lab. Our data collection method during the school year was Acoustic Doppler Velocimetry, or ADV, which basically uses sound waves to measure the velocity of particles in the flow. Here’s a photo of our lab setup with the large and small ADVs and our Plexiglass “marsh.”

Flume setup

Flume setup

Our hope was to get the summer started by changing to Particle Image Velocimetry, or PIV, which uses lasers and a camera to take photos of how the same particles move in the flow. We use software to analyze the images and from this we can get a lot of useful information on the structure and intensity of eddies in the flow. However, the problem of the past month has been that our equipment doesn’t work! We’ve tried everything, from new connector cables for the camera and lasers to cleaning the connections to repairing the timing box, so now we’re just waiting for some repairs to be done and then work will resume.

My second project has been working with Dr. Steve Wright (civil engineering) and Dr. Sara Adlerstein-Gonzalez (SNRE) on the final product for the 2008-2009 Graham Scholars Program. I was part of their course Sustainable Energy Development in South America last semester and now that the semester is over I’m serving as an editor for the parts of the final paper that were written by my seventeen classmates (shoutout to the Backpack Kids!) The fourth draft went to Dr. Wright on Friday and we’re hoping to have the paper completed by the end of June. If you’re interested in learning more about this class, check out this piece from the University of Michigan News Service.

So what’s next? Well, today or tomorrow we are supposed to receive a portable PIV instrument on loan from Dr. John Dabiri at Caltech. I’ll have about 1 day to learn to use this instrument along with Dr. Cotel and my labmates Jenahvive and Pratik, and then I leave for a week in Guatemala! I spent last summer in Guatemala (this will probably be the subject of a post when I return) and I’m very excited to return. Then it’s one day in Ann Arbor to pack my bags and research equipment and head to UMBS! I am looking forward to the start of classes and work up north, and I promise to keep this page updated on my successes and struggles this summer to the very best of my ability. Until next time!

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