Watch This! Madison East Student Documentary on the Yahara Lakes

It’s spring break in Madison and, while we’re not exactly out swimming or boating just yet, that doesn’t mean we can’t take a moment to love our lakes. Enjoy this video from Madison East High School students on what the lakes mean to our city and how folks (including CFL grad student, Sam Oliver) are working to better understand and protect them.

Lifeblood of Madison from Madison East High School on Vimeo.

I don’t know about you, but I’d say these students deserve a little time off for a job well done!

Researchers Get to the Bottom (& Beyond) of Lake Mendota Invasive Species

It looks like ice-off is only a couple days away on Madison’s lakes. Before we hit the completely open water season, though, here’s a look back at some semi-frozen fieldwork from early March. Graduate student, Jake Walsh, shares his experience coring Lake Mendota’s sediment layers…

by Jake Walsh

The past couple of Mondays I’ve been out coring Lake Mendota with Sam Muñoz (PhD student with Jack Williams in Geography – Sam is a paleoecologist) and Tom Shannon (undergraduate researcher in the Vander Zanden Lab).

Coring the sediment on Lake Mendota

Tom Shannon (left) and Sam Munoz, (right) prepare to take a lake sediment core sample. Photo: Jake Walsh

This was my first time leading any sort of winter sampling, so learning the ins and outs of driving the ATV, running the gas powered auger, and making sure the ice was safe (it was almost two feet last week and is still like a foot and a half this week but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to worry irrationally about ice conditions) was actually a really fun experience.

Driving through several inches of water and slush in 60 degree weather yesterday was a very strange, fun, and terrifying experience. The reason I was out in that slush was because I’m interested in looking at how long the spiny water flea (or, SWF, a tiny invasive zooplankton) has been in Lake Mendota. (This is an extension of the work from a previous blog post on sleeper cells).

We originally detected SWF in 2009 when it reached population densities higher than anything recorded anywhere else in the world, as far as I know. The water sample looked like SWF apple sauce to a class of limnology students out for a class lab with professor Jake Vander Zanden. However, my population model predicts that SWF could have been in the lake indefinitely, existing at low densities before some combination of temperature, water chemistry and other conditions allowed it to explode, “activating” this “sleeper cell” in 2009. So far, we’ve found a couple of SWF specimens in a sample from 2008 which corroborates the sleeper cell story, but this sediment coring will help us go back further. Continue reading

Fish Fry Day: “FishWerks,” New App to Optimize Fish Barrier Removal

Pretend for a moment that you’re a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources scientist tasked with connecting migratory Great Lakes fish to upstream habitats. Let’s say the stream you’re working on has two dams and five impassable road crossings – all blocking fishes like walleye, sturgeon and suckers from getting upstream.

Even the lowly road culvert, can have big impacts on fish passage. Photo: S. Januchowski-Hartley

Even the lowly road culvert can have big impacts on fish passage. Photo: S. Januchowski-Hartley

Now imagine that you’ve only got enough money to take three of those barriers down. How do you get the biggest “bang for the buck?” Which three removal projects would most positively impact fish populations?

Well, we can finally say that, thanks to research from Center for Limnology faculty, post docs, and students, as well as  tons of work from the WDNR, Nature Conservancy and the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery’s “Optimization” project – there’s now an app for that.

FIshWerks in action. Courtesy: Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

FIshWerks will let scientists and resource managers prioritize removal efforts. Courtesy: Wisconsin Institute for Discovery

Called “FishWerks,” the new web-based decision support tool can now help folks at places like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service better target barrier removal in Great Lakes tributaries. It’s truly a win-win situation – humans spend less money to achieve greater impact, and fish are reconnected with more prime real estate crucial to carrying out their life cycles.

For more on how optimization works and all of the data and effort that went into making the FishWerks app, check out this excellent piece from the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.

To see FishWerks in action, sit tight and stay tuned – we’ll have more from researchers in Pete McIntyre’s group soon. Happy Fish Fry Day!

New Map Offers Better Look at World’s Water-Logged Regions

Until recently, when ecologists wanted to study aquatic ecosystems at a large spatial scale, they had to rely on maps that weren’t exactly fine-tuned. In fact, these satellite-generated maps were assembled from plot points of 25 square kilometers.

New Global Inundation Map. Courtesy: Etienne Fluet-Choinard

New Global Inundation Map. Courtesy: Etienne Fluet-Chouinard

To get a sense of that scale, says Etienne Fluet-Chouinard, such a map would combine all of the Yahara Lakes into a single visual data point, or pixel. Sure, the result would reflect that there’s a lot of water here in Madison, but such a broad brush stroke lumps several different ecosystems and land types into a single blue dot. Fluet-Chouinard is a second year PhD student in Pete McIntyre’s group here at the Center for Limnology,

Etienne Fluet-Choinard

Etienne Fluet-Chouinard

To address this problem and get a more detailed look at water on the earth’s surface, Fluet-Chouinard, and a team of other researchers paired the usual satellite imagery with more detailed topographic maps. Thanks to gravity (and the fact that water flows down hill) the researchers were then able to accurately predict where water would be and create a new map at a much higher spatial resolution. Their result was published in the journal, Remote Sensing of Environment on the first of this month. Continue reading

