Fish Fry Day: Stickleback Evolution Marks Week 3 of “Fishes of Wisconsin” Challenge

Happy Fish Fry Day! This is the third week since we embarked on a crusade to share a little bit about ALL 183 species on the amazing “Fishes of Wisconsin” poster. We’ve gotten to know the suckermouth minnow a bit better, we learned how largemouth bass have been good research colleagues, and, today, we’ll get to know something cool about sticklebacks.


The three species of stickleback found in Wisconsin.

We could lead with an infographic on the far-flung home ranges of the brook stickleback (Culaea inconstans). We could tell you that, while some male fishes build nests for their mates, the male ninespine stickleback (pungitius pungitius) takes it to the next level and literally builds a tunnel of love. In fact, we were going to tell you all of this – but then we came across a fascinating video on how sticklebacks are a present-day example of evolution in action.

So, without further ado, we give you this amazing video about a the last Ice Age and the threespine stickleback’s transformation from an ocean dwelling fish, to one at home in freshwater inland lakes. UW-Madison’s own Sean Carroll takes us on the journey below. Enjoy!

(And, yes, we’re aware that we’re cheating by tackling three species at once – but were you truly hoping for three straight weeks of sticklebacks?)


Guest Post: Adventures with Bowfin, North America’s Underdog(fish)

The folks at the Nature Conservancy’s “Cool Green Science” blog have invited our postdoc, Solomon David, to write about primitive fishes for them – here’s his latest post:

It’s a fish that lived alongside dinosaurs, and held its own: A slimy and voracious creature with a mouth full of sharp teeth.


And you don’t have to wait for Jurassic Park to see one: the bowfin is still among us. It has proven tougher than T. rex. But is it tough enough to survive humanity?

I recall well my first encounter: pulling that bizarre fish with the long dorsal fin into a boat, as part of fish surveys I was conducting on Michigan’s Muskegon River. I’d read about these fish before in class, but had never seen one alive.

I just had to get a better look at this fish. And that was the beginning of my fascination with this incredible, but often under appreciated, animal.

Mudfish, dogfish, grinnel, swamp-muskie: the names alone suggest why bowfin (Amia calva) are generally not the most highly-revered among fishes.

With their prehistoric appearance and tenacious attitude, one may say they deserve their poor reputation. But the bowfin is in reality a fascinating, resilient, and even beneficial species. Keep reading over at “Cool Green Science” –>

Fish Fry Day: “Fishes of Wisconsin” Challenge – Largemouth Bass

Happy Fish Fry Day! For those of you just tuning in, last week we embarked on a crusade to share a little bit about ALL 183 species on the amazing “Fishes of Wisconsin” poster.

Panorama is a must for a poster this epic. Kandis Elliot's "Fishes of Wisconsin" poster.

Panorama is a must for a poster this epic. Kandis Elliot’s “Fishes of Wisconsin” poster.

Fish #1 was the suckermouth minnow, and we learned all sorts of fun stuff, like the fact that not all small fish are  minnows and not all minnows are small. But now on to a new species: Today, we introduce the beast lurking beneath the suckermouth minnow (on the poster at least) – the largemouth bass.

Largemouth Bass on the Fishes of Wisconsin poster.

Largemouth Bass on the Fishes of Wisconsin poster.

Micropterus salmoides, or the largemouth bass, is a top predator in many freshwater ecosystems. In fact, it’s so good at its role in the food web that it is one of the most successful fish across the globe. In other words, either occurring naturally in an ecosystem or being introduced by humans, the largemouth bass has no problem being king of the hill.

A lot of that has to do with its namesake mouth – which, unlike smallmouth bass, extends beyond the back of its eye. That mouth is useful for pursuing all sorts of prey – from crayfish, to bluegill, to the occasional, unlucky mouse! (Note to mice: stay out of the water!) It also has a lot to do with the fish’s “personality.” Largemouth bass are aggressive, energetic fish and fight hard on a fishing line, making them one of the nation’s most popular sport fish.

We could go on and on with fun facts about largemouth bass, but, well, we don’t have all day. So here are three morsels to chew on: Continue reading

“Farm Tech Days” Exhibit Will Focus on Phosphorus Problems and Solutions

by Jenny Seifert

Why is phosphorus in the lakes a long-term problem, why do we care and how could we fix it?

