USGS - science for a changing world

U.S. Geological Survey - Great Lakes Science Center

Features

1 USGS Atlantic Salmon

Photo Credit: USGS

“Lake Ontario and certain lesser lakes tributary to the St. Lawrence River represented the most striking worldwide example of freshwater colonization by the Atlantic salmon.” (Webster 1982)

Atlantic salmon – one of the most prized food and game fish in the world – have returned to Lake Ontario. Although Atlantic salmon are best known as a species native to the Atlantic Ocean, the salmon are also native to Lake Ontario, where they once swam in great numbers. Historically, the Lake Ontario population of Atlantic salmon represented the largest freshwater population of salmon in the world. Indeed, the salmon in Lake Ontario were once so abundant that stories still circulate today of horses fording streams by walking almost literally on the backs of spawning salmon. But the days of massive spawning runs disappeared quickly in Lake Ontario during the 1800s, when a combination of overfishing, pollution, and habitat alteration (particularly the damming of Lake Ontario tributaries) disrupted spawning habitat. The result was an extirpation of Atlantic salmon from Lake Ontario for over a century.

But starting in the 1970s, New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, in partnership with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe, have been reintroducing Atlantic salmon into Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River tributaries. In the early 2000s, the USGS Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) joined the effort through work at the Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science, a field station of the GLSC located in Cortland, NY.

Part of the GLSC’s mission is to provide the scientific information necessary for restoring native species to the Great Lakes. Scientists at the Tunison lab developed innovative Atlantic salmon rearing techniques and have evaluated multiple salmon strains to determine each strain’s suitability for restoration. In addition, scientists have identified salmon release locations with the highest probability for success of capturing returning adult salmon, a critical part of establishing a Lake Ontario egg source to perpetuate the restoration effort.

These efforts are currently focused in three geographic areas: eastern Lake Ontario tributaries, St. Lawrence River tributaries, and the Oswego River. The primary focus of efforts by the GLSC is the eastern Lake Ontario tributaries, particularly the Salmon River, which was historically one of the most important spawning streams for Atlantic Salmon in the lake, although the GLSC is also involved in restoration efforts in the St. Lawrence River tributaries.

Work on Atlantic salmon restoration at the Tunison lab focuses around three Lake Ontario fish community objectives set by the Lake Ontario Committee: 1) increase natural reproduction of Atlantic salmon in the Salmon River system; 2) increase returns of mature Atlantic salmon to Beaverdam Brook, a tributary of the Salmon River; and 3) increase recreational catches of Atlantic salmon in the Salmon River system. The work is also guided by a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative objective to develop a Lake Ontario source of Atlantic salmon eggs by releasing young salmon at sites where adult salmon can be captured later for use as broodstock (i.e., individuals used for breeding).

To increase natural reproduction of Atlantic salmon in the Salmon River, mature adult salmon are collected at a weir on Beaverdam Brook and used as broodstock. The adult salmon are brought to the Tunison lab, where their eggs are collected, fertilized, and hatched, after which the young salmon are released into the wild at various life stages. A critical feature of the Tunison lab that makes this work possible is a UV treatment facility which provides state-of-the-art capabilities for holding eggs from wild-captured adults and raising the fish for release. The UV treatment prevents any diseases or organisms from being released into the local watershed of the Tunison lab.

Release of salmon raised at the Tunison lab into the Salmon River has focused on two life stages: fall fingerlings (approximately 6 month old salmon) and yearling smolts (approximately one year old salmon). Starting in 2013, the GLSC raised and released about 60,000 fall fingerlings in the Salmon River, and the number has risen in the years since to about 80,000 fall fingerlings released in 2016. About 10,000 yearling smolts were released in 2012, and similarly the number has grown through the years to about 26,000 in 2016. Targets for releases during 2017 include 90,000 fall fingerlings and 20,000 yearling smolts.

Of course, releasing young salmon is only the first step of the larger effort to restore Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario. For restoration efforts to be considered successful, GLSC biologists also need to know whether any of the released fish return to spawn as adults, and whether there are naturally produced young (fry) in the river. The answer to both of these questions is yes.

During 2013, four adult Atlantic salmon returned to Beaverdam Brook, eleven adults returned during 2014, and twenty-two adults returned during 2016. Although the early numbers of salmon returns are small, success stories have to start someplace. The GLSC biologists know that there are other adult salmon in the river that are not reaching the collection weir in Beaverdam Brook. Many of these salmon support fishery harvests in the main stem of the Salmon River – in 2015 alone, anglers harvested over 300 Atlantic salmon from the river. Collections of naturally produced fry are also good news for restoration efforts. In 2009-2011, and again in 2013, wild fry were collected. With as many as forty fry collected during a single year, early signs show promise for the return of Atlantic salmon to Lake Ontario.

Lead Photo: A subyearling Atlantic salmon collected during 2009. This fish has special status as the first evidence of natural reproduction of Atlantic salmon in Lake Ontario in over a century.

New GLSC Hammond Bay Biological Station Water Tank

Photo Credit: USGS

Follow our video series, “Rising Higher: A Research Lab Built from the Ground Up”, to watch the start-to-finish construction of the new laboratory at the U.S. Geological Survey Hammond Bay Biological Station (USGS HBBS). The multi-year project is being documented in a series of time lapse videos featuring major construction milestones. Every second of every video brings the buildings closer to completion. Don’t blink!

A New Laboratory to Advance Invasive Species Control

Scores of invasive species have found their way into our Great Lakes, creating a significant challenge for natural resource managers who must respond. Although many of these new species do not pose a serious threat, some become “invasive” and inflict significant costs to both the economy and the environment. Natural resource managers need scientists to develop a strong understanding of these new species, along with strategies and tools to aid in managing or eradicating them.

To meet this need, a state-of-the-art invasive species laboratory is being built on the shores of Lake Huron at the USGS HBBS. The biological station is one of seven field stations of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center, and is operated via a decades-long partnership with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.

HBBS has a rich history of research on aquatic invasive species, particularly sea lampreys, which are ancient, parasitic fish that devastated Great Lakes fisheries in the mid-1900s. Much of the pioneering research on sea lamprey control occurred at HBBS, including development of lampricides, the primary control technique. The sea lamprey control program in the Great Lakes is recognized internationally as one of the most successful, wide-scale, science-based invasive species programs in the world. The program has achieved a 90 percent reduction of sea lamprey populations in most areas across the vast Great Lakes basin, which saves more than 100 million pounds of fish per year.

The new 7,600 square foot laboratory facility at HBBS will provide a 21st century platform for research on invasive species and is expected to attract the world’s top invasive species scientists. The new laboratory will replace an aging facility of the same square footage constructed piecemeal over the course of five decades.

The new facility will include laboratory space for chemistry applications, physiological research (i.e., the study of how organisms function), and bioassays (i.e., studies which assess the effect of various treatments on organisms). The facility will also contain multiple raceways that will serve as experimental streams where researchers can test techniques before application in the wild. A one-million gallon water tank, pump house, and pipeline from Lake Huron will supply water to the raceways and the many fish holding tanks in the new facility.

After the new laboratory facility is completed, the old laboratory facility, built just feet from the water, will be demolished. During the final stage of construction, part of the main building will be renovated to include an interpretive entryway designed to educate the hundreds of children and adults who visit HBBS each year.

PART 1: Water Tank & Pump House Construction

Watch the time lapse video (lower right) to see the buildings constructed!

To operate an aquatic science lab, you need water - A LOT of water - because water is the lifeline of all aquatic organisms. The new laboratory facility at HBBS will house dozens of tanks capable of holding thousands of aquatic organisms. The new facility will also offer two large raceways—forty-feet long, ten-feet wide, and three-feet deep—where researchers can simulate realistic stream conditions, ranging from a babbling brook to a raging river. How will this water be supplied? Much like towers are used to supply municipal water, water to the new laboratory will be supplied by a water tank—a really big water tank—holding one-million gallons of Lake Huron water.

Part 1 of the time lapse video series shows the construction of the one-million gallon water tank as it rises from the ground. The build starts with assembly of the top of the tank, which is pushed higher and higher as successive layers of the tank wall are installed beneath. Concurrent with construction of the water tank, a new water intake pipeline is put in place to draw water from 45-feet deep in Lake Huron, serving as a second intake line along with a pre-existing pipeline which draws water from 75-feet deep. The video concludes with the building of a state-of-the-art pump house which will be used to electronically control water flow from the lake to the tank, and from the tank to the new laboratory. The water tank will be filled using three 20-horsepower pumps, each capable of pumping water at a rate of 750-gallons per minute, roughly equivalent to the rate that water is sprayed from a deluge gun (water canon) on top of a firetruck.

The next phase of construction will be the removal of old storage buildings to make way for the new laboratory. Be sure to check the GLSC website regularly for updated videos as each construction milestone is achieved! To learn more about the research that will be completed in the new laboratory, visit the Hammond Bay Biological Station and Great Lakes Fishery Commission websites.

Red and blue color variants of deepwater sculpin from a Lake Ontario survey. The blue coloration naturally occurs and is due to a bile pigment called biliverdin that is more prevalent in some individuals. Photo credit: Brian Weidel, USGS.

Photo Credit: Brian Weidel, USGS.

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) is known for some of the longest-standing data sets surveying Great Lakes fishes. Some lake areas have been sampled continuously since the 1950s. These rich data archives are a critical resource for fishery management decisions and they clearly illustrate human impacts on Great Lakes fish communities. At the GLSC we understand it is paramount to maintain and expand these legacy datasets.

 

Responding to changing conditions and questions: the evolution of the Lake Ontario sculpin survey

The scientists at the GLSC’s Lake Ontario Biological Station (LOBS) in Oswego, New York, maintain various long term data sets including one on benthic prey fish (bottom-dwelling bait fish). The survey, which began in 1978, was designed to answer relevant management questions at that time. Lake Ontario managers needed to know the abundance of slimy sculpin. Sculpin were a critical food for stocked lake trout, the lake’s native top predator and the focus of an intense international restoration effort. The then titled “Sculpin Survey,” assessed the species at six transects along the southern Lake Ontario shore. As this historic dataset grew each year, it increased in value.

However, since the survey began, Lake Ontario has undergone remarkable changes which have brought about new questions the survey could not answer. The Clean Water Act drastically reduced nutrient inputs, which limited algal blooms, but also decreased the nutrients supporting the lake’s food web. Water temperatures have steadily climbed. Invasive zebra and quagga mussels, introduced in the 1980s, quickly dominated benthic habitats and their massive filter-feeding capacity increased water clarity. Finally, the round goby invasion in the 1990s coincided with sharp declines of native benthic prey fish populations, including the slimy sculpin.

Today, Lake Ontario managers are asking different questions than they were in the 1970s. Round goby have become an integral component of the food web. Zebra and quagga mussels are consumed by goby, which are then eaten by popular native sport fish like smallmouth bass and lake trout. The historic survey’s limited lake coverage could not provide answers about lake-wide distribution of round goby. Deepwater sculpin, a native benthic species that were thought to have been extirpated, have been miraculously increasing, but the survey did not sample their preferred deep habitats.

As Federal scientists, LOBS biologists must not only attend to these current concerns, but also anticipate the questions managers will be asking decades into the future. Will land use changes influence where nutrients enter the lake? How will changing water use affect lake levels and nearshore habitat? To answer current and future species and ecosystem-scale questions, LOBS scientists realized their limited-scale, single-species approach to assessing benthic fishes could be improved.

With the help of their colleagues, they gave the Lake Ontario benthic survey a new look. The survey was carefully redesigned to maintain consistency with the historic dataset while expanding sampling to answer new and broader-scale questions. The new survey fundamentally depends on collaboration with partners, such as the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF), the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. By including state and provincial research vessels, the survey efficiently samples all lake areas, including the northern shore, eastern basin, and deep habitats out to 225m (743 feet).

This partnership has created a collaborative culture with active data sharing among groups and holistic, lake-scale understanding of Lake Ontario fish populations. For instance, new trawls in deep habitats have revealed that the deepwater sculpin population has recovered. This information is currently being used by state and provincial agencies as they consider whether to reduce the species’ elevated conservation status.

 

Improving other Lake Ontario prey fish surveys

The benthic fish survey is not the only Lake Ontario data set being improved. Decades of well-managed bottom trawl data allowed researchers to illustrate how separate spring trawl surveys for alewife and rainbow smelt were providing duplicate information. Combining the surveys freed resources to collaboratively expand the previously U.S.-based survey into Canadian waters in 2016. The expanded, more efficient survey yielded immediate results for decision making. With increased confidence in alewife and smelt abundance data, fisheries managers decided to reduce predator stocking levels and protect the lake’s predator-prey balance.

Scientists from across the basin, both within and outside USGS, advised the LOBS team as they designed a new hydroacoustic/midwater-trawl survey, which is aimed at estimating the abundance of native prey fish like cisco and bloater. (For a description of GLSC hydroacoustic technology, see, “Sounding the depths of the Great Lakes food webs: GLSC hydroacoustics”). These species historically dominated the Lake Ontario fish community but their populations declined drastically in the early 1900s due to overfishing and interactions with nonnative species. From July 25 to August 5, 2016, the LOBS team joined the Lake Ontario Acoustic Survey, led by OMNRF and NYSDEC. The LOBS team captured over 360 cisco in their new midwater trawls. Interestingly, a few weeks prior, a traditional LOBS bottom trawl survey conducted in the same lake areas failed to collect any cisco. Because of the growing bi-national effort to restore these native species in Lake Ontario and across the Great Lakes basin, it is critical to identify efficient methods to sample cisco and other coregonids.

Improvement. Innovation. Insight. These are what drive USGS scientists studying the Lake Ontario fishery. By increasing efficiency, responding to emerging needs, and developing new, data-driven approaches, the USGS is not only delivering the best possible information on Lake Ontario, but also preparing for the challenges that lie ahead.

Echosounder data display off Grand Marais on the south shore of Lake Superior.

Photo Credit: Dan Yule, USGS.

Daniel Yule, a USGS Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) Research Biologist in Ashland, Wisconsin, traveled to Thonon, France, for the month of April, 2016, to work with fisheries scientists Drs. Jean Guillard and Orlane Anneville of the Institute of National Agricultural Research - Center of Alpine Lake Research (INRA CARRTEL). Guillard and Anneville invited Dan because of his expertise with a maturing technology called hydroacoustics. This technology uses sound waves to assess fish populations throughout the water column. It is much like a scientific-grade fish finder.

The binational research team wanted to understand why survival of larval (baby) whitefish in large, northern lakes can vary so greatly from one year to the next. To meet this goal they needed to develop a rapid method of assessing the zooplankton (food) available to larval fish after hatching. The team sampled Lake Geneva six times using five hydroacoustic frequencies (38-, 70-, 123-, 208- and 430-kHz), larval fish trawl nets, and fine-mesh zooplankton nets. Researchers have long used nets to measure zooplankton availability, but only small volumes of water can be sampled using this method, and counting zooplankton under microscopes is slow, labor intensive, and expensive. Alternatively, hydroacoustic methods may allow for rapid assessment of zooplankton available to whitefish larvae over much larger volumes of water in a much more efficient manner.

Preliminary results from the study indicate that acoustic methods can be used to measure zooplankton abundance in freshwater, particularly when using the 123-, 208-, and 430-kHz frequencies. The project, which was funded by a Visiting Scientist Grant obtained through the University of Savoie Mont Blanc, will continue next spring in North America on Lake Superior through a partnership with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. The INRA CARRTEL released a description of the project on their website, “Le CARRTEL accueille Daniel Yule, scientifique américain du Great Lakes Science Center.”

GLSC hydroacoustic work in the Great Lakes

The GLSC has a large research vessel and teams of research biologists on each of the Great Lakes. Biologists across the GLSC have used hydroacoustic technology on the Great Lakes since the early 1990s. As of 2014, all five of GLSC’s large research vessels are equipped with this technology.

David Warner, GLSC Research Biologist, and Biological Science Technician Timothy O’Brien (Ann Arbor, Michigan) conduct hydroacoustic surveys on lakes Michigan and Huron to understand lakewide patterns in abundance, distribution, life history, and interactions of pelagic (open-water) fish communities. They conduct sampling combining hydroacoustics and a variety of trawl nets and limnological samplers.

These surveys on lakes Michigan and Huron are collaborative in nature, incorporating efforts by the GLSC, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The information gathered is used to inform fishery management decisions, such as setting stocking rates for sport fish or harvest quotas for species like bloater.

The alewife is an important prey fish species in Lake Michigan supporting the sport fishery. Information from hydroacoustic surveys, bottom trawl surveys, and estimates of predator consumption of alewives are used in a “stock assessment model” to estimate lakewide biomass of the prey fish. The biomass of Chinook salmon is divided by the alewife biomass to generate a predator-prey ratio. For example, 1 kg of Chinook to 10 kg of alewife equals a predator-prey ratio of 1/10, or 0.1.  On Lake Michigan, this ratio is used to inform stocking decisions aimed at keep the abundance of predators and prey in balance throughout the system to ensure a sustainable fishery.

On Lake Ontario, GLSC Research Biologists Maureen Walsh and Brian Weidel (Oswego, New York), are using hydroacoustic technology to better understand alewife seasonal distribution, both lakewide and along a nearshore-to-offshore gradient. They are also investigating changes in daily, vertical distribution of alewives. This work is done in collaboration with colleagues from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and Cornell University. Walsh and Weidel used hydroacoustics during a recent spring bottom trawl survey to compare virtual hydroacoustic “catches” to actual bottom trawl catches. In late summer of 2016, they paired hydroacoustics and midwater trawl sampling to better understand native Lake Ontario cisco and bloater populations, two native species that are found in low numbers and are currently targeted for restoration. 

