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U.S. Geological Survey - Great Lakes Science Center

New home for the Great Lakes Science Center’s (GLSC) Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station

Since becoming part of the USGS in 1996, the GLSC’s Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station (LMERS) shared a National Park Service (NPS) building with the Resource Management Division of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (INDU). Although this arrangement guaranteed frequent interaction between USGS and NPS, neither organization had enough space to fit their staff and the USGS lacked laboratory space for most of its researchers. As time passed and research programs expanded, the shortcomings of the NPS facility for meeting research and management needs of either agency became more apparent.   Fortunately, a solution arose that provided new laboratories and offices for LMERS. In August 2015, LMERS officially moved 5 miles east to a refurbished facility in Chesterton, Indiana that NPS had vacated several years prior. This move also returned the space LMERS had formerly occupied to the NPS, allowing INDU’s Resource Management staff to be consolidated in one building.

Building and Employee History

LMERS has strong historical ties to the NPS and continues this tradition with its new facility.  The new USGS building was originally built as a church in the 1950s. It became property of the NPS in the 1960s as part of the creation of INDU, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of its establishment in 2016. The building served as the park’s first headquarters, then its visitor center, and finally housed INDUs Interpretation Division before the building was vacated in 2006 after the construction of a new facility to serve as the visitor center (http://www.nps.gov/indu/planyourvisit/idnlvc.htm).

LMERS was first established as part of the National Biological Survey in 1993 and then became part of the USGS in 1996. During this time, five NPS scientists made the transition to USGS LMERS employees, but remained at the original NPS science facility in Porter, IN – three of those scientists remain active with LMERS at the new research facility. The vacated NPS visitor center in Chesterton turned out to be an excellent antidote to the limited lab and office space available at the NPS facility in Porter.  Through an impressive conversion, the USGS transformed a one floor church sanctuary and basement into a three floor, 21st century facility with modern labs, adequate office space, and a conference room, all still nestled within the national park. In addition, the building is located next to a popular NPS trailhead ensuring a strong presence with the visiting community.

LMERS researchers now have increased office space for permanent and seasonal researchers and technicians and visiting researchers, a large main laboratory and smaller ones including a separate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) ‘clean’ room, refrigerated space for maintaining biological specimens, a workshop, a regionally strategic conference room, and a fenced-in parking lot where government vehicles can be securely stored. This facility will not only enhance the ability of the researchers to perform their studies but also allow LMERS to expand its research capabilities and promote increased collaboration between LMERS and other federal agencies and non-governmental groups.

LMERS Research: Spotlighting the researchers behind the science

Research at LMERS focuses on a wide range of Great Lakes-related issues. From examining effects of climate change on native ecosystems and working toward the restoration of native habitats, to studying the microbial ecology of the Great Lakes and investigating pollinator communities and methods for controlling invasive plant species, scientists at LMERS are committed to supporting better management through scientific research.

Dr. Ralph Grundel is the Station Team Lead and an ecologist at LMERS. He was originally hired as a wildlife ecologist with the NPS, then made the transition to USGS and LMERS. His research focuses on climate change effects on animal and plant populations, improving the scientific basis of conservation and restoration of savannas, a highly threatened habitat present in the Midwest U.S., recovery of species of special concern, such as the endangered Karner blue butterfly and the monarch butterfly, and establishing a basinwide system of habitat quantity and quality assessment under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Dr. Murulee Byappanahalli has been working as a research microbiologist at LMERS since 2001. He has published extensively on the ecology of indicator bacteria (E. coli, enterococci) in natural (nonenteric) environments, including soils and sediments, beach sand, and aquatic vegetation and his research was among the first to document the natural occurrence of indicator bacteria in nonenteric habitats. His current research focuses on understanding the structure and function of microbes in lake and terrestrial ecosystems using traditional microbiology and novel molecular (metagenomics) techniques. Within this area, Dr. Byappanahalli studies microbial communities associated with nuisance algae (Cladophora) to understand their influence on aquatic food webs and wildlife health and the role of microbial communities, especially rhizosphere bacteria, in the invasion and spread of invasive plant species such as Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus).

Meredith Nevers is an aquatic research ecologist at LMERS and has worked with the USGS for over 18 years. Nevers studied limnology and marine ecology before joining the USGS, with a focus on primary producers and nutrient interactions. She has published extensively on water quality science and improving coastal monitoring accuracy through predictive modeling as well as in the ecology and natural occurrence of indicator bacteria throughout the Great Lakes.  Her current research focuses on microbial interactions in algae communities, including the nuisance alga Cladophora, the influence of large-scale hydrodynamics on microbial communities and water quality, and the interface of urban and natural ecosystems.  Nevers is the current president of the Great Lakes Beach Association and is the GLSC lead on developing a common, DOI regional science agenda.  She shares her research at local, regional, and national conferences, in DOI working groups, and in classroom and outreach programs.