The UW-Madison’s Water Sustainability and Climate Project (WSC) and Center for Limnology will address these questions at their exhibit at the upcoming Wisconsin Farm Technology Days, which will take place Tuesday, August 25 through Thursday, August 27th at Statz Brothers, Inc. Farm in Sun Prairie, WI.

Entitled “Wisconsin’s phosphorus legacy and the long road ahead,” the exhibit will be part of the Education Station Tent and will allow attendees to explore the science behind phosphorus pollution, which degrades water quality in many of Wisconsin’s lakes.

A mid-October algae (or phytoplankton) bloom shows up on the Lake Mendota shoreline. Photo: Sam Oliver

A mid-October algae (or phytoplankton) bloom shows up on the Lake Mendota shoreline. Photo: Sam Oliver

The exhibit will include participatory elements, such as interactive computer graphics explaining challenges to improving water quality in Wisconsin’s lakes and an opportunity to offer your ideas for how to create a future with clean lakes, vibrant cities and thriving farmland.

Several faculty members from the WSC project and the Center for Limnology will also be on hand for “office hours” to chat with folks about the lakes and how our practices on land affect them. Their schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, August 25th

10:00-1:00pm – Chris Kucharik, a professor of agronomy and environmental studies, will be available to chat about the impacts of climate change, weather variability and land management decision-making.

1:00pm-2:00pm – Monica Turner, a professor of ecology, will be available to chat about the ecological effects of land-use change, nature’s benefits and land-water interactions.

Wednesday, August 26th

10:00am-12:00pm – Paul Hanson, a professor from the Center for Limnology, will be available to chat about water quality, lake modeling and sensor networks.

12:00pm-2:00pm – Stephen Carpenter, the director of the Center for Limnology, will be available to chat about phosphorus and lakes.

Thursday, August 27th

12:00pm-1:00pm – Steven Loheide, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, will be available to chat about groundwater effects on corn yields.

1:00pm-2:00pm – Adena Rissman, an associate professor of environmental policy and management, will be available to chat about natural resource policy, land management and land conservation.

Visit us at the Education Station Tent to learn the science behind this important issue affecting the health of our lakes and communities.

Fish Fry Day Embarks on “Fishes of Wisconsin” Poster Challenge

It’s Fish Fry Day – the day when Wisconsin puts fish on the menu and we serve up a fish o’ the day on our blog. But  today, we’re launching an epic challenge – a quest to bring you tidbits of knowledge for each and every species of fish in Wisconsin.

Panorama is a must for a poster this epic. Kandis Elliot's "Fishes of Wisconsin" poster.

Panorama is a must for a poster this epic. Kandis Elliot’s “Fishes of Wisconsin” poster in our hallway.

Perhaps you missed the news (or our incessant social media bragging on the subject) but there is an AMAZING new poster hanging in our halls ( you, too, can buy a copy and support the UW-Madison Zoological Museum) featuring 183 species of Wisconsin fishes. Even more amazing is that they’re all drawn to scale (sorry) – their average adult size, to be exact.

In an article posted on the UW-Madison website, artist emeritus, Kandis Elliot, from the Department of Botany, explains why she chose to switch from things with leaves to creatures with fins:

“The idea behind the posters is to create a splash,” Elliot deadpans. “There is a wow factor. We want people, especially kids, to have an awareness of all our fishes, not just hook-and-line species.”

We couldn’t agree more, Mrs. Elliot!

The humble suckermouth minnow launches our "Fishes of Wisconsin" crusade.

The humble suckermouth minnow launches our “Fishes of Wisconsin” crusade.

So, in honor of your fine achievement, we are embarking upon our own crusade. Each Friday, working from the top left corner of the Fishes of Wisconsin poster, down to the bottom right (which is more than 13 feet away!), we’ll bring you a morsel or two of information regarding a fish. On the poster in our hallway, at least, that means the humble suckermouth minnow is first up – sitting in pole position at the top left corner, barely longer than the head of the bass lurking below it. Continue reading

Open House Recap: Ice Cream, Boat Rides & a Thunderstorm

Trout Lake Station’s 5th Annual Open House and Ice Cream Social was humming along Friday, July 31st. With an hour to go, 332 people had toured the station, getting a look at everything from seed traps, to freshwater bryozoans, to this crazy contraption we call FLAMe.