On Lake Erie, GLSC Research Biologist Patrick Kocovsky (Sandusky, Ohio) works with state and provincial partners to conduct annual surveys in all three basins of the lake. Typically, Kocovsky’s work focuses on the central basin where surveys have been conducted for eleven years. The primary management objective of the lakewide effort is to determine abundance of rainbow smelt, which comprise a commercial fishery in Ontario, and other prey fishes that support the binational yellow perch and walleye fisheries.

In addition to these management outcomes, Kocovsky has developed a research program combining survey data, data from experiments, and hydroacoustic methods. One effort includes assessing the effects of standard procedures for collection and analysis of hydroacoustic data on estimates of fish density, which he studies in collaboration with Dan Yule and David Warner. Kocovsky also looks at the effects of standard procedures for collection of data when fish densities are extremely high, such as in Lake Erie which supports the largest recreational fishery of all the Great Lakes and a larger commercial fishery than the other four lakes combined. He also studies how large, hydroacoustic-equipped research vessels affect the behavior of fish under the boat during surveys.

One innovative application of Kocovsky’s hydroacoustics expertise is for research on Asian carp, a potential Great Lakes invasive species advancing from the south. One possible method of blocking the northern advance of Asian carp is the use of sound walls across canals. Kocovsky has applied hydroacoustic data analysis techniques to assessing behavior of Asian carp to these sound deterrents. 

Filling in the gaps: A little background on hydroacoustics

The main components of hydroacoustic technology are a transducer and an echosounder. Transducers emit a sound wave at a particular frequency into the water which spreads out in the form of a cone. The size of the cone is determined by the transducer’s specific beam angle: the larger the angle, the greater the sample volume. When a wave emitted by the transducer encounters an object in the water column (for example, zooplankton or a fish), a portion of the sound is reflected off the object back toward the transducer. The echosounder is responsible for creating the original electrical signal that is passed along to the transducer as well as receiving the final information back from the transducer and producing an output file that can be analyzed by researchers. Hydroacoustic surveys utilize this ability to “remotely sense” the presence and number of organisms in a given area in order to assess populations of zooplankton, small invertebrate organisms, and pelagic fish.

To ensure accuracy, hydroacoustic results are verified by simultaneously deploying various trawl net samplers. By matching hydroacoustic data to actual catch data from the trawl samplers, biologists can ground-truth the hydroacoustic data and more accurately estimate populations of organisms.

In recent years, oceanographic researchers have been testing the simultaneous use of multiple frequencies through multiple transducers in a single study (for example, see photo of Dan Yule on Lake Geneva). The end goal is to monitor in a single survey all the important components of an aquatic ecosystem: zooplankton, small invertebrates, and fish. GLSC’s David Warner and Dan Yule have begun to introduce this approach in the Great Lakes. We’ll cover that topic in future Top Stories.

For more information about GLSC hydroacoustic research, contact Daniel Yule (Lake Superior, dyule@usgs.gov), Dave Warner (Lake Michigan, dwarner@usgs.gov), Timothy O’Brien (Lake Huron, tiobrien@usgs.gov), Patrick Kocovsky (Lake Erie, pkocovsky@usgs.gov), or Maureen Walsh (Lake Ontario, mwalsh@usgs.gov).  

The New USGS Great Lakes Science Center Aquatic Lab - Ann Arbor

Photo Credit: USGS

A 21st Century Lab for 21st Century Science

The U.S. Geological Survey - Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC), headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan, has been a leading Great Lakes fisheries research organization for over fifty years. During a critical era, the GLSC has provided the science for restoring, enhancing, managing, and protecting living resources and their habitats in the Great Lakes.

The GLSC’s aquatic research lab in Ann Arbor was key to many science milestones in the second half of the 20th Century. However, by the late 1990s, the lab had been used beyond repair. To ensure GLSC scientists continue to provide critical scientific information to state, provincial, and tribal environmental managers in the 21st Century, the GSLC has built a new aquatic lab in Ann Arbor.

The new lab holds 30,000 gallons of water and covers 6,000 square feet. There are 128 tanks, ranging in size from 10 gallons to 1000 gallons, which allow scientists to hold all but the largest size Great Lakes fish. The lab also offers 64 vertical Heath trays for incubating salmonid eggs, and 72 McDonald jars for incubating eggs of other species. Water temperature, oxygen, pH, and flow can be controlled in all of the tanks, with water turnover (complete replacement) times as fast as one hour.

“It’s a 21st century aquatic research laboratory that functions on completely reused water,” explained GLSC Director, Russell Strach. “The lab will be used primarily by GLSC scientists, GLSC partners, and nonprofit organizations.”

A key feature of the new lab is the versatility offered by distinctly separated life support systems.  “We can do numerous replicates of the same condition or a variety of different conditions all in one space,” said Melissa Kostich, GLSC biological technician.

Another new feature of the aquatic lab is a fish respirometer (or swim tunnel). “With the respirometer, we’re able to measure the rate at which oxygen is consumed by fish, which will allow for very accurate fish bioenergetics models,” described Chuck Madenjian, GLSC research fishery biologist. “I see a lot of opportunities with the new lab. New questions that can only be answered with new facilities.”

The lab includes a computerized control system that allows for remote monitoring of facilities and tank conditions, like temperature or water level. The system will also notify GLSC staff if problems arise.

“We have more space; we have more water. We have our own disinfecting system that allows us to handle species that we couldn’t before. The limitation is your own imagination,” highlighted Kostich.

“There are a lot of aquatic laboratories at various universities and government organizations, but I do not know of one that has these kinds of capabilities,” said Strach. “This truly is cutting edge, and I think we will see a lot of wonderful science come out of the new aquatic lab.”

For more information on the capabilities of our lab please contact lab manager Kevin Keeler, 734-214-7204, kkeeler@usgs.gov

Nick Johnson, USGS, Holding Male Sea Lamprey - Credit USGS

Photo Credit: USGS

The fight against invasive species in the Great Lakes just reached a milestone. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Health Canada Pest Management Regulatory Agency registered a sea lamprey mating pheromone, 3kPZS, as the first ever vertebrate pheromone biopesticide during late 2015 and early 2016. Like an alluring perfume, the mating pheromone is a scent released by male sea lampreys to lure females onto nesting sites. Notably, a critical step in the registration process was research completed by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Great Lakes Science Center scientist Dr. Nick Johnson, located at Hammond Bay Biological Station in Millersburg, Michigan. Another key player was Jane Rivera, a biologist at the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, who spearheaded the registration. Research and development of the mating pheromone was funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, with additional support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, in collaboration with federal government agencies, university, and private industry partners.
 
Since the 1990s, scientists have been researching the use of pheromones - natural odors used by sea lampreys to communicate - in order to manipulate sea lamprey behaviors. The newly registered mating pheromone has been used as bait in traps that collect and remove adult sea lampreys before they have a chance to spawn. Although the registration uses the term "biopesticide," many biopesticides, such as 3kPZS, occur naturally in the environment and, though extremely potent, are not harmful substances.
 
Dr. Suzette Kimball, USGS Director, praised the registration of 3kPZS as "a milestone for control of invasive species and protection of natural biodiversity."
 
Dr. Robert Hecky, chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, explained the significance of the event, stating: "Registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone opens the door for use of the pheromone in the commission’s sea lamprey control program, which protects Great Lakes fisheries from destruction caused by invasive sea lampreys."
 
Since invading the Great Lakes in the 1800s and early 1900s, sea lampreys - parasitic, jawless vertebrates that feed on the blood and body fluids of other fish - have caused enormous ecological and economic damage. To combat this menace, the commission coordinates an integrated sea lamprey control program implemented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Fisheries and Oceans Canada that combines lampricides, barriers, and traps. The control program is remarkably successful: sea lamprey populations in most areas of the Great Lakes have been reduced by 90% of their historical highs.
 
"Our research has shown that the sea lamprey mating pheromone holds great promise for the sea lamprey control program," explained Dr. Weiming Li, professor at Michigan State University. Dr. Li collaborated with Dr. Johnson on the research required for registration. "With a large-scale field trial, we demonstrated that pheromone baits can increase trapping efficiencies by up to 53% and baited traps can capture up to two times the sea lampreys that un-baited traps can." While initial trials were completed with pheromone derived from live male sea lampreys, the researchers also discovered the molecular structure of the mating pheromone and contracted with Bridge Organics, a private company in Michigan, to manufacture a synthetic version.
 
Bridge Organics was a key partner in both the development of the synthesized mating pheromone and the registration process. Like using a blueprint to construct a high-tech building, Bridge Organics used the molecular structure provided by the scientists to construct the exact pheromone molecule from scratch. "Our company is proud to have developed the chemistry to synthesize the mating pheromone and to have coordinated testing of the compound during the registration process," said Dr. Ed Hessler, president of Bridge Organics.
 
The registration covers both the synthesized male mating pheromone as well as the mixture of synthesized pheromone and solvents used in field applications. The mating pheromone is classified as a biopesticide, a designation that includes any naturally occurring substance that controls pests. Other registered biopesticides include the pheromone disparlure, which is used to detect and control small infestations of gypsy moths.
 
"Registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone is the first for a vertebrate biopesticide," explained Ms. Rivera. "The registration also marks the first joint review between the United States and Canada of a vertebrate biopesticide through the North American Free Trade Agreement" - a process that was first suggested by Ms. Rivera. More generally, registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone provides a path for additional chemical-cue compounds to be registered as means to control other vertebrate species.
 
With registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone complete in the United States (December, 2015) and Canada (March, 2016), 3kPZS can now be used to help control invasive sea lampreys throughout the Great Lakes on both sides of the international border. Scientists, including Dr. Johnson, continue to explore other attractant and repellant pheromones that could be similarly used to pull sea lampreys into traps or push them away from prime spawning areas.
 
"I am grateful to the dedication of our partners, the hard work of my research team, and the many others who provided support for the registration of the sea lamprey mating pheromone," acknowledged Dr. Johnson. "I began research on sea lamprey behavioral responses to 3kPZS as a graduate student at Michigan State University over a decade ago. My research since that time has been a remarkable journey. I look forward to what the future holds for sea lamprey control using 3kPZS and possibly other sea lamprey pheromones."
 
(USGS-Great Lakes Science Center’s Dr. Nick Johnson holds a mature male sea lamprey. Male sea lampreys release a cocktail of pheromones into the surrounding water, including the recently registered mating pheromone, 3kPZS. Photo Credit: USGS)
U.S Geological Survey Director Suzette Kimball christens the research vessel Arcticus

Photo Credit: Andrea Miehls, USGS

Looooong, loooong, loooong, short, short. That’s the master whistle salute given by vessels on the Great Lakes. And that was the salute that honored the new U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) research vessel (R/V) Arcticus at her christening and commissioning ceremony in Cheboygan, Michigan, on August 31, 2015 (watch the video below). Salutes from the USGS R/V Sturgeon and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service motor vessel Spencer F. Baird resounded throughout downtown Cheboygan and filled the ears of the more than 60 attendees to the ceremony, including USGS Director Dr. Suzette Kimball and U.S. Congressman Dan Benishek of Michigan.

The completion of the Arcticus culminates a fifteen year endeavor of the USGS to modernize the entire Great Lakes research vessel fleet. The process began with the construction of the R/V Kiyi in 1999 for offshore research on Lake Superior. Next, the USGS acquired an older vessel which was renovated and christened the R/V Sturgeon in 2004, and which is used alongside the Arcticus on Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. In 2011, the USGS completed building twin vessels for Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the Kaho and Muskie. The Arcticus was the final new vessel to join the fleet (see the five-part series, “Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built”).

The Great Lakes fleet plays a crucial role in the sustainability of the Great Lakes fishery, and by extension the recreation and tourism economy of the region. The Great Lakes fishery alone is worth over $7 billion annually—and that’s just on the U.S. side.  For over fifty years, the USGS has provided unbiased scientific information about the status and trends of fish communities in the Great Lakes.  Management of the fishery is facilitated by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission. The commission facilitates and supports the state, provincial, and tribal management authorities that exist on each lake. These authorities voluntarily cooperate on management objectives, such as catch limits and stocking targets of sport species, including salmon and lake trout. That cooperation is based on sound, unbiased scientific information about the status and trends of the resource, especially the prey fish. The USGS Great Lakes fleet provides the bulk of this unbiased information.

Christening and commissioning ceremonies of vessels are based upon thousands of years of tradition and are rooted in centuries-old seafaring and shipbuilding tradition. Prior to delivery, a new vessel undergoes dockside and sea trials to demonstrate that the vessel meets requirements of the owner. Afterward, the builders and owners celebrate the delivery with a formal ceremony and festivities that includes a sponsor (typically a woman) breaking a bottle of wine or sparkling water over the bow of the vessel and bestowing a name upon the vessel.  This christening ceremony is one of the most important events in the life of a vessel. Another major event is the commissioning, which officially places the vessel in active service.

The Commissioning and Christening Ceremony for the Arcticus was carefully coordinated to respect these seafaring traditions.  USGS Director Dr. Suzette Kimball was the vessel’s sponsor, and Andrea Ostroff, USGS Fisheries Program Manager, delivered the commissioning orders. Many others contributed to the ceremony through speeches, presentation of flags, and other roles. In addition to the christening and commissioning of the Arcticus, the entire Great Lakes research vessel fleet was dedicated by USGS Midwest Region Director Dr. Leon Carl. Dr. Carl is the former Director of USGS Great Lakes Science Center and was responsible for important steps in modernizing the fleet. What follows is a narrative of the ceremony, a milestone in the life of the USGS research vessel fleet.

~ ~ ~

To begin the festivities, Congressman Benishek and representatives from the offices of Senators Stabenow and Peters of Michigan delivered comments on the importance of the fishery resource and the USGS Great Lakes research program. They were followed by comments from Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, and USGS science leadership, including Dr. Kimball.

Following commencement, guests proceeded to the dock to witness the official ceremony. Navy Chaplain Joseph Roach offered the invocation for the ceremony. Dr. Kimball then christened the Arcticus by breaking a bottle of sparkling water over the bow.

“In the name of the United States of America, I christen thee, ‘Arcticus.’”

In recognition of the rich legacy of her predecessor, the R/V Grayling, the name for the new Arcticus was drawn from the Latin name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus. The name was selected by the vessel crew and scientists to honor the service of the Grayling and maintain the tradition of naming Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) vessels after important regional species of fish.

After guests exchanged congratulations, Aaron Payment, Chairperson of the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, administered a tribal blessing upon the vessel and its Captain, Joseph Bergan. Andrea Ostroff then called the vessel and scientific crew to attention alongside the ship and officially commissioned the vessel and her crew.

“In the name of the United States, I hereby commission the R/V Arcticus to serve the needs of the natural resources of these Great Lakes and the people who rely upon them.  To its crew and the scientists and technicians that use the Arcticus, I remind you that your work is of utmost importance to society, and you are sent to use your knowledge and skills to assist in gaining a better understanding of these fresh water seas.  I encourage you to pursue your work with enthusiasm and perseverance for our sake and that of the living resources of the Great Lakes.  To you I bid ‘fair winds and following seas’ as you endeavor to help us all be good stewards of the earth.”

To commemorate the commissioning of the new vessel, flags were presented to Captain Bergan by the authorities and partners associated with the vessel’s mission. U.S. Coast Guard Captain Steven Teschendorf, Sector Sautl Sainte Marie Commander, presented the U.S. flag. Gary Whelan, Michigan Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Research Program Manager, presented the Michigan state flag. Captain Alan Morris of the Canadian Coast Guard presented the Canadian flag. And Kristine Murray, USGS Contract Specialist and Mechanical Engineer, who oversaw contracting for the construction of the Arcticus, presented the USGS commissioning pennant, the hoisting of which marked the beginning of the vessel’s active government service.

As the vessel crew prepared to raise the flags upon the mast, Dr. Leon Carl formally dedicated the Great Lakes fleet.

“Now, in the name of the United States of America, I hereby dedicate . . . this fleet to the mission of the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center. . . In specific, I dedicate this fleet to providing scientific understanding of these ever-changing Great Lakes—their fishes and food webs—to the bi-national, cooperative resource management regime that has effectively sustained this economic, cultural, and spiritual resource for over fifty years.

To the vessel and scientific crews who administer this fleet in pursuit of this mission, I urge you to carry out your work: With the passion that first drew you to the maritime life and to applied environmental science; With the discipline to provide objective information regarding the function and status of the resource; And with a commitment to safety and care for your fellow crew members.

May you find fulfillment in your tasks and teamwork, and may your efforts continue to support the sustainable use of these Laurentian Great Lakes.”

As the vessel crew hoisted the commissioning flags, Karen Newman, “the voice of the Detroit Red Wings,” sang acapella O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner. The anthems culminated in a salute to the U.S. flag by a War of 1812 cannon, fired by a team from the Michigan State Historic Parks.

“Captain Bergan, fire up the engines!”

With this came the master salutes from the other federal vessels in the harbor, the Sturgeon and Baird, welcoming the new vessel to port and to public service on the Great Lakes. Guests gathered dock-side afterward for refreshments generously provided by the Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Fisherman’s Association.