Field Samples: Trying to Predict Ecosystem Changes Before They Occur

 Field Samples is a weekly Q&A asking researchers what they’ve been up to and what they’ve learned. Today, post-doctoral researcher, Eric Larson, from Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, talks about better managing our resources by trying to predict ecosystem changes before they occur.
Who are you, where are you from, and how did you get here?
Eric in the field

Eric Larsen runs water samples as he hunts for eDNA of the invasive rusty crayfish in a Vilas County lake in Wisconsin. Image: Eric Larsen

I’m Eric Larson, a postdoc at the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research at Chicago’s John G. Shedd Aquarium. I’m also joint appointed with David Lodge’s lab at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative. Before Chicago, I was a postdoc for two years at the University of Tennessee’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology working with Paul Armsworth on ecological economics and protected area design, largely around projects with The Nature Conservancy in Appalachia. My PhD was with Julian Olden at the University of Washington in Seattle, where I worked on the ecology and management of both native and invasive crayfishes in the Pacific Northwest. Going even farther back, I got my undergraduate degree in fisheries at the University of Idaho in Moscow, and also have a Masters in biology from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. So I’ve covered a lot of ground (and water) over the last decade!

Pretend we just boarded an elevator and you only have a one-minute ride to tell me about your research – can you capture it a few sentences?
I’m a conservation scientist focused primarily on protecting and managing freshwater species and ecosystems. My work is unified by an interest in improving conservation decision-making under data-limited circumstances. Ideally, we’d like to be able to anticipate species at risk of extinction before they begin experiencing population declines, or predict species likely to become invasive before they’re introduced to new environments. In both of those cases, we’re often limited by the data available to make predictions. I’m trying to get the most out of our statistical and modeling methods, so we can see around the corner and anticipate environmental challenges before they happen. By being proactive on these issues, we save money spent on management or mitigation, and hopefully prevent unwanted impacts to species and ecosystems.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Are Science Blogs Passé? (No).

Here’s some great insight into both the health of science blogs on the Internet and the unfortunate lack of ecology-themed work over at The UnderStory, a blog by our friend, Katie Burke:

Brown, Paige (2014): MySciBlog Survey – Top Read SciBlogs by SciBloggers. figshare. - See more at:

Brown, Paige (2014): MySciBlog Survey – Top Read SciBlogs by SciBloggers. figshare. – See more at:

by Katie Burke

Last week, Dynamic Ecology blogger Jeremy Fox wrote a post about the state of science blogging and raised an interesting question:

Despite a saturated blogs market, why are there so few ecology blogs? In it, he notes that blogs peaked in 2009, but science blogs written by academics are doing pretty well. Still, an active blogosphere for and by ecologists does not exist–in contrast to some other fields, like economics. My ears perked up immediately. The UnderStory, whose audience has been growing steadily, still has room to grow further! Paige Jarreau, who studies science blogging, was even more positive in a response post–she contends that Fox is wrong when he says blogging is dead. Rather, she says, it’s evolving.

But, I think Fox missed a point about why ecologists are not blogging much, and I did not even see it mentioned in the many comments responding to the post: Ecologists have ample opportunities to do outreach for free. Most ecologists I know volunteer in some outreach capacity on top of all they do for their research. In a perpetually underfunded field, ecologists are some of the busiest scientists I know. They may just not have time and not see enough definitive benefits to parcel out some of that precious time.

For those who are interested in launching or improving their ecology-themed blog, if there’s one blog to turn to as an example, it’s Dynamic Ecology. In a recent analysis of science blogs by Jarreau, Fox’s blog was the ecology-themed one most often read by other science bloggers. But there were several others in the web that also showed high amounts of interconnectedness, including Small Pond Science and Southern Fried Science. Blog on.

– See more at:

Be sure to add Katie’s blog, The UnderStory, to your must-read list and let’s keep science blogs (particularly ones concerned with the ecological sciences) growing strong!

Post used with permission. Originally appeared March 16, 2015 on The Understory

Fish Fry Day Video: Ice Fishing in Madison, Wisconsin

Andrew Stevens is a graduate student working on a master’s degree both with Pete McIntyre in Freshwater and Marine Sciences as well as the Water Resources Management Program here at UW-Madison. He’s also an avid ice angler and handy with a camera. We asked for a Fish Fry Day special – and Andy delivered. Enjoy!

Steven’s focus has been on northern pike spawning habitat restoration and his research at the Center for Limnology focuses on mercury in white suckers and also fish consumption advisory outreach to minority angler groups. Well, that and capturing amazing footage from beneath our lakes’ icy winter cover.

Field Samples: Studying Fish Migrations in Great Lakes Streams

Field Samples is a weekly Q&A asking researchers what they’ve been up to and what they’ve learned. Today, Lake Superior State University professor, Ashley Moerke, talks about her time on sabbatical studying Great Lakes fish migrations at the CFL. 