Freshwater bryozoan

Freshwater bryozoan

It was an outstanding day to do a little science communication and outreach in the Northwoods. We’d nearly exhausted our 7 (yes, seven!) tubs of Babcock Dairy ice cream and and we were only 10 visitors away from breaking our all-time attendance record when, well,  the weather rolled in.

StormVisitors dashed for their cars or huddled under our carport to let it blow over, leaving the record intact for at least another year. In the meantime, here’s a slideshow of what it’s like when we open our doors to the public – enjoy!

Website Aims to Get Madison Lakes on the Map and in the Forecast

MADISON, WI – Imagine packing the car, herding your family on board and heading to the lake – only to find green, scummy water or a closed beach at your destination. Up until now, it’s been an all-too-common end to summer travel plans in Wisconsin. But a new online tool wants to send people to clearer waters.

Users can check beach status (thumbs up is open, thumbs down is closed) and water conditions.

Users can check beach status (thumbs up is open, thumbs down is closed) and water conditions. lets anyone with a smartphone or Internet access pull up a map of Madison’s Yahara chain of lakes and check out near real-time conditions at public beaches or out on the open water. Users can get information on water temperature and clarity, as well as updates on beach closures, algal blooms and even the presence of ducks and geese.

The project is a collaboration between Clean Lakes Alliance (CLA), a Madison-based non-profit, the software company, MIOsoft, the City of Madison and Dane County and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Limnology (CFL) and Space Science and Engineering Center.

Screen shot 2015-07-30 at 8.52.24 AMIn all, provides information on fifty-eight sites along the shores of the five Yahara lakes, as well as 25 city beaches. The massive dataset is the result of nearly four-dozen volunteers, lakeshore homeowners and city lifeguards, the office of Public Health Madison & Dane County, and the constant stream of data being recorded by the Center for Limnology’s instrumented buoy in Lake Mendota.

That single buoy, says CFL director, Steve Carpenter, played a key role in the website’s creation.

“There are a lot of people in Madison who already used our buoy feed, because we report things that boaters want to know, like water temperatures and wind speed online. And people at the CLA had the idea, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we had a lake clarity report in there as well?’”

Luke Winslow works to get "David Buoy" installed for a field season with the Wisconsin capitol building in the background.

Luke Winslow works to get “David Buoy” installed for a field season with the Wisconsin capitol building in the background.

But getting at a measurement for clear water was more than just a matter of sending data to the CLA. There’s currently no instrument on the buoy to get a direct reading of water clarity. Instead, scientists were collecting data on things like chlorophyll and water chemistry. In the academic world, says Paul Hanson, a research professor at the Center for Limnology and partner in the project, that’s what traditionally gets measured. “But that doesn’t mean anything to the public,” he says. “What the public really wants to know is “How clear is the water?’”

James Tye, executive director of Clean Lakes Alliance, agrees. He says that the information provided on – like water clarity, temperature, and beach closings – are the result of countless conversations with citizens. It’s the information boaters, swimmers and other lake users want to know. It makes sense, he says, for the land-grant university right on a lakeshore to help provide that information.

“Lake Mendota is widely regarded as the most studied lake in the world,” says Tye. “So why not get that work out to the general public? [The website] is taking the science that the UW does and weaving it into the popular culture.”

Tye’s hope is that can “serve up” the data that will elevate water quality and the state of Madison’s lakes in the public consciousness. For example, he’d love to see the lakes make more news.

“We have five lakes [in Madison] and you watch the news in the morning and they talk about the traffic, they talk about the pollen count, they talk about where the colors are on the leaves in the fall. But they don’t talk about what the water quality of the lakes.”

Tye says he’d like to wake up everyday to a report on water clarity and temperature and beach conditions – everything someone would need to know to decide if it’d be a good day to get out to the lake.