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The USGS Great Lakes Science Center is grateful for all those who made possible the modernization of the USGS Great Lakes fleet and the construction of the Arcticus. We also appreciate the efforts of all those who participated in and attended the ceremony in Cheboygan. It was a day to remember and an era to celebrate.


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).

Photo Credit: Andrea Miehls, USGS

Acoustic telemetry is an advanced technology that allows researchers to track fish movement throughout a water body. Acoustic receivers are deployed in an array throughout a study area, which for the GLSC is a large portion of the Great Lakes. This technology is also used in the ocean environment to track the movement of such animals as sharks, seals, and sea turtles. Major benefits of acoustic telemetry over traditional sampling techniques (e.g., nets) include constant high resolution monitoring over large distances, and accuracy to within a few meters if receivers are arranged in closely-spaced grids. On its own, data from acoustic telemetry provides answers to basic questions, such as where and when fish move. When combined with other datasets, telemetry can also provide insights into how or why they move. Results from acoustic telemetry studies provide fishery managers with information about fish movement that improves management.

Receivers act as miniature computers with hydrophones that record the presence of tagged fish. An acoustic tag (transmitter), which emits a series of sound pings that is unique to each tag, is implanted inside a fish before it is released. When a tagged fish comes within a particular range of the receiver, the receiver records the fish’s unique tag ID with a time stamp. Tags can also provide fish depth information as well as acceleration and temperature.

Over the past five years the GLSC’s acoustic telemetry program has significantly expanded.  It began 2010 as a means of describing pathways used by invasive sea lamprey during migration through the St. Mary’s River system. Acoustic telemetry is now being used by GLSC researchers for over ten projects and with four different fish species: sea lamprey, lake trout, walleye, and lake sturgeon. Dr. Chris Holbrook (GLSC, Millersburg, Michigan) works at the GLSC’s Hammond Bay Biological Station where much sea lamprey control research takes place. Through his work various aspects of sea lamprey migration are being studied around the Great Lakes in an effort to improve both assessment and control of sea lamprey populations.

Dr. Darryl Hondorp (GLSC, Ann Arbor, Michigan) and his team have been using acoustic telemetry to track lake sturgeon movement in the St Clair-Detroit River System since 2011. One key research objective is to determine the abundance and geographical organization of remnant lake sturgeon populations.  Two hundred sixty-eight individuals have been tagged since 2011, and 92% of those tagged have been detected over multiple years. Results indicate that habitat use and migration differs among spawning groups and that Lake St. Clair is an important, yet previously unrecognized, winter habitat for lake sturgeon.

Dr. Richard Kraus (GLSC, Sandusky, Ohio) and other researchers at the GLSC’s Lake Erie Biological Station have partnered with Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to use acoustic telemetry to better understand habitat use of walleye in Lake Erie. Lake Erie walleye are important to both commercial and recreational anglers in both the U.S and Canada. In the past, most information about walleye populations has been assessed through gill net data. Interestingly, acoustic telemetry data are presenting a different picture: walleye are using deeper, mid-lake habitats more frequently than gill net data suggest, frequently crossing state and the U.S./Canada boundary. These results are useful to managers who allocate quotas based upon the amount of walleye habitat.

Researchers are also using acoustic telemetry to describe the spawning behavior and preferred spawning habitat of lake trout to determine whether there are differences between wild and hatchery-raised trout. One project led by Dr. Tom Binder, a Michigan State University researcher stationed at Hammond Bay, focused on lake trout spawning in the Drummond Island Refuge in northern Lake Huron. This project identified locations with high densities of lake trout as six distinct spawning sites. This work has expanded our understanding of lake trout spawning habitat and may influence decisions on spawning habitat surveys or artificial spawning reef construction.

While acoustic telemetry is a powerful tool for studying fish movements and habitat use, it is not without limits. For instance, fish behavior and survival can be affected by tag size, so acoustic telemetry cannot be used for small species or those too delicate to handle. Additionally, large data sets are typically generated from acoustic telemetry projects, leading to high computational demands. Finally, acoustic telemetry technology can be cost-prohibitive, which can limit sample size. To overcome some of these limitations, the Great Lakes Acoustic Telemetry Observation System (GLATOS) was established by the GLSC, The Great Lakes Fishery Commission, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and the Great Lakes Observing System. GLATOS is a network of researchers conducting acoustic telemetry projects on fish movement in the Laurentian Great Lakes. It provides these researchers with opportunities to develop partnerships and share fish detection data among projects. From 2010 to 2014, GLATOS collected data from 21 projects that incorporated 4,516 fish, including 29 different species, and involved 62 investigators from across the Great Lakes region. GLSC researchers played a critical role in most of those studies.

GLSC works with numerous partners and organizations to conduct acoustic telemetry projects, including all those mentioned above, plus Carleton University, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority.

Celebration of Science at the GLSC

Each month, the GLSC holds a Center-wide staff meeting which contains a segment titled, “Celebration of Science.” These presentations allow all GLSC employees an opportunity to learn about research taking place across the field stations, from Wisconsin to New York. The segment encourages GLSC scientists to think basin-wide about the challenges we face and to leverage our collective research capacity toward solutions for those challenges. The April 2015 Celebration of Science topic was, “Acoustic Telemetry – A Recent Addition to the GLSC Toolbox.” Chris Holbrook, Darryl Hondorp, and Richard Kraus each presented information about the range of acoustic telemetry work taking place across the Center.

For more information on the GLSC’s acoustic telemetry work, please contact Chris Holbrook (cholbrook@usgs.gov). 

Muskegon Waves at Sunset.

Photo Credit: Andrea Miehls, USGS

The Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) is a binational agreement between the United States and Canada that addresses critical environmental health issues in the Great Lakes region. The Agreement seeks to cooperatively restore, protect, and enhance the water quality of the Great Lakes with support from other levels of government, First Nations and Métis, businesses, non-governmental entities, and the public. The GLWQA is overseen by a binational Great Lakes Executive Committee and convenes at the Great Lakes Summit every three years where reports on progress are made. The Agreement was initially signed in 1972 and has been updated several times, most recently in 2012 when it underwent substantial changes. Objectives of the 2012 GLWQA state that:
 
The Waters of the Great Lakes should,
 
i. be a source of high-quality drinking water 
ii. allow for swimming and recreational use 
iii. allow for human consumption of fish & wildlife 
iv. be free from harmful pollutants
v. support healthy and productive habitats to sustain resilient populations of native species 
vi. be free from nutrients that promote harmful growth of algae
vii. be free from aquatic and terrestrial invasives 
viii. be free from contaminated groundwater 
ix. be free from substances, materials or conditions that negatively impact chemical, physical or biological integrity of the Waters of the Great Lakes
 
 
When the GLWQA was reauthorized by the U.S. and Canada in 2012, ten Annexes were appended and ten Annex teams were created to help implement the language of the Annexes:
 
1 - Areas of Concern (AOCs)
2 - Lakewide Management
3 - Chemicals of Mutual Concern
4 - Nutrients
5 - Discharges from Vessels
6 - Aquatic Invasive Species
7 - Habitat & Species
8 - Groundwater
9 - Climate Change Impacts
10 - Science
 
Scientists from the GLSC participate as leaders and experts on the Annex teams. In 2014, GLSC scientists across the basin played an important role in advancing essential tasks within Annexes 2 and 7. One of the tasks under Annex 2 is to produce a nearshore framework for assessment and management of nearshore waters of the Great Lakes.  This nearshore framework will serve as the primary tool supporting the Lakewide Action and Management Plans (commonly referred to as LAMPs) for each lake. 
 
One of the primary tasks under Annex 7 is to “conduct a baseline survey of the existing habitat against which to establish a Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem target of net habitat gain and measure future progress.” The baseline assessment is intended to be repeated at regular intervals, for example, every five years, and therefore must be economically feasible. The spatial extent of the baseline assessment is to include the lakes proper, coastal terrestrial areas (immediate connection with the lakes) and connecting channels. Influences from the broader geographic area will be considered to the extent that they influence or impact the lakes themselves. The GLSC’s Ralph Grundel co-chairs this Annex 7 task team along with a representative from Environment Canada. 
 
The Annex 2 nearshore framework and the Annex 7 baseline assessment share a great deal in common. The Annex 2 and 7 teams, therefore, have worked together in carrying out their tasks. In November 2014, USGS scientists co-hosted and participated in a two-day workshop to address these Annex 2 and 7 tasks.  The workshop aimed to solicit technical advice on (1) the nature of habitat classification in the Great Lakes, (2) methods of repeatable assessment of habitat condition, and (3) innovative methods for obtaining the data needed for classification and condition assessment. Special consideration was given to methods that might evolve with investment in new technology. GLSC’s Ralph Grundel co-facilitated the meeting, and over twenty other regional experts in aquatic habitat classification and condition assessment attended, including USGS scientists, Peter Esselman, James McKenna, and Paul Seelbach of the GLSC, Lisa Fogarty of the USGS Michigan Water Science Center, and Norm Grannemann, USGS Great Lakes Program Coordinator. The insight gathered at this meeting will help advance the development of the nearshore framework and baseline assessment.
 
Celebration of Science at the GLSC
 
Each month, the GLSC holds a Center-wide staff meeting which contains a segment titled “Celebration of Science.” These presentations allow all GLSC employees an opportunity to learn about research taking place across the field stations, from Wisconsin to New York. The segment encourages GLSC scientists to think basin-wide about the challenges we face and work together toward solutions. 
 
At the March 2015 Center-wide meeting, Ralph Grundel and Jody McKenna (Environment Canada), the task team’s co-chairs, solicited input from GLSC scientists across the basin regarding the most important aspects of aquatic habitat that currently limit native species abundance and diversity. Input from GLSC scientists will provide additional insight used to develop the Annex 7 baseline assessment of existing Great Lakes habitat.
 
For more information on the GLSC’s work with the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, contact Ralph Grundel (rgrundel@usgs.gov).

Photo Credit: Mark Vinson, USGS

Each month, the GLSC holds a Center-wide staff meeting which contains a segment titled “Celebration of Science.” These presentations allow all GLSC employees an opportunity to learn about research taking place across the field stations, from Wisconsin to New York. The segment encourages GLSC scientists to think basin-wide about the challenges we face and work together toward solutions. In February, the Celebration of Science topic was “Celebrating GLSC Coregonid Research” and was led by the GLSC’s Dan Yule (Ashland, WI) and Jim Johnson (Cortland, NY). This topic is an appropriate one to start with as GLSC coregonid research dates back to the early days of the GLSC itself.  The Center was started as a result of the furor generated by the collapse of the cisco fishery in Lake Erie in 1925; our first Director, Dr. John Van Oosten, primarily studied the taxonomy and life histories of coregonid species. 

The term coregonid refers to freshwater whitefish. In the Great Lakes, coregonids have been important native species in both historical and present day fisheries. Key coregonid species that the GLSC studies include Coregonus artedi (also called cisco or lake herring) and Coregonus hoyi (bloater). Wherever they can be found these fish serve as forage species for top predators, and as such, play an important role in the trophic transfer of energy. The coregonid fishery, particularly for cisco, was highly successful in Lake Erie in the early 1900s, but a variety of unusual circumstances led to major over-harvesting in 1923 and 1924, thus the fishery collapsed in 1925. Additionally, cisco populations in most of the other Great Lakes have dramatically declined since the middle of the 20th century, harming not only the fishery and economy, but the Great Lakes ecosystem as well. Currently, several GLSC research groups are studying coregonids from different angles in order to help fishery managers restore populations.

Lake Superior as a Reference Lake

While cisco populations remain low in most of the lakes, Lake Superior is unique because its food web is presently dominated by native species, including rehabilitated cisco populations. These cisco play an important role as prey for native piscivores (fish-eating fish) since their relatively large size affords a high net energy return. The presence of cisco in Lake Superior also provides an opportunity to test hypotheses about the role of native fish in a large lake environment. The GLSC’s Dan Yule is a co-author on a recent publication entitled, “Habitat coupling in a large lake system: delivery of an energy subsidy by an offshore planktivore to the nearshore zone of Lake Superior.” The paper examines the role of cisco in the movement of energy from offshore to nearshore habitats (“habitat coupling”) in Lake Superior. As adults, cisco are predominantly planktivorous (they eat zooplankton) and occupy deeper offshore waters in Lake Superior, but move nearshore in the late autumn to spawn. As indicated by results from this study, the cisco eggs incubate in the nearshore waters over winter, not hatching until spring, thereby providing a critical energy source for bottom-feeding predators during a time of year when alternate food is sparse. 

An additional implication from the study focuses on the other Great Lakes, where cisco populations remain low and rehabilitation efforts are underway. In these lakes the offshore-to-nearshore ecological link apparent in Lake Superior has been replaced by non-native planktivorous species. These non-native species spawn in the spring and have smaller eggs and shorter incubation periods. By rehabilitating cisco in these systems, a beneficial nearshore energy source during winter months would resume as it did in Lake Superior.

Supporting Restoration Efforts

The GLSC is also supporting coregonid rehabilitation in the lower lakes. Dr. Jim Johnson and his team at GLSC’s Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science (Cortland, NY) have a formidable program in place that focuses on the technology required to rehabilitate cisco and bloater in Lake Ontario. 

GLSC researchers pioneered new methods to successfully hatch and raise bloater, an unusually fragile species, particularly during its early life stages. Fragile mouth parts prevented the young fish from being able to consume standard fish food, so Johnson and his team had to develop new methods for nourishing the younglings. 

As part of this experimental fish-rearing program, in 2014 the GLSC released nearly 150,000 cisco and 20,000 bloater into Lake Ontario bays and tributaries. One of the factors contributing to the decline of these species in Lake Ontario, and a factor preventing their restoration, is the destruction of spawning habitat. In an effort to increase the chances of success (namely reproduction) for these fish that are being restored, GLSC scientists across the basin are working with partners to design studies to identify existing functional cisco spawning habitat in lakes Superior and Michigan. Knowing the habitat where cisco are successfully reproducing will inform efforts to rehabilitate spawning habitat in Lake Ontario. 

This research, if funded, will provide essential spawning habitat quality indices that can be applied basin wide. These indices, combined with United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) side scan sonar benthic mapping and Aquatic GAP GIS modeling, can provide refined estimates of productive potential for this critical native species. GLSC partners on this project are the USFWS, Cornell University, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (OMNRF).                                     

Understanding Coregonid Genetics

Several connected projects are underway at the GLSC to examine relationships between genetics and morphological and ecological variation among coregonid species in the Great Lakes. The work will help improve our understanding of how this group functions in the Great Lakes food web and is one piece of information that can help guide choices for the source(s) of broodstock if stocking programs are implemented by resource managers and partnering organizations. 

Along with the Leetown Science Center, university partners, and the Little Traverse Band of Odawa Indians, the GLSC is working to develop genetic markers based on next-generation sequencing technology that will be used to better understand coregonid genetic diversity in the Great Lakes. 

GLSC and OMNRF biologists are investigating the origins of cisco caught in Lake Erie. Cisco have been caught along the north shore of Lake Erie in small numbers (<50) over the last decade. Genetic methods are being employed to determine if these cisco drifted from Lake Huron or represent a re-surging population. Data collected from another GLSC coregonid project is being used as a reference set of samples and the fish scale archive at the GLSC has been used to get genetic data from cisco collected from Lake Erie in the 1920s.

Additionally, the GLSC is working with the USFWS to understand the relationships between morphological and genetic variation in coregonid species from Lake Superior, where diversity remains high compared with other lakes. This effort will inform the USFWS status and trends review of short jaw cisco and serve as a valuable catalog of coregonid diversity needed for rehabilitation efforts in the lower Great Lakes. 

Looking ahead

GLSC native fish and fish habitat restoration research, which is focused on native species with ancillary benefits to sport species, is firmly grounded in adaptive management, applying scientific results to management approaches as learning takes place. Due to the combination of staff expertise, vessel and laboratory capabilities, and field stations strategically located throughout the Great Lakes basin, the GLSC is uniquely positioned to support native species restoration efforts in the Great Lakes. By working together across the Center and with partners across the basin, the research and rehabilitation possibilities are wide-ranging and exciting.  Through collaborative efforts, native fish, including coregonids, may once again fulfill their historic role in the Great Lakes ecosystem.

For more information regarding GLSC coregonid research, contact Dan Yule (dyule@usgs.gov) or Jim Johnson ( jhjohnson@usgs.gov).

 

Photo Credit: Beth Beard, AFS

Inland fisheries are spread throughout the globe – ranging from small lakes to big rivers and in the developing world, these inland fisheries serve as a critical source of protein and micronutrients for human populations. As countries grow and develop, inland fish must compete for clean water and habitat with other uses, including agriculture, hydropower, and transportation. In an effort to shed light on the challenges facing inland fisheries around the world, the Global Conference on Inland Fisheries took place from January 26-28, 2015 at the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, Italy. Over forty countries were represented by approximately 200 attendees at the conference as it brought together scientists, policy makers, and the international development community to discuss the food security, economic, and ecological issues associated with inland fisheries around the world. The conference’s overarching goal was to identify cross-sectoral solutions to sustain livelihoods, food security and aquatic ecosystems in inland fisheries. While attending the meeting, GLSC researchers David “Bo” Bunnell (Ann Arbor, MI) and Mark Rogers (Sandusky, OH) had the opportunity to inform the world about regionally important research on the Great Lakes. Dr. Bunnell’s presentation focused on key drivers influencing Lake Michigan and Lake Huron ecosystems ("Exploring the role of nutrients, predator stocking, and climate change on fisheries production in lakes Michigan and Huron, North America"; co-author, Chuck Madenjian, GLSC, Ann Arbor, Michigan). Dr. Rogers’ presentation discussed life-history differences that have emerged between wild and stocked Chinook salmon in Lake Michigan ("Fishery implications of diverging life-history characteristics between naturalized and stocked Chinook salmon in Lake Michigan, USA”).