Dr. Noel Pavlovic has been with the federal government at Indiana Dunes for 32 years. He started as a technician for INDU, and later became the station statistician then plant ecologist as a NPS employee before transferring to USGS. At LMERS, he examines the impact of invasive species at a variety of scales from genes, individuals, and patches, up to habitats and landscapes, works to improve the scientific basis for conservation and restoration of oak savannas as well as other rare plants, and studies long-term population viability of the Great Lakes endemic and threatened Pitcher’s thistle (Cirsium pitcheri). Additionally, much of his current research focuses on growth and expansion of the invasive plant, Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) and its impact on the native congener, American bittersweet (C. scandens). Dr. Pavlovic and Dr. Grundel are also investigating the potential for resilience evaluation of Great Lakes coastal terrestrial ecosystems.

Dawn Shively has been a dedicated member of the LMERS staff for over 13 years as an associate scientist contractor with the USGS.  She was involved in the conception of the microbiological program at LMERS and is currently the microbiology laboratory manager. Her research interests include microbial ecology, molecular microbiology, and recreational water quality and human health. Other interests are statistical analysis and empirical predictive modeling for bacteria concentrations at recreational beaches. Shively assists in the planning of research projects, helps develop and update protocols, and trains seasonal employees or interns in field and laboratory duties. 

Kasia Przybyla-Kelly is a USGS biological science technician at LMERS and has worked with the USGS for over 10 years. Her educational background is limnology with special focus on trophic relations of aquatic benthic invertebrates in streams. At LMERS, she assists in conducting research connected to microbial ecology and water quality throughout the Great Lakes. Kelly coordinates field sampling efforts associated with research projects, collects environmental samples in Lake Michigan (water, sand, algae, benthos, plankton) and assists in deployment of hydrological instruments as a certified scientific diver. She participates in local outreach and education initiatives to share her knowledge on water quality issues in the Great Lakes. 

Ashley Spoljaric is a contractor with the USGS and works as a biological technician for the aquatic program. She has been a member of the LMERS staff for over 7 years and assists in conducting research on the microbial ecology and recreational water quality in the Great Lakes basin. Her duties consist of collecting and processing various environmental samples, assisting in setup of lab and field experiments, and performing molecular analyses which include DNA extractions and quantitative PCR (qPCR) assays. One of her recent accomplishments includes becoming a certified scientific scuba diver.

Tamatha Patterson has been part of the LMERS team since 2010. She first joined the team as a NPS seasonal employee to assist Dr. Grundel collecting field data on miroclimate variations, and abundance of wild blue lupine and Karner blue butterfly. Patterson was hired fulltime at the end of 2011 as a research scientist via a cooperative agreement with the University of Notre Dame in collaboration with Dr. Jessica Hellmann to continue fieldwork investigations assessing the effects of climate change on the Karner. In 2013, Patterson spearheaded a grant writing effort that resulted in funding from the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative (UMGL LCC) to pursue coupling of surface and groundwater models to inform ecosystem service models in order to assess the effects of climate change and wetland restoration on the Kankakee River watershed. Her research interests include climate change effects and mitigation, endangered species management under climate change, ecosystem services, and landscape modeling. Patterson has recently joined the USGS as a conservation ecologist working cooperatively with the UMGL LCC and USGS. 

Megan Korte is a USGS biological science technician and has been a member of the LMERS team for 3 years. Her background is in restoration ecology and she worked for various conservation organizations around the Midwest prior to settling down with the USGS.  Her primary tasks involve assisting with the management of ongoing research projects that include investigating the effects of predation on Pitcher’s thistle, the effects of climate change on the Karner blue butterfly, the relationship between invasive plants and their associated soil microbiomes, and the use of fire as an important tool in adaptive management restoration programs. 

Dr. Richard Whitman became Chief Scientist at Indiana Dunes in 1989 and remained in that position until 1993 when he became the first Station Chief for LMERS. He retired in 2014, but remains active as a scientist emeritus, where he studies long term trends in water and biological quality of the Great Lakes.

LMERS collaborates with a diverse range of management and research partners. Major USGS partners include collaborators at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Leetown Science Center, National Wildlife Health Center, and Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois Water Science Centers. Research is often a joint venture with other agencies, such as the National Park Service, U.S. EPA, NOAA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, University of Illinois - Chicago, University of Notre Dame, Michigan State University, Purdue University, Valparaiso University, other regional universities, and state agencies, including the Chicago Park District and Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

For more information on the new facility and research taking place there, contact Ralph Grundel (rgrundel@usgs.gov).

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