Getting to that point is going to take some time, however. Not only do local TV stations need to add the lakes to their programming, but scientists have to figure out how to predict future lake conditions. Currently, reports observed conditions on the Yahara lakes. And sometimes it’s been a day or two since the last update.

“At some point down the road we are going to want to get into the business of actually forecasting water clarity,” says Hanson. “But that’s going to take the research effort of a graduate student who can really dig into the dynamic relationships of the system.”

It will also take more information, one reason the CLA and CFL recently collaborated with Dane County on plans to purchase a new buoy that will hopefully be anchored in Lake Monona, the lake just across the isthmus and downstream of Lake Mendota, sometime next year. The two organizations are currently raising funds to hire personnel to head up the buoy program and, maybe, start on that research project for water quality forecasting.

“I can’t think of another example of continual water quality reporting of this nature,” says Hanson, “and I think globally, quite frankly, there’s tremendous interest in this. Over the next five years you’re going to see an explosion of this kind of activity, and it’s really cool to be at the leading edge of that. “


Steve Carpenter –, 608-262-3014

Paul Hanson –, 608-320-5322

James Tye –, 608-628-6655

Trout Lake Station’s 5th Annual Open House!

Visitors check out stations under the watchful eyes of Bucky at the Trout Lake open house.

Visitors check out stations under the watchful eyes of Bucky at the Trout Lake open house.

It’s that time of year again – as July gives way to August, we’re spiffing up our research station and ordering tubs of Babcock ice cream for our annual open house and ice cream social.

If you’ll be in the Minocqua area next Friday, July 31st, come on by between 1-5pm and board a boat, take a tour, create some crafts, stump a scientist and, of course, enjoy free UW-Madison Babcock dairy ice cream.

Still not convinced? Here’s a slideshow of past open houses to show you what you’re missing!

So come join us – Friday, July 31st from 1-5PM. We’re at 3110 Trout Lake Station Drive (off of County Road N, between Hwy 51 and County Road M).

See you there!


Notes from the Northwoods: Can Native Bugs Take Out Invasive Plants?

by AnnaKay Kruger

UW-Madison undergraduate Joe Bevington rakes the bottom of Manson Lake for Eurasian water milfoil. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

UW-Madison undergraduate Joe Bevington rakes the bottom of Manson Lake for Eurasian water milfoil. Photo: AnnaKay Kruger

Joe Bevington leans over the side of the boat and eyes the dense weeds in the water below us, watching green, long-feathered arms of Eurasian water milfoil move indolently with the current. The UW-Madison undergraduate wields a long rake that he drags along the lake bottom, twirling tendrils of plant matter around it like spaghetti. He and Jim Miazga, a UW-Stevens Point undergrad, amass piles of slimy milfoil in the bottom of the boat. The damp smells of lake sediment and wet foliage permeate the air.

Susan Knight, the scientist directing this research project, mans the oars as we paddle gently around Manson Lake in pursuit of the milfoil weevil, a small, native beetle that is being monitored for it’s efficiency as a biological control. The bug eats native species of milfoil and, Knight hopes, may have an appetite for the invasive variety. Continue reading

Fish Fry Day: If You Build It, Will Pike Come?

For many species of fish, spring spawning migrations are a crucial part of their life cycle. They swim upstream to habitat both more suitable for them to deposit eggs and where young fish that hatch from those eggs can avoid predators and grow. That’s why state agencies, environmental non-profits and anglers groups spend millions each year to restore spawning habitat and remove barriers to these migrations. But one lingering question often remains – if you build it, will they come?

A northern pike heads upstream to spawn in a tributary of Green Bay. Photo: Solomon David

A northern pike heads upstream to spawn in a tributary of Green Bay. Photo: Solomon David

In the case of northern pike, an important top predator and popular sport fish across the northern hemisphere, the answer appears to be “Yes.”

To reach that conclusion, researchers at the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Center for Limnology had to first answer a very basic question about pike behavior. While salmon are famous for making long trips back to their birthplace to spawn, there are hundreds of other migratory species that scientists know far less about. Northern pike were one of those species – did they also return to their home, or natal, streams to spawn or would any suitable wetland do? Continue reading

The Study, Science & Stories of Our Inland Waters