The conference also served as an advantageous platform for gathering input regarding InFish: Global Inland Fisheries, a collaborative project aiming to develop a new model for estimating inland fish production in lakes at the global scale. Along with Bunnell and Rogers, GLSC researchers Whitney Woelmer (Ann Arbor, MI), and David Bennion, (Ann Arbor, MI), and MSU post-doctoral researcher Andy Deines, are working together on this project. Current global inland fish production estimates are widely recognized to be biased low. The InFish group is working to improve estimations by taking advantage of remotely available data from satellite or GIS layers to predict inland fish harvest. The Global Conference on Inland Fisheries provided the perfect venue to present preliminary results and seek feedback, as well as new data, for the InFish collaboration. Multiple “next steps” were established for the project and strategic new connections were made at this conference.

Furthermore, during the conference a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between Michigan State University and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to cooperate on improving inland fisheries programs. 

Other USGS attendees at the conference included Tom Kwak (North Carolina State Coop Research Unit), Abby Lynch (National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center), Doug Beard (National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center), Craig Paukert (Missouri Coop Unit), Scott Bonar (Arizona Coop Unit), and John Beeman (Western Fisheries Research Center). For more information about the conference or the research, contact Bo Bunnell, dbunnell@usgs.gov or Mark Rogers, mwrogers@usgs.gov.

USGS Research Vessel Arcticus, Cheboygan, Michigan

Photo Credit: Andrea Miehls, USGS

Follow our video series, “Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built”, and we’ll show you from start to finish how a research vessel is created. From the first piece of metal welded to the vessel commissioning, you’ll see how ideas, materials, and hard work come together to create the 77-foot research vessel Arcticus, designed to explore Great Lakes ecosystems.

Part 5: Sea Trials and Delivery to USGS

Research vessels are floating scientific laboratories that play a critical role in the mission of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC). With a research vessel stationed on each of the Great Lakes, GLSC scientists are able to conduct cutting-edge research and track long-term trends in the ecology of these vast and valuable ecosystems. One of the oldest vessels in the GLSC fleet is the 75-foot Research Vessel (R/V) Grayling. The Grayling has been instrumental in sampling deepwater ecosystems of Lakes Michigan and Huron since it was built in 1977. However, the Grayling is nearing the end of its effective service life as maintenance costs rise and newer technologies are required to understand the ecosystems that comprise these vast freshwater seas.

To replace the Grayling, the GLSC has built the 77-foot R/V Arcticus. In a nod to the rich legacy of the Grayling, the name Arcticus was drawn from the species name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus. The new vessel will be a versatile platform with the capacity to continue historical lake-wide fishery surveys while also providing state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to advance GLSC research. “The new vessel will include 21st century technologies to advance the fishery science conducted by the USGS Great Lakes Science Center and its partners,” said Russell Strach, Director of the GLSC.

The vessel’s primary field sampling capabilities will include bottom trawling, plankton and benthic invertebrate sampling, hydroacoustics, gill netting, and collection of environmental data. The Arcticus will offer greater research capabilities, increased fuel efficiency, improved health and safety features, and lower maintenance costs than its predecessor. The vessel was designed by JMS Naval Architects (Mystic, Connecticut) and is being built by the Burger Boat Company (Manitowoc, Wisconsin), which was awarded the contract in 2013.

The building of the Arcticus is being chronicled in a multi-part video series filmed by GLSC scientist, Jean Adams. Major construction milestones during the build include the arrival of materials, construction and assembly of hull modules, rolling of the completed hull, installation of the pilot house, outfitting of components, inspections, testing, painting, and finally sea trials, the journey to its home port in Cheboygan, Michigan, and the formal christening and commissioning. Progress toward each milestone is being documented in short videos released on the GLSC website.

Latest update

The Arcticus was “splashed” and took its maiden voyage on September 29, 2014, off the shore of the city of Manitowoc. The vessel plied the open waters of Lake Michigan for the very first time as part of its “sea trials.” (Watch the maiden voyage here). Sea trials for a new vessel take place when construction is complete but before final delivery to the owner in order to work out all the remaining bugs and ensure the vessel meets expectations. The vessel was evaluated based on a variety of criteria, including maneuverability, engine performance and speed. The Arcticus passed its sea trials on October 14.

The GLSC finally took possession of the Arcticus on October 17, 2014. This culminated a 15-month design-build process that began in July 2013. The Arcticus replaced the Grayling, which was sold to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Pasqagoula, Mississippi, in November 2014 for $75,000. The Arcticus arrived at her home port, the Cheboygan Vessel Base in Cheboygan, Michigan, on October 20. She began her service to the USGS immediately, deployed to conduct a lake trout spawner survey in northern Lake Michigan on October 24. Her performance was outstanding.

The final step for the Arcticus will be her christening and commissioning in summer 2015 at her base in Cheboygan, Michigan, when she will officially begin her service to the U.S. Government. (Read about the August 2014 commissioning and commissioning of the USGS R/V Kaho in Oswego, New York here).

To see earlier installments in the R/V Arcticus video series, visit the full list of Arcticus videos. You can also learn more about the build on the Burger Boat Company’s Arcticus page or on the JMS October 2014 press release.

The Arcticus at-a-glance:

  • Length: 77.5 ft.
  • Breadth: 26 ft.
  • Draft: 8.9 ft.
  • Full load displacement: 205 tons
  • Cruising speed: 9.5 knots
  • Maximum speed: 10.2 knots
  •  Builder: Burger Boat Company (Manitowoc, Wisconsin)
  • Designer: JMS Naval Architects (Mystic, Connecticut)
  • Architect: Gregory C. Marshall, Naval Architect, Ltd. (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada)
  • Design and Construction cost: $5.6M
Dawn Dittman with 5 Year Old Sturgeon

Photo Credit: USGS

Thanks to Great Lakes Science Center scientist Dr. Dawn Dittman and a team of collaborators, one of the oldest and longest-lived fish species in the Great Lakes - the ancient lake sturgeon - has returned to the Genesee River, New York. Just over 1,000 fingerling lake sturgeon were released into the river on October 3, 2014 marking the fourth release of lake sturgeon in the river since 2003.

Lake sturgeon is a native fish species in the Great Lakes that has been present since dinosaurs roamed the Earth over 136 million years ago. A once highly abundant species, lake sturgeon populations are currently only about one percent of their abundance in the early 1800s. Extensive removal of sturgeon as trash fish followed by overfishing once the eggs of the species were recognized as a valuable source of caviar caused populations to plummet by the early 1900s. Because of this drastic population decline, lake sturgeon has been designated a species of concern across the Great Lakes region.

To help bring this ancient fish back from the brink of extirpation in the Great Lakes, a team of federal, state, academic, and tribal partners has been working diligently for the past twenty years to restore lake sturgeon to multiple rivers and lakes in New York State. Restoration efforts include stocking of young (3-4 month old) lake sturgeon, called fingerlings, and assessing the survival, growth, and habitat use of the stocked sturgeon as they grow into adulthood. Dr. Dittman, lead scientist working on the lake sturgeon restoration program, is responsible for completing assessments on the lake sturgeon after they are released. In particular, Dr. Dittman has been monitoring Genesee River lake sturgeon since stocking first began in the river.

Almost 4,000 lake sturgeon have been stocked into the Genesee River over the past decade, beginning with 900 fingerling sturgeon in 2003 followed by stocking events in 2004 and 2013 of approximately 1,000 fingerling sturgeon each. This year’s release consisted of 1,010 fingerling sturgeon hatched in June at the New York State Department of Environmental Conversation's Oneida Hatchery. Other partners contributing to the stocking event included the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, NY. Another 6-8 years of stocking are planned for the future to fully restore lake sturgeon to the Genesee River.

Dr. Dittman's assessments have shown positive results for lake sturgeon survival and growth in the Genesee River so far. During an assessment completed in mid-October, forty-six lake sturgeon were captured, including thirteen sturgeon released during 2003-2004 (now 10-11 years old), twenty-nine sturgeon released in 2013 (now 1 year old), and four fingerling sturgeon released earlier in the month. Although many of the male sturgeon captured from the 2003-2004 stocking are mature (assessment results indicate males in the Genesee River are maturing between 8-10 years of age), they will have to wait for the female sturgeon to catch up. No mature females have been collected in the river yet, and results from other stocked lakes and rivers suggest that maturation will not occur until the females are 18-20 years old. Naturally reproduced lake sturgeon have been found in other New York lakes and rivers that were stocked during the early 1990s, such as Oneida Lake, and scientists working on the Genesee River are eagerly hoping for similar findings in the river over the next decade.

Curious to learn more about the lake sturgeon stocking program? The stocking effort was highlighted in a Lake Ontario Outdoors fall 2014 article, "Stocking Dinosaurs" (pages 37-42), as well as on the Rochester City Newspaper Blog, "Agencies stock Genesee River with young sturgeon." The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation also has a news release with more information about the October 3 stocking in the Genesee River.

Photo: GLSC scientist Dawn Dittman holding a five year old lake sturgeon recaptured during a survival assessment of stocked sturgeon in the Genessee River.

Blog Update - Wrack on Great Lakes Shorelines - Meredith Nevers, USGS

Photo Credit: USGS

Take a walk along any Great Lakes shoreline and you'll discover a cornucopia of items washed up along the shore. Natural debris like dead algae, feathers, leaves, and shells are common, but so too are unnatural items like plastic toys, fishing line, and even the occasional shopping cart. Where do these items come from? And what happens once they arrive?

In a new two-part series on the USGS Great Lakes Science Blog, Meredith Nevers (GLSC Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station, Porter, IN) sorts through the variety of items that washes up along Great Lakes coastlines and what these accumulations mean for food webs and ecosystem health.

In Part 1, Cladophora algae: Too much of a good thing? (September 5, 2014), Meredith focuses on nuisance green algae called Cladophora that can literally smother Great Lakes shorelines in decaying mats. Great Lakes Science Center scientists have discovered that the algae are a haven for a variety of microbes, flora, and fauna, including bacteria and pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli, but also beneficial plankton and macroinvertebrates. In this blog post, Meredith explores the importance of studying these Cladophora-based ecosystems, including implications for lake food webs and productivity, water quality and clarity, bird health, and fisheries.

In Part 2, Let's Wrack and Roll! (October 3, 2014), Meredith describes the amalgamation of materials thrown onto shorelines by waves and tides. Whether you call it wrack, marine debris, detritus, flotsam, or jetsam, this mixture of materials can be an important source of food for shoreline animals, but can also be a source of contamination in food webs. In this blog post, Meredith describes how Great Lakes Science Center scientists are studying the community that lives and thrives in the Great Lakes wrack and the processes that lead to its accumulation.

Read Meredith's full entries and more about Great Lakes science on the USGS Great Lakes Science Blog. To subscribe to the blog, click the "Entries RSS" link under Meta on the right side of the page (Chrome users may need to install an extension for the RSS feeds).

Stay tuned for a third entry in Meredith's blog series coming soon!

Photo: Debris or "wrack" washed up along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Inset: A technician collecting samples of leaves and other debris accumulated along a street curb that can eventually wash into the Great Lakes.

Photo Credit: USGS, Ralph Grundel

GLSC researchers at the USGS Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station (LMERS; Porter, Indiana) recently completed work on a large-scale project examining key characteristics of breeding bird communities, such as diversity, across the contiguous United States.  By documenting differences in community characteristics as a function of climate, researchers can predict how bird communities might be affected in a future of changing climate and use this information to improve land management efforts.  Additionally, by documenting differences in conservation value of bird communities across landscapes, researchers can also help prioritize landscapes for different management actions.

When working to manage or restore landscapes, managers must first determine the most important (“valuable”) characteristic of a given landscape then try to improve the status of that characteristic.  For instance, managers often prioritize increasing biodiversity as a preferred outcome of management activity.  However, such characteristics are likely to be valued differently by different individuals/groups.  For example, presence of a particular species on the landscape might be deemed valuable by one land manager while presence of a different species might be most important to another.  No conflict between management strategies arises if one landscape supports both of those species but, if not, deciding where to focus restoration efforts can be difficult.  To this point, studies have been completed that examine prioritization schemes for restoration (i.e., how to determine which characteristics have greatest value).  However, less research has examined the geographic overlap (“coincidence”) of different valued landscape characteristics. That is, how regularly do multiple valued characteristics co-exist in the same area? 

For this project, the overarching goal was to use characteristics of bird communities as a way of measuring the value of a given landscape and then examining if these characteristics coincide geographically.  Why birds? There is a great deal of information readily available from the USGS sponsored Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) regarding breeding bird populations around the country.  These BBS data on breeding bird abundances provided a tangible avenue for assigning conservation value to a given landscape.  The researchers assessed five ways of defining the conservation value of the landscape: (1) bird abundance; (2) bird species richness; (3) presence of threatened or rare bird species; (4) frequency of landscape use by bird species; and (5) ecological attributes of the community.  

Why examine whether these characteristics commonly overlap with one another around the U.S.?  It is often assumed that overlapping characteristics guarantee more “ideal” bird communities.  For example, two characteristics often highly valued by managers are species diversity and helping rare species and it is typically expected that, if high species diversity is maintained in an area, it is also likely to find rare and threatened species in the mix.  Therefore, you are achieving biodiversity and preserving threatened species at the same time.  But, is this actually true?  Does focusing management efforts on achieving one conservation goal (such as maximizing biodiversity) mean success in achieving others (such as aiding threatened species)? The results of this study suggest that no, it does not.  While in some parts of the country management efforts have led to all, or nearly all, preferred characteristics coinciding in a single landscape, this is not the typical scenario.  Despite management efforts, many landscapes did not see any characteristics coincide (e.g., increased species richness did not guarantee the presence of threatened species). 

What do these findings mean for management?  That in reality, either a single goal (“value”), or few goals, must be selected when planning restoration efforts, such as helping threatened species, or there must be multiple restoration areas with a different goal in place for each area.  

A secondary outcome of this project involved how climate change might affect the distribution of characteristics and, in turn, bird communities across the United States in the future.  For example, how is the number of bird species in a given area likely to change later in the 21st century?  One interesting result uncovered is that the United States can be roughly divided into two approximately equal-sized bird ecological regions, separated at the 100th meridian.  On a large-scale, within each of these regions (i.e., the eastern and western U.S.), bird community composition is fairly similar suggesting similar environmental characteristics present, which determine bird community composition.  Between the east and west regions, however, underlying ecological characteristics differ and will continue to do so in the future.  With climate change, the eastern and western regions are expected to diverge further, suggesting that bird community composition will become less similar between the eastern and western halves of the United States with changing climate. 

What do these findings mean for management?  That is a little tricky to say at this point, but they do suggest that the values we use to assess conservation value for birds will be changing so that goals will have to be adjusted to preserve and protect bird communities across the country.

Find the article associated with this study here: Geographic coincidence of richness, mass, conservation value, and response to climate of U.S. land birds. For more information about this research project contact GLSC Research Ecologist Ralph Grundel (rgrundel@usgs.gov). 

2014.09.18 LOBS Field Day

Photo Credit: USGS

Over 100 5th graders got tangled in the Great Lakes food web during the Oswego County Soil and Water Conservation District's Field Day on September 18, 2014 thanks to creative Great Lakes Science Center staff. Maureen Walsh and Stacy Furgal (GLSC Lake Ontario Biological Station, Oswego, NY) hosted five interactive sessions at the Field Day to teach youth about Great Lakes food webs. Participants explored the diverse features of Great Lakes food webs through playing games and solving puzzles. As part of a food web game, participants were given "creature cards" that each represented a Great Lakes organism, including native species like lake trout, deepwater sculpin, and Mysis, and non-native species like sea lamprey and alewife, and even a card for humans. Using a ball of yarn, the youth connected themselves to each other based on food web interactions - the "who eats what" of the food web. Using the tangled web that the youth created, GLSC scientists taught about the important effects that humans have on Great Lakes food webs through activities like fishing, nutrient addition, and pollution. The youth also got up close and personal with one of the Great Lakes most notorious invasive species - sea lamprey (provided for the event by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission). Participants could see live sea lamprey, which are primitive, parasitic fish that drink the blood of other fish. The engaging games and creepy creatures provided a fun and memorable learning experience for the youth of Oswego County.

Director Kimball and Congressman Walsh Tunison Visit

Photo Credit: GLSC

The Great Lakes Science Center Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science received some special visitors on August 6, 2014 - USGS Acting Director Suzette Kimball and former Congressman Jim Walsh (central NY District), along with several other state and tribal partners.

As part of the tour, Tunison scientists presented overviews of their research, which is largely focused on understanding Great Lakes fish. Tunison research runs the gamut, from restoring native species, such as Atlantic salmon, lake herring, and deepwater ciscoes (also called bloater) to Lake Ontario, to determining effects of cormorant predation on fish populations, predicting aquatic biodiversity patterns and gaps in the distribution and conservation of aquatic species, and assessing the status and conservation needs of threatened and endangered species in the St. Lawrence River basin. The research is shared with state and tribal partners who use the information in their resource management programs.