Longnose suckers headed upstream for spring migration.

Longnose suckers headed upstream for spring migration. Photo: Evan Childress

Who are you, where are you from and how did you get here?

Ashley Moerke. Courtesy: Lake Superior State University

Ashley Moerke. Courtesy: Lake Superior State University

My name is Ashley Moerke and I am a professor of biology at Lake Superior State University (in the UP of Michigan) where I teach in the Fisheries and Wildlife and Conservation Biology programs.  I have been spending part of my sabbatical working on research at the CFL in collaboration with Pete McIntyre, Solomon David, and Evan Childress (a former grad student of Pete’s).

Pretend we just boarded an elevator and you only have a one-minute ride to tell me about your research – can you capture it a few sentences?

I’m interested in linkages between aquatic ecosystems, primarily between the Great Lakes and the streams that flow into them.  There are 1000s of small streams that flow into the Great Lakes, yet we have very little understanding of their importance in fueling nearshore food webs and their importance as habitat for Great Lakes fishes.  My research here at the CFL, working with Dr. McIntyre, is focusing on the latter–the importance of tributary streams to Great Lakes fishes.  We are hoping to gain a better understanding of who, when, why, and for how long Great Lakes fishes migrate into these small streams.

What question did you ask and answer or do you hope to answer? What other questions might your work lead scientists to ask? Continue reading

Team of Scientists Hopes to Reveal Fuller Picture on Invasive Species

Today wraps up National Invasive Species Awareness Week, which was marked primarily by a series of awareness-building events and seminars in Washington D.C. It also coincided with the return of CFL grad student, Alex Latzka, from a trip to Germany where he was working with a team of scientists on a new invasive species project. 

When rusty crayfish (center) get too abundant, a lake bottom can go from lush (left), to desolate (right). But is that state the "new normal" or just a blip in the life history of the system?

When rusty crayfish (center) get too abundant, a lake bottom can go from lush (left), to desolate (right). But is that state the “new normal” or just a blip in the life history of the system?

by Alex Latzka

Alex Latzka shows off an especially large virilis (or native) crayfish.

Alex Latzka shows off an especially large virilis (or native) crayfish. Photo: Ali Branscombe

Invasive species are a huge problem for many ecosystems, including our lakes, and they’re continuing to invade new and sometimes unexpected places. One thing scientists are really missing when we study invasions is a big-picture, long-term perspective. This gap is not unique to the study of invasions – not surprisingly, most studies in any scientific field last about as long as it takes to get a PhD.

But, when it comes to invasions, this gap may be critical. What if the first five years of an invasion are remarkably different from what comes after? We often hear stories that this may be the case. “There used to be way more rusty crayfish in our lake when I was growing up,” or “I never used to see this many snails,” are anecdotes I’ve heard when discussing invasives with people who have lived on a lake for many years. And research supports some of these claims – there are scientific papers documenting similar patterns at single sites for single species.

This map of Wisconsin shows known lakes with rusty crayfish invasions. Image: Alex Latzka

This map of Wisconsin shows known lakes with rusty crayfish invasions. Image: Alex Latzka

Even though an invasive species may be very abundant and have nasty impacts now, it may not be so successful in the future. And, even if another invasive species is at low levels and not causing problems now, that may soon change. For managers of invasive species, these patterns – or what we like to call dynamics – are crucially important. If we know that it’s likely an invasive species population is going to crash down to non-harmful levels, maybe we shouldn’t invest a lot of money and effort to control it. Continue reading

“When” – Not Just “Where” – Key Question for Species Abundance

Cayelan Carey pulls a sample of plankton out of Lake Mendota. Photo: A. Hinterthuer

Cayelan Carey pulls a sample of plankton out of Lake Mendota. Photo: A. Hinterthuer

When it comes to studies of species abundance, scientists have spent a lot of time looking into where, exactly, particular plants or animals thrive or survive in a particular ecosystem. But, harnessing the relatively recent rise of long-term datasets, a new study published online in the journal PLOS ONE found that, for some species, it matters much more “when” you look.

The study was conducted by Cayelan Carey and Gretchen Hansen (both former post doctoral researchers at the Center for Limnology). Hansen is now a fisheries research scientist at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Carey is an assistant professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech.

We asked Carey a few questions about the study and what it was like exploring fish and phytoplankton on the – ahem – space/time continuum.

What was the central question that led to this study?

Carey: If you think back to what ecology is, it’s the study of the distributions of organisms and their interactions with the environment. So a big question is why are some species rare and others common. People have tried to answer this by, for example, going out into a forest and surveying many many plots at one time and then writing about what they found.

What we’re working on now, thanks to long-term datasets like the Long-Term Ecological Research program, is looking at what species are present at those locations over time.

We wanted to see if the spatial patterns hold if you’re looking over time. So rather than the space question of “why are some species found at every single site and others are rare,” we asked “why are some species always present and others rare?” Continue reading

The Study, Science & Stories of Our Inland Waters