The visitors also toured the lab's fish rearing facilities, which provide state-of-the art capabilities for holding wild-captured eggs and raising fish for release. Using this facility, Tunison has made great progress in native fish restoration at multiple trophic levels. Since autumn of 2011, Tunison has raised and released thousands of native fish to Lake Ontario and its tributaries, including over 100,000 young Atlantic salmon, and tens of thousands of young lake herring and deepwater ciscoes. There is even evidence that some of the released Atlantic salmon have begun to reproduce in the wild. Tunison scientists showed the visitors the careful process that must be used to rear these species. Rearing deepwater ciscoes, for example, is particularly challenging. Their eggs must be collected from wild sources deep in the Great Lakes during winter. In addition, the mouths of young ciscoes are too small for typical fish food. Tunison researchers have been able to overcome these challenges and begin restoration of this important prey fish species to Lake Ontario.

Watch the short video clip (lower right) to take a virtual tour of the Tunison Lab!

A short video features Dr. Kimball, Congressman Walsh, and other partners exploring the facilities, the scenic location of Tunison on 100 acres of woodland in upstate New York, Tunison scientist presentations and demonstrations of sampling gear, and the lab's specialized fish rearing facilities. Enjoy the tour!

GLSC Scientists Attend American Fisheries Society Meeting

Photo Credit: GLSC

The American Fisheries Society's 144th annual meeting was held August 17-21, 2014 in Quebec City, Canada, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River. Several GLSC scientists attended the meeting, joining thousands of scientists from across the globe. The theme of this year's meeting was From Fisheries Research to Management: Think and Act Locally and Globally. GLSC research relating to this theme was highlighted in over thirty oral and poster presentations (listed below)! For more information about the meeting, visit the conference webpage. Interested in learning more about the research of GLSC scientists listed below? Visit the GLSC personnel directory and click on a scientist' name to view their professional profile.

GLSC Presentations

  1. Bunnell, D.B., M.W. Rogers, M.J. Sayers, R. Shuchman, and A. Deines. 2014. How can remote sensing technologies inform and improve inland fisheries science and management? Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  2. Dawson, H.A., G. Bravener, J. Beaulurier, N.S. Johnson, M. Twohey, R.L. McLaughlin. Factors influencing trapping success of adult sea lampreys in the Great Lakes. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  3. Dawson, H.A., M.L. Jones, B. Irwin, N.S. Johnson, C.M. Wagner, M. Szymanski. A model evaluation of the effectiveness of incorporating pheromone-baited trapping techniques into an integrated pest management program of Great Lakes sea lamprey. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  4. DeBruyne, R.L., and E.F. Roseman. 2014. Succeeding As a Non-Traditional Graduate Student: Building a Supportive Network. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  5. DeBruyne, R.L., B.A. Manny, K. Newman, E.F. Roseman, J. Ross, P. Seelbach, and R. Strach. 2014. Prioritizing Restoration Monitoring: Using a Viability Analysis to Establish Meaningful Monitoring Metrics and Derive Restoration Endpoints in the St. Clair-Detroit River System. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  6. DeBruyne, R.L., P. Butchko, D.G. Fielder, E.F. Roseman, and P.A. Thompson. 2014. Assessing Potential Impacts of Double-Crested Cormorants on Sportfish Populations in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  7. DuFour, M., J.J. Pritt, C.M. Mayer, C. May, S.A. Ludsin, E.A. Marshall, M. Fraker, E.F. Roseman, J.G. Miner, J. Davis, C.S. Vandergoot, and J. Tyson. 2014. Diversity in a Multi-Stock System: Temporal and Spatial Portfolio Effects in Lake Erie Walleye Production. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  8. Evans, M.A., D. Engel, T. Höök, K. Ledbetter, S. Ludsin, J. Roberts, J. Schaffer and A. Stevens. 2014. Linking landscapes, aquatic productivity, and fisheries: an example in Lake Erie. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  9. Gorman, A. M., Knight, C., Kraus, R., Vandergoot, C., and Zhao, Y. 2014. Walleye habitat model assumptions can be tested with acoustic telemetry in Lake Erie. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  10. Holbrook, C.M., T.R. Binder, and C.C. Krueger. 2014. Every Receiver Counts: Lessons from a Rapidly-Developing Telemetry Community in the Great Lakes. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  11. Johnson, N.S., S. Miehls, M.J. Siefkes, C.M. Wagner, G. Bravener, M. Twohey. Advances in alternative controls for sea lampreys in the Great Lakes. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  12. Kennedy, G.W., D. Bennion, J. Craig, B.A. Manny, and E.F. Roseman. 2014. Ground Truth and Site Assessment of Model Predicted Fish Spawning Habitats in the St. Clair-Detroit River System. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  13. Knight. C., Kraus, R., Rogers, M., Kocovsky, P., and Gorman, A. M. 2014. Movement and recapture of yellow perch using passive integrated transponder tags in Lake Erie. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  14. Kraus, R. T., Gorman, A. M., Farmer, T., Knight, C., Warren, G., Collingsworth, P., and Conroy, J. 2014. Dynamic Hypoxic Zones in Lake Erie Compress Fish Habitat Altering Vulnerability to Fishing Gears. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  15. Krueger, C.C., D. Hondorp, C. Holbrook, M. Thomas, T. Wills, E.F. Roseman, J.C. Boase, J. Chiotti, L Mohr, and R. Drouin. 2014. Rethinking Sturgeon Migration: Dispersal Patterns of Lake Sturgeon in the Lake Huron-to-Lake Erie Corridor. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  16. Larson, D. S. McNaught, and E.F. Roseman. 2014. Assessment of Nursery Habitat Use By Larval Fishes in the St. Clair River Delta, MI. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  17. Ludsin, S. A., T.O. Hook, E.F. Roseman, E.S. Rutherford, K.M. DeVanna, and R.E.H. Smith. 2014. Early Life Stage Investigations of Fish Recruitment in the North American Great Lakes: Misconceptions and Contributions to General Recruitment Theory. Keynote Symposium Address. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  18. May, C., E.F. Roseman, S.A. Ludsin, and E.A. Marshall. 2014. Larval Habitat Quality As a Determinant of Future Growth and Recruitment. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  19. McKenna, J.E.Jr., J.H. Johnson, and M. Chalupnicki Lake Whitefish Production: Climate, Weather, and Ice Cover. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  20. McKenna, J.E.Jr., M. Chalupnicki, and D.E. Dittman Simulation of Lake Ontario Benthification. Invited presentation. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  21. McKenna, J.E.Jr., M. Walsh, R. Alexander, and C. Castiglione. Fish Species Distribution Models for Lake Ontario. Invited presentation. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  22. Miehls, S.M., V.A. Sotola, L.G. Simard, and J.E. Marsden. 2014. Movement Patterns of Outmigrating Juvenile Sea Lamprey. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  23. Newman, K.R., D.B. Bunnell, and D.W. Hondorp. 2014. Openness to the Unexpected: Our Pathways to Careers in a Federal Research Laboratory. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  24. Pritt, J.J., E.F. Roseman, and T.P. O’Brien. 2014. Mechanisms Driving Recruitment Variability in Fishes: Comparisons Between the Laurentian Great Lakes and Marine Systems. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  25. Roseman, E.F., J. Craig, S. Ireland, G. Kennedy, B.A. Manny, J. Chiotti, and J. Boase. 2014. Using Fish Egg and Larval Surveys to Assess Efficacy of Constructed Spawning Habitats in the St. Clair-Detroit Rivers System. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  26. Ross, J., E.F. Roseman, R. DeBruyne, R. Kraus, C.M. Mayer, J.J. Pritt, M. DuFour, J. Tyson, and C.S. Vandergoot. 2014. Spatial and Temporal Patterns in Trawl Survey Catches Reflect Stock-Specific Dispersal of Age-0 Fishes and Individual Spawning Stock Production in Lake Erie. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  27. Rutherford, E., H. Vanderploeg, J. Cavaletto, J. Liebig, S. Pothoven, D. Mason, A. Hoover, D. Burnette, D. Wells, K. Mabrey, D. Bunnell, D. Warner, T. O’Brien, J. Johnson, H. Carrick. 2014. Compensatory Response of the Lower Food Web and Larval Fish Growth and Survival to Multiple Stressors in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  28. Siefkes, M.J., W. Li, M. Wagner, N.S. Johnson. Current understanding of pheromone communication in the sea lamprey. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  29. Simard, L.G., V.A. Sotola, S.M. Miehls, and J.E. Marsden. 2014. Assessment of PIT tag retention and post-tagging survival in transformer-phase sea lamprey. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  30. Stott, W., C. Morrison, K. Coykendall and C. Wilson. 2014. Genetic Diversity among Historical Collections of Two Sander Species from Lake Erie: Comparisons of Microsatellite DNA and SNP Data. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
  31. Thompson, P.A., E.F. Roseman, K.Keeler, D. Bowser, T.P. O’Brien, and S.C. Riley. 2014. Continued Utilization of Diporeia By Benthivores: A Diet Comparison of Lake Huron Deepwater Sculpin Between 2003 and 2013. Annual meeting of the American Fisheries Society, Quebec City, Canada, 17-21 August 2014.
GLSC research vessel Sturgeon visits Navy Pier, Chicago

Photo Credit: Josh Miller, USGS

The GLSC's 104-foot research vessel Sturgeon docked at Navy Pier in Chicago on August 12, 2014, in the middle of her annual August Lake Michigan hydroacoustic survey. The effort was led by Danielle Chesky of the Northeast Midwest Institute (NEMWI), a Washington-based, private, nonprofit, and nonpartisan research organization dedicated to economic vitality, environmental quality, and regional equity for Northeast and Midwest states.

The day started off with a press conference aboard the bow of the Sturgeon during which stakeholders and close partners who depend upon sound science for management of the Great Lakes economy and ecosystem offered comments in order to thank Congressional supporters and showcase their accomplishments and partnership with USGS. Representatives who offered comments from the various agencies and organizations included Bob Lambe, Executive Secretary of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission; Vic Santucci, Head of the Lake Michigan Program of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources; John Rogner, Coordinator of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative; Michelle Parker, Vice President of Great Lakes and Sustainability for the Shedd Aquarium; Brendan Daley, Director of Strategy and Sustainability of the Chicago Park District; and Danielle Chesky, Director of the Great Lakes Washington Program of the Northeast Midwest Institute. Anthony Conway from Senator Dick Durbin’s office was also in attendance, as was Deputy Associate Director of the USGS Ecosystems Mission Area, William Lellis. Chicago abc news and WBEZ, the local public radio station, provided coverage of the conference.

Lead Biologist, Dr. Dave Warner, and Captain, Joe Bergan led a tour of the vessel’s mechanical and scientific capabilities. The tour included interaction with high school student scientists that had been working with the Shedd Aquarium throughout the summer on small research projects out of Ashland, Wisconsin. The students, who received a lengthy tour of their own, questioned the scientists, crew members and biological technicians aboard the Sturgeon about life on the lakes and careers in Federal environmental science.

Afternoon activities aboard the ship included public tours by visitors to Navy Pier and interaction with a live sea lamprey exhibit hosted by the Great Lakes Fishery Commission on the dock adjacent to the vessel. These public interactions help to make visible the important, but largely “invisible,” work that GLSC deepwater scientists perform on the lakes to provide critical information to state and Federal resource managers throughout the basin. In fact, the hydroacoustic surveys take place not only miles offshore, but almost exclusively during nighttime hours.

Following the visit to the pier, the signature blue-and-white Sturgeon continued on its survey of Lake Michigan prey fish and the scientists and crew returned to their nighttime work regime.

USGS Director Suzette Kimball christens GLSC's news research vessel, the Kaho, on Lake Ontario

Photo Credit: USGS-GLSC-LOBS

The Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) celebrated the newest addition to its fleet of large research vessels, the Kaho, in a traditional christening and commissioning ceremony at the Lake Ontario Event and Conference Center in Oswego, New York, on Wednesday, August 6th. The new, 70-foot Kaho will enable USGS Lake Ontario Biological Station (LOBS) scientists to enhance ongoing explorations of fish health and water-quality in Lake Ontario. This research is used by federal, state and provincial resource managers to protect and restore the lake’s ecosystem and the New York sport fishery that generates $54 million annually.

The U.S. Geological Survey’s Acting Director, Dr. Suzette Kimball, christened the vessel with the traditional breaking of a champagne bottle across the bow. USGS Eastern Region mechanical engineer, Pamela Dei, commissioned the vessel, marking the official beginning of U.S. Government service on Lake Ontario. Featured speakers included Acting Director Kimbal; New York State Assemblyman, William Barclay; Regional Director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Kenneth Lynch; Communications Director and Legislative Liaison of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission, Dr. Marc Gaden; Associate Director of the New York Sea Grant Institute, Dr. Katherine Bunting-Howarth; and representatives of the offices of U.S. Congressman, Dan Maffei, and New York State Senator, Patty Ritchie. The traditional invocation was delivered by a local Oswego clergyman, Reverend George Demass, and a Native American blessing for the vessel and her mission was performed by Henry Lickers of the Mohawk Council of Akswesasne. Flags to color the vessel were presented to Kaho Captain Terry Lewchanin by LTJG Brian Hillman of the U.S. Coast Guard Sector Buffalo (U.S. flag); Kenneth Lynch, Regional Director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NY State flag); Andy Todd, Manager of the Lake Ontario Management Unit, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (Canadian flag); and Kristine Murray, Contract Specialist of the USGS (commissioning pennant).

The new Kaho is one of two twin 70-foot research vessels brought into service to replace the oldest boats in the USGS Great Lakes fleet. The new vessels were funded by an $8.2 million award to USGS from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Vessel design and construction was contracted in 2010 to Great Lakes Towing of Cleveland, Ohio and the new boats were complete by July 2012. These vessels feature several new nautical advances, including high-performance aluminum hulls, which are lighter, faster and more stable than the steel vessels they replaced. The vessels are also equipped with modern navigation and scientific capabilities, providing USGS with state-of-the-art floating laboratories for research into Lake Ontario’s coastal and deep-water ecosystems. Science aboard the Kaho will be overseen by LOBS Chief, Dr. Brian Lantry, and GLSC Eastern Basin Chief, Dr. James Johnson.

The christening and commissioning ceremony was followed by tours of the vessel and of the LOBS. Tour participants were presented with posters and exhibits of LOBS science and the important role the station plays in regional collaborations.

The picture-perfect day and good-natured presence and support of the partners and guests bode well for the mission of the Kaho in coming years. And Pam Dei’s commissioning was as relevant for all GLSC scientists, technicians and staff as it was for the Kaho crew:

I remind you that your work is of utmost importance to society, and you are sent to use your knowledge to assist in gaining a better understanding of the world’s greatest fresh water lakes. I encourage you to pursue your work with enthusiasm and perseverance for our sake and that of the living resources of the Great Lakes. To you I bid, “fair winds and following seas” as you endeavor to help us all be good stewards of the earth.

Photo Credit: USGS-LOBS

Researchers and staff at the GLSC Lake Ontario Biological Station (LOBS, Oswego, NY) participated in a NOAA-Sea Grant and Center for Great Lakes Literacy workshop for local teachers on August 1, 2014.  The goal of the workshop was to provide experiential learning opportunities to 5th through 12th grade teachers in the Lake Ontario/Oneida Lake watershed so they will ultimately be able to engage their own students in practices that value and promote a sustainable society.  Through the event, teachers were equipped with information to help future students develop greater awareness and understanding about Lake Ontario and Oneida Lake, increase critical thinking skills and authentic learning in STEM disciplines, gain experience in solving locally-relevant problems, and devise stewardship projects that improve Great Lakes Literacy.

At LOBS, teachers met fishery biologist Dr. Maureen Walsh who presented them with background information on the GLSC and ongoing research at LOBS, including an explanation of how bottom trawls work.  Technicians Stacy Furgal, Curt Karboski, and Matt Paufve demonstrated laboratory techniques, including zooplankton identification and fish age estimation from otoliths, followed by an explanation of sampling gear used on both large and small vessels (zooplankton nets, hydroacoutics transducers, etc.).  Finally, vessel crew members Terry Lewchanin and Ted Strang toured teachers through the GLSC Research Vessel (R/V) Kaho, stationed at LOBS, in order to learn about life on-board during research cruises.

Evaluations from the teachers were overwhelmingly positive and many commented on the value of the experience.  Teachers appreciated the opportunity to work with scientists while learning about Lake Ontario research and indicated that they will share the information gained with future students.  Several other teachers mentioned that they also plan to share information with fellow teachers.  One teacher specifically wrote: “The USGS scientists and technicians were so engaged with our group and generous with information and experiences.”

Interested in more information about the NOAA-Sea Grant and Center for Great Lakes Literacy workshop for teachers in the Lake Ontario/Oneida Lake watershed?  Contact GLSC research fishery biologist Maureen Walsh (mwalsh@usgs.gov).

 

RV Arcticus Takes Shape

Photo Credit: USGS-GLSC

Follow our video series, "Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built", and we'll show you from start to finish how a research vessel is created. From the first piece of metal welded to the last touch of paint, you'll see how ideas, materials, and hard work come together to create the Research Vessel Arcticus, a 77-foot steel vessel designed to explore Great Lakes ecosystems.

Part 4: The R/V Arcticus Takes Shape

Research vessels are floating scientific laboratories that play a critical role in the mission of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. With one research vessel stationed on each of the Great Lakes, GLSC scientists are able to conduct cutting-edge research and track long-term trends in the ecology of these vast and valuable ecosystems. One of the oldest vessels in the GLSC fleet is the 75-foot Research Vessel (R/V) Grayling. The R/V Grayling has been instrumental in sampling deepwater ecosystems of Lakes Michigan and Huron since it was built in 1977. However, the R/V Grayling is nearing the end of its effective service life, as maintenance costs rise and newer technologies are required to meet GLSC partner needs.

To replace the R/V Grayling, the GLSC is building the 77-foot R/V Arcticus. In a nod to the rich legacy of the R/V Grayling, the name Arcticus was drawn from the species name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus. The new vessel will be a versatile platform with the capacity to continue historical lake-wide fishery surveys while also providing state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to advance GLSC research. "The new vessel will include innovative 21st century technologies to advance the fishery science conducted by the USGS Great Lakes Science Center and its partners," said Russell Strach, Director of the GLSC.

The vessel's primary field sampling capabilities will include bottom trawling, plankton and benthic invertebrate sampling, hydroacoustics, gill netting, and collection of environmental data. The R/V Arcticus will offer greater research capabilities, increased fuel efficiency, improved health and safety features, and lower maintenance costs than its predecessor. The vessel was designed by JMS Naval Architects (Mystic, Connecticut) and is being built by the Burger Boat Company (Manitowoc, Wisconsin), which was awarded the contract in 2013.

Watch the short video clip (lower right) to see the build in progress!

The creation of the R/V Arcticus is being chronicled in a multi-part video series filmed by GLSC scientist, Jean Adams. Major construction milestones during the build include the arrival of materials, construction and assembly of hull modules, rolling of the completed hull, installation of the pilot house, outfitting of components, inspections and testing, painting, and finally the commissioning, sea trials, and journey to its home port of Cheboygan, Michigan. Progress toward each milestone is being documented in short videos released on the GLSC website.

LATEST UPDATE: After months of construction, the R/V Arcticus is finally beginning to look like a research vessel. The most recent addition is the placement of the pilot house. Like a cherry on top of an ice cream sundae, the 19 foot long pilot house looks small on top of the 77 foot ship, but this module will be home to the command center for the entire vessel. The pilot house will be the headquarters for the vessel captain and will hold all of the steering controls and navigational equipment. With all decks in place now, the focus of the R/V Arcticus construction will move to the interior of the vessel.

The vessel is expected to be completed by August 2014. Be sure to check the GLSC website regularly for updated videos as each construction milestone is achieved! To see earlier installments in the R/V Arcticus video series, visit the full list of Arcticus videos. You can also learn more about the build on the Burger Boat Company’s Arcticus page.

Photo Credit: D. Bennion

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Great Lakes Science Center (Ann Arbor, Michigan), in collaboration with a number of partners, is proposing to establish a series of native fish spawning reefs in the two large rivers (the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers) that connect two Great Lakes (Lake Huron and Lake Erie).  One hundred billion gallons (378.5 billion liters) of water flow through these two important connecting channels daily. Changes made to the channels to allow commercial shipping and the dumping of spoils from coal-fired ships have damaged much of the spawning grounds for fishes of historic or economic value.
 
The proposed projects would remediate native fish spawning habitat by establishing several engineered spawning reefs made with natural rock.  The habitat is designed to serve as a spawning ground for several native fish species inlcuding lake sturgeon, lake whitefish, walleye, nothern madtom, among others, that all use similar spawning habitat.
 
The Great Lakes Science Center has recently conducted an Environmental Assessment in preparation for these projects. Links to the Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact documents can be found here.
 
Maureen Walsh, GLSC, with Cisco

Photo Credit: GLSC

If you imagine a scientist, you might picture someone in a white coat analyzing specimens under a microscope in sterile lab environment. While that image is true for many scientists, that type of lab work is only a portion of the daily activities completed for many Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) scientists.

In a new three-part entry on the USGS Great Lakes Science Blog, Dr. Maureen Walsh (GLSC Lake Ontario Biological Station, Oswego, NY) describes the variety of activities she engages in as part of her Research Fishery Biologist position at the GLSC.

In Part 1, Taking our Science to the Classes (April 22, 2014), Maureen describes the important outreach that she and other GLSC scientists complete with local students. "Almost everyone in an ecological career can point to some pivotal experiences, or the words of a mentor from their childhood or education, that helped lead them down their chosen path," explains Maureen. Now as established researchers, Maureen and other GLSC scientists are able to return the generosity of their own mentors by mentoring the next generation of scientists through outreach.

In Part 2, Spring Warm Up: Lake Ontario Biological Station Gets Ready for Field Season (April 29, 2014), Maureen depicts the hustle and bustle around Lake Ontario Biological Station as research transitions from laboratory and computer work during the winter to field surveys - also called "research cruises" - during the spring. One of the most important activities is prepping the 70 foot research vessel Kaho for months of research cruises which begin not long after ice-out in Lake Ontario!

In Part 3, Lake Ontario’s Spring 2014 Cruises (June 20, 2014), Maureen takes readers along on a typical research cruise in Lake Ontario. Cruises involve collecting fish using large nets called bottom trawls and then recording biological data on those fish such as number of each species, body length, and weight. Some fish even have their stomachs removed for diet analysis and tiny ear bones removed for aging. The scientists also collect other physical and biological information during their cruises, such as water temperature, light penetration, and samples of zooplankton (tiny microscopic invertebrates that are eaten by young fish).

Read Maureen's full entries and more about Great Lakes Science at the USGS Great Lakes Science Blog. To subscribe to the blog, click the "Entries RSS" link under Meta on the right side of the page (Chrome users may need to install an extension for the RSS feeds).

Photo caption: Dr. Maureen Walsh, author of the 3-part blog series, holding a cisco (also called lake herring) caught during a research cruise.

Photo Credit: Sam Droege, USGS

Pollinators provide hundreds of billions of dollars of ecological services annually to human populations and June 16 – 22, 2014 marks the 7th National Pollinator Week.  Pollinator Week has grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles, according to the Pollinator Partnership, who initiated and now manage Pollinator Week.  The week’s designation began with a unanimous approval in the U.S. Senate seven years ago, which marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations.

GLSC researchers at the Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station (LMERS; Porter, Indiana) work closely with several pollinator species, including native bee populations.  Over 4,500 native bee species are known in the U.S. and are critical for pollinating many native plant species and agricultural crops.  Significant declines of managed honeybee populations and frequent extirpations of native bumblebee populations in the U.S. indicate that some species, and their associated functions, are in jeopardy of decline or loss.  These declines are likely related to global change including land-use and climate change.  Researchers have inventoried 46 national parks spanning the continental U.S.  By comparing bee communities (or lack thereof) in a variety of different landscapes (some of which have been identified as areas of special concern due to their potential sensitivity to climate change), scientists expect to uncover new information about the habitat specificity of native bees and will be able to more clearly evaluate climate sensitivity of these native bee species.  

Research at LMERS also focuses on the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis).  One of the few remaining populations of the federally endangered butterfly resides at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (INDU).  Overall, Karner blue population counts at INDU have declined since the late 1990s, to near extinction levels, despite ongoing habitat management.  Current GLSC research is working to predict how climate change might be affecting the future of the Karner blue at Indiana Dunes and across its range, and translating those predictions into management recommendations in order to maintain a population across the range for years to come, despite changes in climate.

Would you like more information about GLSC pollinator research? Contact GLSC Research Ecologist Ralph Grundel (rgrundel@usgs.gov).  Want to host an event for National Pollinator Week?  Get help here.

 

USGS Lake Michigan 2013 Bottom Trawl Survey

Photo Credit: GLSC

The USGS Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) has conducted lake-wide surveys of the prey fish community in Lake Michigan every fall since 1973. A new video by GLSC contractor Whitney Woelmer highlights the 2013 Lake Michigan bottom trawl survey, giving viewers a first-hand look at how the mysteries of Lake Michigan bottom-dwelling fish communities are uncovered.

Bottom trawling involves towing a large mesh net along the lake bottom at water depths anywhere from 30 to over 350 feet. The net is spread wide by "doors" – which essentially act like wings – on the left and right side, the lower part of the net is weighted to keep the net flush along the lake bottom, and the top part of the net has small floats to keep the mouth of the trawl open. This type of trawl specifically targets "prey fish" that live on the bottom of the lake for at least part of their life, including alewife, bloater, rainbow smelt, slimy and deepwater sculpins, and round gobies. These prey fish are smaller fish that are eaten by larger "predator fish" such as salmon and lake trout. Other species are also sampled by the trawl, including yellow perch, burbot, and lake trout.

The fish that are collected in the bottom trawl are sorted by species, measured, and weighed. This information is important, because it allows GLSC scientists to assess the health of Lake Michigan prey fish communities. For example, GLSC scientists can track when certain species, such as invasive species like alewife or rainbow smelt and native species like yellow perch or bloater, increase or decrease in abundance. Scientists can also assess the condition of individual fish by comparing the length relative to the weight of the fish. For most fish, a heavier weight at a particular length means a good condition. Key prey fish species such as alewife and bloater are also aged to track the demographics of the population.

This information on Lake Michigan prey fish communities is communicated to state and tribal agencies that manage Lake Michigan fish stocks. Information on the abundance of various prey fish species gives managers an indication of how many predator fish can be supported in the lake. That information can then be used to determine, for example, how many salmon should be stocked in a particular year.

Watch the video (lower right) to see the 2013 Lake Michigan bottom trawl in action!

GLSC contractor Whitney Woelmer complied footage from multiple bottom trawls that occurred during the 2013 September survey in Lake Michigan. The trawling was completed by a team of GLSC scientists and boat crew, including Patty Armenio, Bo Bunnell, Tim Desorcie, Melissa Kostich, Chuck Madenjian, Jim Page, Shawn Parsons, and Whitney Woelmer. To obtain the footage, an underwater camera was attached to the headrope of several trawls offshore of Ludington and Saugatuck, Michigan. The video shows the trawl passing through multiple schools of fish, glimpses of large individual fish, and views of the bottom habitat (dominated by sand with quagga mussel colonies at some depths). You can read more about the video and download a copy of the Lake Michigan Committee 2013 Annual Report by visiting the USGS Multimedia Gallery.

WESO Event 2014, GLSC Food Web Activities

Photo Credit: GLSC

Science Olympiad students in southeast Michigan explored the Great Lakes food web in a series of hands-on activities at the Washtenaw Elementary Science Olympiad (WESO) on Saturday, May 10, 2014 at Pioneer High School (Ann Arbor, MI). The activities were part of a USGS Great Lakes Science Center (GLSC) open event themed Exploring the Great Lakes Food Web.

The WESO is a regional Science Olympiad devoted to improving the quality of science education and increasing student interest in science. Multiple regional schools participated in various tournament-style events requiring knowledge of scientific facts and concepts, scientific processes, skills, and applications. During breaks in the Olympiad, students and parents engaged in a variety of hands-on scientific activities at the open events.

The GLSC open event consisted of four food web themed activity stations. The first activity was Puzzling Food Webs, a station where participants learned who-eats-what in the Great Lakes food web by playing a predator-prey game and solving a food web jigsaw puzzle. The second activity was How Old is this Fish?, a station where participants handled fish specimens such as yellow perch, sea lamprey, and rainbow smelt, and learned to age fish from photographs of scales and otoliths (tiny ear bones in fish that have annual rings, similar to tree rings). The third activity was Mysterious Microorganisms, a station where participants viewed zooplankton (small aquatic invertebrates that are an important food source for many young fish) under microscopes and learned their importance in Great Lakes food webs. The fourth activity was Water Bugs, a station where participants handled aquatic invertebrate specimens such as toe-biters, crayfish, and dragonfly larvae.

The activities were organized by multiple GLSC staff, including Patty Armenio, Margi ChriscinskeKevin KeelerMelissa KostichAndrea MiehlsJosh Miller, and Whitney Woelmer. Over 2,000 students and parents attended the event, providing a great opportunity for GLSC staff to interact with local community members interested in science and the Great Lakes.

RV Arcticus Hull Gets Flipped

Photo Credit: Jean Adams - GLSC

Follow our video series, "Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built", and we’ll show you from start to finish how a research vessel is created. From the first piece of metal welded to the last touch of paint, you’ll see how ideas, materials, and hard work come together to create the Research Vessel Arcticus, a 77-foot steel vessel designed to explore Great Lakes ecosystems.

Part 3: Bottoms Up! The R/V Arcticus Hull Gets Flipped

Research vessels are floating scientific laboratories that play a critical role in the mission of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. With one research vessel stationed on each of the Great Lakes, GLSC scientists are able to conduct cutting-edge research and track long-term trends in the ecology of these vast and valuable ecosystems. One of the oldest vessels in the GLSC fleet is the 75-foot Research Vessel (R/V) Grayling. The R/V Grayling has been instrumental in sampling deepwater ecosystems of Lakes Michigan and Huron since it was built in 1977. However, the R/V Grayling is nearing the end of its effective service life, as maintenance costs rise and newer technologies are required to meet GLSC partner needs.

To replace the R/V Grayling, the GLSC is building the 77-foot R/V Arcticus. In a nod to the rich legacy of the R/V Grayling, the name Arcticus was drawn from the species name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus. The new vessel will be a versatile platform with the capacity to continue historical lake-wide fishery surveys while also providing state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to advance GLSC research. "The new vessel will include innovative 21st century technologies to advance the fishery science conducted by the USGS Great Lakes Science Center and its partners," said Russell Strach, Director of the GLSC.

The vessel's primary field sampling capabilities will include bottom trawling, plankton and benthic invertebrate sampling, hydroacoustics, gill netting, and collection of environmental data. The R/V Arcticus will offer greater research capabilities, increased fuel efficiency, improved health and safety features, and lower maintenance costs than its predecessor. The vessel was designed by JMS Naval Architects (Mystic, Connecticut) and is being built by the Burger Boat Company (Manitowoc, Wisconsin), which was awarded the contract in 2013.

Watch the short video clip (lower right) to see the build in progress!

The creation of the R/V Arcticus is being chronicled in a multi-part video series filmed by GLSC scientist, Jean Adams. Major construction milestones during the build include the arrival of materials, construction and assembly of hull modules, rolling of the completed hull, outfitting of components, inspections and testing, painting, and finally the commissioning, sea trials, and journey to its home port of Cheboygan, Michigan. Progress toward each milestone is being documented in short videos released on the GLSC website.

LATEST UPDATE: Sometimes you have to let life turn you upside down before you can stay afloat. A good life lesson for people that’s also true for research vessels. It turns out that the best way to build a research vessel is to start from the bottom-up, with the bottom, quite literally, up (as in upside down). For months the R/V Arcticus hull has been taking shape, inverted on the floor of the Burger Boat Company construction bay. Now, an important milestone has been reached as the 67-ton hull module (more than the weight of 30 minivans) is rolled to its upright position, making it ready for the addition of the upper decks. You can watch this incredible feat in the short clip below. Bottom’s up!

The vessel is expected to be completed by August 2014. Be sure to check the GLSC website regularly for updated videos as each construction milestone is achieved! To see earlier installments in the R/V Arcticus video series, visit the full list of Arcticus videos. You can also learn more about the build on the Burger Boat Company’s Arcticus page.

Photo Credit: Autumn Wells

The GLSC Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science (TLAS; Cortland, NY) hosted their 21st annual Finger Lakes Fishing Festival on Saturday, May 3, 2014.  This festival has taken place since 1994 and typically draws 300-400 visitors, youth and adult.  Activities include environmental exhibits, fly fishing demonstrations, stream and pond ecology displays, educational stations, and stream trout fishing for children, for which TLAS purchases 400 rainbow trout.  The station is located on a unique, 100 acre piece of property complete with nature trails, a stream, a pond, and wetland habitats, making it a prime location for environmental education outreach events.

Not only does the Finger Lakes Fishing Festival give visitors a chance to see the area, engage in hands-on environmental education activities, and test out their fishing skills while learning ethical sports fishing practices, but it allows TLAS staff a chance to talk with the public about scientific research taking place at the station and throughout the area.  Additionally, the festival benefits the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture, located on property adjacent to TLAS, directly to the north.  Founded in 1993, in part by TLAS, Lime Hollow is a member-supported not-for-profit organization whose mission is to “provide year-round environmental education and recreation opportunities through utilization and protection of the natural and cultural attributes of the Lime Hollow area.”  

Additional outreach at TLAS

TLAS staff strive to be highly involved in outreach within the community.  In addition to hosting the Finger Lakes Fishing Festival each year and co-founding the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture, TLAS also co-hosts the Onondaga Tribe Fishing Event with the Onondaga Nation Cultural Events Program on the Onondaga Reserve and conducts a Native Americans Fisheries Techniques Workshop to provide training in field and laboratory techniques for aquatic ecology investigations to members of the Mohawk and Onondaga Tribes.  Also, beginning in 1994, TLAS made a dedicated classroom available to high school seniors for daily instruction in environmental studies, providing a unique program called the Environmental Careers Class that has become recognized as a highly successful alternative curriculum and learning experience.  Students assist TLAS scientists as volunteers in both the field and laboratory thereby further enriching their learning experiences and exposure to real-world environmental professions and issues.  In 2013, the classroom was moved from the station to a new room addition built at the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture.

For more information about outreach events, contact TLAS Station Supervisor, Dr. James Johnson at 607-753-9391 or jhjohnson@usgs.gov.


The Department of the Interior Pathways Program encompasses several developmental programs aimed at promoting employment opportunities for students and recent graduates in the Federal workforce.   The program began in 2012 with the overarching goals of improving recruiting efforts, offering clear paths to Federal internships for students from high school through post-graduate school or careers for recent graduates, and providing meaningful training and career development opportunities for individuals who are at the beginning of their Federal service.  Over 1,200 students participate in the USGS Pathways program annually and around 10-15% become permanent employees upon completion of the program.  Pathways Internships can be either Temporary or longer-term Career.  Pathways interns work in federal agencies while still in school and get paid for the work performed.  Pathways also offers the Recent Graduates Program whereby individuals who have recently graduated from qualifying educational institutions or programs engage in a one-year position to explore possible careers in the Federal Government.

Meet the GLSC Pathways Participants

The Great Lakes Science Center currently has nine Pathways interns.  Seven of these work at the GLSC headquarters in Ann Arbor, one is stationed at the GLSC Lake Erie Biological Station (LEBS) in Sandusky, OH, and another at the GLSC Hammond Bay Biological Station (HBBS) in Millersburg, MI.  Most of the interns work part-time during the school year and then switch to full time during the summer months.  All nine interns are graduate or undergraduate students at Central Michigan University (CMU), Eastern Michigan University (EMU), the University of Michigan (UM), Michigan State University (MSU), or Montana State University (online program).  Responsibilities of the Pathways Program interns vary greatly, depending on their respective areas of education. 

Three GLSC Pathways participants focus their work on administrative duties. 

Betsy Riley (Ann Arbor, MI) is currently getting dual master’s degrees at UM from the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. She has been a Pathways intern at the GLSC since 2012.  Betsy primarily focuses on administrative duties, such as payroll processing.  More recently she has done work in process efficiency and data mining (i.e., creating spreadsheets that sift through large amounts of information to improve understanding and availability of the data).  Betsy will be graduating from UM in May with a M.S. in Natural Resources Communications and a Masters of Public Policy.

Sarah Roudabush (Ann Arbor, MI) is a communications major at EMU and will be a part of the Pathways Program at the GLSC for a total of one year.  Her principal duties involve arranging travel for GLSC scientists at headquarters and onboarding all new employees and contractors.  Sarah will be graduating from EMU at the end of April.

Stephanie Timmons (Ann Arbor, MI) is working toward a master’s degree in public administration at CMU and will be a part of Pathways at the GLSC for one year.  Her work focuses primarily on administrative tasks.  Stephanie is especially interested in procurement and has had the opportunity to work on both purchasing and budget-related projects since starting at the Center.  She will complete her time in the Pathways Program this August, which coincides with her graduation from CMU.

Six Pathways participants at the GLSC participate in the research program, working with GLSC research biologists and ecologists. 

Holly Eschenburg (Ann Arbor, MI) is an undergraduate, double-majoring in Spanish and the Program in the Environment (environmental sciences) at UM.  She will be with Pathways at the GLSC for one year.  Holly is a “biology trainee,” acting as an intern for GLSC Research Ecologist Dr. Kurt Kowalski.  She is currently working on a project that examines the ecological response to hydrologic reconnection of an impounded coastal wetland in western Lake Erie.  Holly will begin her fourth year at UM in the fall.

Steven Gray (Ann Arbor, MI) is working toward a master’s degree in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU and began the Pathways Program in October 2013.  He is predominantly working on an acoustic telemetry study with GLSC Supervisory Fisheries Biologist Dr. Darryl Hondorp.  Through this project Steven is involved in the tagging of lake sturgeon and monitoring of their movement in the St. Clair-Detroit River System.  Since starting at the GLSC, he has also had an opportunity to mount scales, perform otolith extractions, and sort aquatic invertebrates.  Steven will be graduating from MSU in the spring; his M.S. project focuses on small mammal responses to timber practices and landscape ecology.

Chris Holbrook (Millersburg, MI) is working toward a doctoral degree in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU.  He has been a part of the Pathways Program since it began in 2012, but was part of a similar program starting in 2010.  Chris works at the GLSC Hammond Bay Biological Station with GLSC Supervisory Fisheries Biologist Dr. Michael Hansen.  His current research focuses on invasive sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes in collaboration with the Great Lakes Fishery Commission.  He uses fish tracking technology called acoustic telemetry and mark-recapture modeling to evaluate sea lamprey control and assessment strategies.  Additionally, Chris is involved in several other projects with lake sturgeon, lake trout, and walleye, aimed at informing fisheries management through better understanding of movement, migration, and behavior.  Chris plans to complete his PhD program at MSU in 2014.  For more information about Chris’ projects, click here.

Lisa Kaulfersch (Ann Arbor, MI) is currently a master’s student in the Department of Animal Sciences at MSU and will be a part of the GLSC Pathways Program for a one year term.  At the GLSC Lisa assists Supervisory Fisheries Biologist Dr. Darryl Hondorp with acoustic telemetry studies involving the movement of lake sturgeon through the St. Clair-Detroit River System.  Additionally, she helps with laboratory work as part of GLSC’s Deepwater Ecosystems science theme.  In her master’s degree program at MSU Lisa works in the Wildlife Toxicology Lab and studies selenium toxicity in birds.

Michael Michno (Sandusky, OH) is working toward a master’s degree in the College of Agriculture through an online program at Montana State University and will be a part of Pathways for one year.   Since starting with the GLSC in September 2013 he has had opportunity to work at both the headquarters in Ann Arbor and Lake Erie Biological Station (LEBS) in Ohio.  Michael works with GLSC Fisheries Biologist Richard Kraus and primarily focuses on the processing and diet analysis of yellow perch.  Michael plans to get a M.S. degree in Land Resources and Environmental Science from Montana State University.

Aubrey Scott (Ann Arbor, MI) is a master’s student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at UM and will be a part of the Pathways Program at the GLSC for just under one year.  Aubrey works with Research Ecologist Dr. Kurt Kowalski to examine control methods for the invasive wetland grass, Phragmites australis, including microbe-based control and gene-silencing strategies.  She is involved in both greenhouse and field trials aimed at determining the role of endophytes in the success of invasive Phragmites, and targeting these endophytes with fungal inhibitors.  Aubrey will be graduating in May from UM with a M.S. in Conservation Ecology.

Find out more about the Pathways Program

Are you interested in finding out about potential Pathways opportunities near you, at the GLSC, or throughout the country?  Our current Pathways participants found out about their positions from a variety of different sources such as talking to undergraduate and graduate advisors and professors as well as fellow students.  Additionally, Pathways positions are posted at USAjobs.  For more information about Pathways opportunities within USGS, click here and for information about the Pathways Program at the GLSC, contact Josh Miller ( joshuamiller@usgs.gov).

2014 Lake Committee Meeting

Photo Credit: Ted Lawrence, GLFC

Scientists from the Great Lakes Science Center participated in the annual Great Lakes Fishery Commission Lake Committee Meetings in Windsor, Ontario, March 24-28, 2014. The Lake Committee Meetings serve as a forum for fishery management agencies to assess the state of fish communities, discuss pressing Great Lakes issues, and plan future management activities. Since their creation, the Lake Committees have addressed a wide variety of issues critical to healthy Great Lakes ecosystems.

 

During the week-long series of meetings, separate committees for each of the Great Lakes, composed of representatives from state, tribal, and provincial agencies, met to discuss priorities within each lake. Decisions made by the lake committees will form the guiding framework for fishery and environmental management in the basin. For example, individual lake committees set total allowable catch for particular fishery species within each lake. The total allowable catch is the number or weight of fish recommended to be caught by sport and commercial fishers without putting the fisheries at risk.

 

Presentations by GLSC scientists at the 2014 Lake Committee Meetings included topics such as restoration of lake herring in Lake Ontario, lake trout rehabilitation in Lake Michigan, status and trends of preyfish in Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, and investigating changes in food web energy flow offshore of Hammond Bay and Thunder Bay, Lake Huron. These presentations provide valuable information which the lake committees used when developing management plans for each lake.

Photo Credit: USGS

In honor of March being “Women’s History Month,” USGS is highlighting “Women in Science.”  As such, the GLSC is recognizing the hard work of female scientists, technicians, and contractors, particularly those women who have been with the GLSC for over ten years.  In this article on Women in Science at the GLSC, we primarily focus on technicians and contractors, whose behind-the-scenes work is a critical foundation for the array of science conducted at the Center.

Principal Investigators

Dawn Dittman, Mary Anne Evans, Meredith Nevers, Wendylee Stott, and Maureen Walsh serve the Center as biologists or ecologists.  Additionally, Jean Adams serves as the Center’s primary statistician.  These principal investigators work to understand and improve Great Lakes ecosystems in the areas of invasive species, coastal habitats, deepwater fisheries, environmental health, emerging issues, and restoration ecology.  Day-to-day activities involve writing research proposals, collecting and analyzing data, writing reports, and presenting research findings and discoveries to a variety of agencies and at a number of conferences and meetings.

Technicians and Contractors

The GLSC also has over 30 female technicians and contractors that work closely with biologists and ecologists to implement research study plans, manage project resources, keep laboratories organized, perform fish surveys aboard GLSC large vessels, collect and analyze data, prepare reports, and perform necessary tasks to make projects successful.  This work is essential for making the GLSC a highly productive organization.

Women technicians are stationed at all of the GLSC’s field stations as well as at the headquarters in Ann Arbor, MI.  The specific tasks technicians fulfill at each location vary greatly.  Headquarters hosts the largest number of female technicians and contractors as it also houses the greatest number of research biologists and ecologists.  Among the different roles performed by female technicians here are collecting and analyzing a variety of samples during cruises aboard the GLSC’s large vessels using acoustics, bottom trawling, and midwater trawling for fish, tucker trawls for ichthyoplankton, ponars for benthic invertebrates, standard and closing nets for zooplankton, and Niskin bottles for water collection.  Following a cruise there is much associated labwork!  Technicians are involved in identifying and enumerating zooplankton and benthic invertebrates from the different samples collected, including planktivore and benthivore fish diets. 

Other projects that female technicians at GLSC headquarters are a part of include: examining avian botulism throughout the Great Lakes region; studying the ecological response to hydrologic reconnection of a western Lake Erie impounded coastal wetland on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge within the Maumee River Area of Concern; managing and presenting data from larval fish studies that have been occurring in the St. Clair-Detroit River System (SCDRS) since 2006; investigating double-crested cormorant foraging habits in Saginaw Bay, Lake Huron; rearing all of the fish eggs that are collected from the SCDRS in the GLSC’s wet lab; working with GIS, data collection and organization; database management on a global-scale inland fisheries project, with a long-term goal of re-estimating freshwater fish production worldwide; and acting as crew chiefs on the St. Clair River for projects enhancing fish habitat in the SCDRS.

At Lake Erie Biological Station (LEBS, Sandusky, OH) much work is done by female contractors in both the field and in the lab.  Activities include bottom and mid-water trawling aboard the GLSC’s R/V Muskie, gillnetting, fish age and maturity estimations, fish diet analyses, fish preparation and processing for isotopic analyses, and lower trophic level food web investigations. Additionally, one female technician at LEBS is leading a study comparing life history characteristics and divergence of wild and stocked Chinook salmon on Lake Michigan and another is assisting with walleye tagging projects in collaboration with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

At the GLSC’s Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station (LMERS, Porter, IN) women contractors are currently working on a wide variety of projects.  For example, they are assisting in research that examines factors affecting recreational water quality in order to address coastal human health needs in the Great Lakes basin and develop better management tools.  This involves multiple tasks such as collecting environmental samples (i.e., water, sand, and algae) from southern Lake Michigan and performing microbial and molecular analyses on the samples.  Further, a project focused on using statistical and spatial models to assess how beach geomorphological factors may affect spatial trends in E. coli contamination at Chicago beaches is taking place at LMERS, as well as projects assessing biological communities, including the examination of interactions between aquatic invertebrates and plankton with bacteria and physical processes occurring within the communities.  In the terrestrial realm, female workers are employed on a Karner blue butterfly climate change project, research on the effects of goldfinch predation on the threatened Pitcher’s Thistle, and collaboration with the National Park Service on a small research study investigating the effects of fire on sensitive plant species at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

At Lake Ontario Biological Station (LOBS, Oswego, NY), the main duties of the female fisheries contractor take place on the R/V Kaho. Aboard the R/V Kaho she serves as the primary technician on all five annual assessments and spends an average of 75-100 days on the water between April and November.  On these cruises, she and other technicians assist with bottom trawling, gillnetting, and maintaining scientific equipment.  In the lab, predator and prey fish diets are analyzed, ages of fishes are interpreted using otoliths (fish ear bones), fin rays, and coded wire tags, and zooplankton are measured and counted.  

At the Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science (TLAS, Cortland, NY) female fisheries contractors fill many roles. They are involved in the sampling of fish in the St. Lawrence watershed via seining, gill netting, or electroshocking as part of the Fish Enhancement, Mitigation, and Restoration Fund project. Several work in the fish culture lab raising two species of Coregonids (lake herring and bloater) and Atlantic salmon as part of a project funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative with the intent to reestablish these three native species back into the Lake Ontario. Female technicians also enter, organize, and analyze data that are collected.  Some behind-the-scenes duties involve preparing and overseeing field work excursions, organizing and maintaining equipment, utilizing maps and GPS, and the trailering, launching, and operating of small vessels.     

The GLSC’s Longest-Serving Female Technicians

Nine female technicians have helped advance the GLSC’s mission for over 10 years.  We highlight each of these individuals below. 

Phyllis Randall has worked at TLAS for 30 years, longer than TLAS has actually been part of the GLSC (it joined with the Center in 1997)!  Since starting in 1984, Phyllis has been and continues to be an important part of TLAS’ fish culture program and her work contributes to restoration of lake herring, bloaters and Atlantic salmon to Lake Ontario. Additionally, Phyllis participates in a lake sturgeon restoration project on the Genesee River (Rochester, NY) and serves as the station’s safety officer.

Karen Slaght has been at Hammond Bay Biological Station (HBBS, Millersburg, MI) for over 25 years and has played an instrumental role in the sea lamprey control program since she arrived.  Karen's major responsibility is to perform quality assurance testing on annual purchases of the lampricide TFM, which is used to control sea lamprey populations in the Great Lakes.  She is also the station's safety liaison.

Lori Evrard has been working at Lake Superior Biological Station (LSBS, Ashland, WI) for 23 years and according to the station chief, LSBS could not function without her!  Lori assists with field work aboard the R/V Kiyi and pilots small vessels.  In addition to numerous standard technician duties, Lori manages LSBS science databases, formats data and produces GIS maps, and assists in digitally archiving historic and current field and laboratory records.

Lynn Ogilvie has been a staple member of the team at the GLSC’s headquarters for 23 years.  As a fisheries lab technician she primarily works on diet studies of fish collected in regular surveys.  In addition, during the summer Lynn works on the large vessels to help with the catching and processing of fish on-board.  Lynn recently joined the Ann Arbor scuba dive team and looks forward to helping in that capacity as well.

Melissa Kostich has been in her position as a technician at the GLSC’s headquarters for 21 years and plays an invaluable role in keeping the fish lab running!  Melissa’s primary responsibility involves overseeing the operations and successful culturing of aquatic animals in the Ann Arbor fish lab.  She also assists in the genetics lab, works on large and small vessel surveys, and helps with other lab and field projects as needed.

Linda Begnoche is a physical science technician and major asset to the GLSC. She has been at the Center’s headquarters for 20 years and during that time has performed a wide variety of laboratory analyses and field sampling assessments in support of scientists at the GLSC and collaborating researchers and agencies.  Linda enjoys examining aquatic organisms and water bodies in support of programs to restore and maintain the health of the Great Lakes.  Currently she is working with Dr. Mary Anne Evans on projects aimed at understanding recent algal blooms in the Great Lakes.  Additionally, Linda coordinates the GLSC’s Safety Program and Environmental Program.

Margret (Margi) Chriscinske has been a devoted worker at the GLSC headquarters for 20 years, starting as a volunteer in 1994. In 1999 she was hired as a permanent biological technician and spends much of her time processing benthos samples, preparing and analyzing fish stomach contents, processing zooplankton samples, and training others to perform these tasks.  Margi’s field duties run the gamut from wading or kayaking through coastal wetlands to collect invertebrate samples, to operating small boats, to collecting benthos samples from the bottoms of Lake Erie or Lake St Clair, to crewing one of the GLSC’s large vessels during a cruise on Lake Huron or Lake Michigan.

Dawn Shively has been a dedicated member of the LMERS staff for over 13 years, working primarily in the area of recreational water quality and human health.  Dawn’s responsibilities include, assisting in the planning of research projects, developing and updating protocols, and training seasonal employees or interns in field and laboratory duties. She is also responsible for maintenance of electronic databases, assisting in editing and writing of scientific papers and reports and preparation of presentations, with authorship on a number of manuscripts, including journal articles, reports, and conference presentations.

Jaquie Craig has been an important part of the GLSC headquarters team for over 11 years. Currently, Jaquie is the crew chief for part of the SCDRS fish spawning assessment, for which she plans daily schedules and logistics, operates the small vessel, performs field work, purchases equipment, and manages the database. Jaquie also analyzes and summarizes egg deposition data for communications such as manuscripts, reports, and presentations and is an author on manuscripts.

Final Thoughts

In addition to the hard-working biologists, ecologists, technicians, and contractors, the GLSC is supported by many other women in essential roles. For example, Victoria Pebbles serves as the GLSC’s acting deputy director and several female administrative operations assistants at the field stations and headquarters keep the whole Center running, from budgeting and contracts to communications and public relations.  The GLSC is fortunate to have a stellar group of women on its staff who not only enable the Center to be highly productive, but also create an engaging atmosphere of professionalism and teamwork.

 

Photo Credit: USGS

GLSC research ecologist Meredith Nevers was elected as the new President of the Great Lakes Beach Association (GLBA) on March 7, 2014, effective October 2014.  The GLBA is a collaboration of more than 1,000 local, provincial, and state beach managers, scientists, and policy makers working together to improve recreational beach water quality through an informal information-sharing forum.  The Association is presently made up of individuals from across the U.S. and Canada, as well as from several other countries.  Local, county, provincial, and state public health, regulatory agencies, coordinating agencies, researchers, and environmental groups are among those involved.  The GLBA began in 2001 in response to the need for a forum to discuss beach issues and share ideas for achieving cleaner beaches.  Nevers has been involved with GLBA since its inception and her work on developing and interpreting applied beach management science puts her in a unique position to offer strategic leadership to the organization. 

Nevers is stationed at the GLSC Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station (LMERS) in Porter, Indiana.  Her work focuses on environmental sources and processes influencing nearshore water quality and models to improve real-time water quality estimations in order to protect human health.  Nevers has published extensively on beach health and improving monitoring accuracy through predictive modeling as well as on the ecology and natural occurrence of indicator bacteria. 

A Brief History of LMERS

LMERS, located in Porter, Indiana, is a field station of the USGS GLSC.  LMERS was established by congressional action in 1994 when scientists were transferred from the National Park Service (NPS) to the GLSC, then supervised by the National Biological Survey.  The GLSC and LMERS transferred to the USGS in 1996.  LMERS is unique within the GLSC as the only station co-located with the NPS on public land, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.  Scientists at LMERS investigate both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, emphasizing Great Lakes coasts.  Research at LMERS targets an array of issues important to management of urbanized and natural coastlines across the Great Lakes.  Work spans from improving beach health to examining effects of climate change on native ecosystems to restoration of native habitats.

 

Photo Credit: USGS

On Friday, March 7, 2014, the GLSC Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science (TLAS) in Cortland, NY hosted Congressman Richard Hanna (24th District, NY).  Accompanying the Congressman were Patricia Vail Dellonte (District Director) and Jacob Avery (Staff Assistant). 

The visit consisted of a tour of the facility, as well as a discussion about ongoing research at the laboratory.  Much of the discussion focused on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI), specifically the importance of restoring resilient native fish communities to inhibit invasive species incursions.  The Congressman was shown the new GLRI-funded ultraviolet water treatment building at the laboratory where Atlantic salmon, lake herring, and bloater (all native Lake Ontario species), are being reared.  The Congressman was particularly interested in the research support provided to federal, state, and tribal agencies.

A Brief History of Tunison Laboratory

TLAS was authorized by an act of Congress in 1930 and was initially called the Cortland Experiment Station.  The station is now known as the “Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science” (a laboratory within the GLSC) and research emphasizes a broad program that consists of field-oriented investigations supported by laboratory observations.  TLAS focuses on a wide array of issues important to state, federal, tribal, and Canadian natural resource managers throughout the Great Lakes.  Specific research topics currently include: (1) the feasibility of restoring Atlantic salmon, deepwater ciscoes, and lake herring in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River; (2) effects of double-crested cormorant predation and effectiveness of cormorant control measures on fish populations in Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River; (3) the ecological health of Great Lakes tributaries, nearshore areas, and embayments as it relates to fishery management, native species restoration, and exotic species expansion; (4) predicting aquatic biodiversity patterns and gaps in the distribution and conservation of aquatic species; and (5) assessing the status and conservation of threatened and endangered species as well as species of special concern in the St. Lawrence River basin. 

 

Great Lakes FieldScope

Photo Credit: National Geographic

Spatial Ecologist David Bennion (Great Lakes Science Center, Ann Arbor, MI) collected and edited key datasets for the National Geographic Society for creation of the Great Lakes FieldScope. FieldScope is a new web-based mapping, analysis, and collaboration tool that can be used to engage students and citizens investigating real-world issues. This interactive mapping platform helps answer questions like, “If I wash my car in the front yard, where does that water go?” It engages people in learning about the natural world—what’s out there, how it works, how it affects us, and how we affect it?

National Geographic Education has developed several FieldScope projects. Some focus on priority topics, such as FrogWatch USA, while others focus on priority geographic locations, such as the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Project. FieldScope tools put data in the hands of emerging scientists and interested citizens and give them the tools to explore that data.

The most recent addition to the suite is the Great Lakes FieldScope. This tool contains layers of Great-Lakes-basin-wide data – think of layers of transparencies overlaid on a map, with different kinds of data on each transparency. The layers include political boundaries, watersheds, lakes, waterways, land cover, elevation, and water depth. Unique to the Great Lakes version are wetlands, Great Lakes Areas of Concern, and known spawning sites for key fish species. All of these layers can be displayed on a variety of base maps, including a terrain map, a topographic map, a satellite map and a custom National Geographic map. On top of these layers, analysis applications are provided, such as tools to measure distance, query a point or polygon, draw shapes and figures, apply labels, compute the path of water flow from a given point, or delineate the watershed of a given point. These applications can be applied at various scales, from the neighborhood to the Great-Lakes-basin level.

Water quality data, such as pH level, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity, are contained within FieldScope. In fact, users can even generate and upload their own data and compare it with data from other regions. All of this capability creates an engaging experience for emerging scientists or Great Lakes residents who are concerned about their natural surroundings and allows them to collaborate with others and take part in the scientific community.

Great Lakes FieldScope is a collaborative effort between National Geographic Education, Michigan Sea Grant, the Great Lakes Observing System and the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. National Geographic first contacted our close partner, Michigan Sea Grant, who then elicited GLSC’s GIS-specialist Dave Bennion’s support for the base layers of the tool. Dave worked with developers at National Geographic to pull together and format the relevant datasets so they could be used within the tool.

 “What’s really amazing about it is how flawless the tool works to display data in an attractive and meaningful way,” said Bennion. “We love to be involved with these kinds of efforts to engage the wider public in understanding and using available Great Lakes data. It helps them tie their watershed to the larger Great Lakes basin.”

After USGS compiled the layers for the FieldScope, Michigan Sea Grant developed a series of webinars within their program for Great Lakes educators called, Teaching Great Lakes Science, in fall, 2013, to implement usage of the tool in multi-disciplinary classroom settings. “Hopefully we will start to hear reports back from teachers about how Great Lakes FieldScope is helping students engage with their local watershed,” said Bennion.

As Great Lakes FieldScope continues to develop, it is possible that new layers or points of concentration will be worked in. This could include maps of historic wetlands, or datasets focusing on a sub-region, such as artificial reef locations or fish migration patterns in the St. Clair-Detroit River System. Unique historical datasets compiled by GLSC could make the tool an even more valuable resource for helping users of all ages understand physical and biological characteristics of the Great Lakes basin.

R/V Kaho, the principal GLSC research vessel on Lake Ontario. Photo Credit: R. Lewchanin

Photo Credit:  R. Lewchanin

GLSC scientists at Lake Ontario Biological Station (LOBS, Oswego, NY) and Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science (TLAS, Cortland, NY) will participate in a series of annual meetings announced by the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) focusing on the "State of Lake Ontario" in March, 2014.

Lake Ontario supports a vast array of fish populations, including trout, salmon, yellow perch, and walleye and the fisheries contribute more than $112 million to the New York economy annually. In an effort to keep the public aware of successes and concerns surrounding the health of Lake Ontario, the New York DEC has organized the “State of Lake Ontario” meetings.

Meetings will be held in western, central, and eastern New York locations on March 3, 13, and 18 to accommodate the public from all Lake Ontario areas. New York DEC, U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. and Fish and Wildlife Service, and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources biologists will all be a part of the meeting presentations. GLSC scientists from LOBS and TLAS will present information on the status of important prey species, restoration of native fish, consumption of fish by double-crested cormorants, and updates from the 2013 GLRI-supported intensive sampling of the lake. For more information or meeting logistics please click here.


Several staff from GLSC Headquarters (Ann Arbor, MI) volunteered again at the Great Lakes National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) held at the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment in Ann Arbor on February 1, 2014. The NOSB is a national academic competition where teams of high school students compete for the regional and national title. The matches feature quiz-bowl style rounds and challenge questions that test a team’s ocean and Great Lakes knowledge.

The NOSB originated in 1998 in honor of the International Year of the Ocean and annually involves 300 schools and over 2,000 student participants. The NOSB mission is to enrich science teaching and learning across the United States through a high-profile national competition that increases high school students’ knowledge of the oceans and enhances public understanding and stewardship of the oceans.

At the Great Lakes NOSB, there were approximately 130 students and volunteers in attendance, as well as hundreds of spectators and coaches. Staff from the GLSC provided a USGS outreach table with info sheets and USGS career cards to stimulate discussion with students about careers in environmental science. The event gave GLSC staff the opportunity to interact with present and future Great Lakes science and management leaders. It also provided an opportunity to do local community service alongside key USGS partners.

The Great Lakes National Ocean Sciences Bowl is hosted annually by Michigan Sea Grant and the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment. For information about the winning team, click here.

Photo Credit: A. Miehls, USGS

“Those are not in our Great Lake, are they?” is a question often garnered when the public comes face to face with sea lampreys. The answer? Yes, sea lampreys, parasitic blood-sucking fish that devastated Great Lakes fisheries in the early-mid 1900s, are in all of the Great Lakes. The reason many people living in or visiting the Great Lakes Basin may not be familiar with invasive sea lampreys is because the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (commission) has been controlling these creatures since 1957. The commission’s Sea Lamprey Control Program successfully reduces the Great Lakes sea lamprey population by approximately 90% on a year-to-year basis.

Several past and present researchers from the GLSC have played major roles in this control effort. Hammond Bay Biological Station, the GLSC’s hub for sea lamprey control is funded through the commission and continually provides new information to enhance the control program.

How do we ensure that the public is aware of the on-going sea lamprey battle in the Great Lakes? By taking sea lampreys on the road. Each winter, the commission and partners (U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Fisheries and Oceans Canada) take sea lamprey displays, with live sea lampreys, to boating and outdoor shows throughout the Great Lakes region. At each event, commission and partner agency staff talk to hundreds (sometimes thousands) of people about sea lampreys and the damage that invasive species inflict on the Great Lakes fishery.

The commission’s Sea Lamprey Control Program, too, greatly benefits from this interaction with the public. To successfully implement sea lamprey control, the commission must rely on a variety of people, from landowners, to anglers, to current and future generations of voters. Therefore, ensuring that residents of the Great Lakes Basin are aware of the on-going sea lamprey battle is critical to developing and maintaining support for this crucial program.

If you live within the Great Lakes Basin, be on the lookout for a sea lamprey booth at a sporting or boating event near you! Between January and August of 2014, the commission display and a tank of sea lampreys will be at the following events:

·   Mid-America Boat & Fishing Show: Cleveland, OH, January 16-20

·   Chicago Outdoor Sports Show: Chicago, IL, January 22-26

·   Toronto Sportsmen’s Show: Toronto, ON, February 6-9

·   Duluth Boat, Sports, Travel, and RV Show: Duluth, MN, February 12-16

·   Central Canada Outdoor Show: Thunder Bay, ON, February 21-23

·   Northeast Wisconsin Sport Fishin’ Show: Appleton, WI, February 28 – March 2

·   Spring Outdoor Days and Captain’s Weekend: Cabela’s in Hammond, IN, March 1-2

·   Niagara Sportsmen Show: Niagara, ON, March 14-16

·   Ultimate Sports Show: Grand Rapids, MI, March 20-23

·   Belle Isle Aquarium Event: Detroit, MI, April 5

·   2nd Annual Northern Michigan Sports Expo: Cheboygan, MI, May 16-18

·   La Porte County Fair: La Porte, IN, July 6-12

·   UP State Fair: Escanaba, MI, August 11-17

Rainbow Smelt Fin Ray

Photo Credit: T. O'Brien, USGS

After their adventures on the Lake Huron fall research survey, Tim O'Brien and his research team are back in the lab where they are busy processing and analyzing the many samples they collected.

 

For the latest blog entry on January 31, Tim describes the art and science of fish aging. Fish are aged from their tiny ear bones (smaller than the nail on your pinky finger for most fish) or fin rays using a process much like counting rings on a tree. By pairing fish ages with fish length and weight, scientists determine population growth rates, which are used by managers to adjust stocking levels or set harvest limits. Among the highlights of Tim's latest blog post are a series of ear bone and fin ray images that look pretty out of this world!

 

You can follow Tim's journal at: The USGS Great Lakes Science Blog. To subscribe to Tim's blog, click the "Entries RSS" link under Meta on the right side of the page (Chrome users may need to install an extension for the RSS feeds).

 

Photo Caption: This photo shows a rainbow smelt fin ray in cross section. Notice the black dots, each on a dark ring around the ray. One ring was laid every year of the fish’s life. How old do you think this fish is? (Answer: 3 years)

Photo Credit: A. Miehls, USGS

USGS Great Lakes Science Center researchers and partners from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), and the Great Lakes Fishery Commission (GLFC) gathered in Traverse City, Michigan from January 22 – 23, 2014 to discuss a common enemy: sea lampreys. Sea lampreys, parasitic, blood-sucking fish that invaded the Great Lakes through shipping canals in the early 1900s, wreaked havoc on the region’s fisheries by devastating native fish populations. In subsequent years, a control program was put in place by the GLFC to control this invasive species and GLSC researchers are a part of this effort. 

The meeting is called SLAWS, short for Sea Lamprey Annual Workshop and has been a regular occurrence for fifty years, with over ninety sea lamprey experts in attendance from all different areas of the control program. The overarching goal of a SLAWS workshop is to provide a forum for all employees engaged in sea lamprey research and management to exchange recent discoveries, review the program’s “report card,” and discuss changes for the upcoming season. Dr. Mike Hansen, GLSC Fisheries Biologist and GLFC Commissioner, coordinated the 2014 meeting in Traverse City. Dr. Hansen is also Station Supervisor of the GLSC Hammond Bay Biological Station, a hub for sea lamprey control research funded by the GLFC and located in Millersburg, MI on Lake Huron. According to Dr. Hansen, SLAWS is important for several reasons, but particularly because “the workshop is the only meeting that provides a venue for participation by everyone in the Great Lakes sea lamprey program regardless of grade levels and classification.” Bringing together many of those people involved in the Great Lakes Sea Lamprey Control Program allows all participants to stay informed of latest research, policies, assessment efforts, and treatment efforts so that new goals can be created to improve effectiveness and continue protecting the Great Lakes ecosystem.

Photo Credit: Jean Adams - GLSC

Follow our video series, “Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built”, and we’ll show you from start to finish how a research vessel is created. From the first piece of metal welded to the last touch of paint, you’ll see how ideas, materials, and hard work come together to create the Research Vessel Arcticus, a 77-foot steel vessel designed to explore Great Lakes ecosystems.

Part 2: Complete Hull Frame and Tank Installation

Research vessels are floating scientific laboratories that play a critical role in the mission of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. With one research vessel stationed on each of the Great Lakes, GLSC scientists are able to conduct cutting-edge research and track long-term trends in the ecology of these vast and valuable ecosystems. One of the oldest vessels in the GLSC fleet is the 75-foot Research Vessel (R/V) Grayling. The R/V Grayling has been instrumental in sampling deepwater ecosystems of Lakes Michigan and Huron since it was built in 1977. However, the R/V Grayling is nearing the end of its effective service life, as maintenance costs rise and newer technologies are required to meet GLSC partner needs.

To replace the R/V Grayling, the GLSC is building the 77-foot R/V Arcticus. In a nod to the rich legacy of the R/V Grayling, the name R/V Arcticus was drawn from the species name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus. The new vessel will be a versatile platform with the capacity to continue historical lake-wide fishery surveys while also providing state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to advance GLSC research. “The new vessel will include innovative 21st century technologies to advance the fishery science conducted by the USGS Great Lakes Science Center and its partners,” said Russell Strach, Director of the GLSC.

The vessel’s primary field sampling capabilities will include bottom trawling, plankton and benthic invertebrate sampling, hydroacoustics, gill netting, and collection of environmental data. The R/V Arcticus will offer greater research capabilities, increased fuel efficiency, improved health and safety features, and lower maintenance costs than its predecessor. The vessel was designed by JMS Naval Architects (Mystic, Connecticut) and is being built by the Burger Boat Company (Manitowoc, Wisconsin), which was awarded the contract in 2013.

Watch the short video clip on the left to see the build in progress!

The creation of the R/V Arcticus is being chronicled in a multi-part video series filmed by GLSC scientist, Jean Adams. Major construction milestones during the build include the arrival of materials, construction and assembly of hull modules, outfitting of components, inspections and testing, painting, and finally the commissioning, sea trails, and journey to its home port of Cheboygan, Michigan. Progress for each milestone is being documented in short videos released on the GLSC website.

The second video of the series shows the development of the lower deck module, including completion of the hull frame and installation of one of the diesel fuel tanks. At this stage of the construction process, the lower deck module is upside down, so the ceiling of the lower deck is on the floor. This positioning allows for easier access during component assembly and welding, which ultimately leads to a stronger vessel. Later in the construction process the module will be flipped over to its upright position.

The vessel is expected to be completed by August 2014. Be sure to check the GLSC website regularly for updated videos as each construction milestone is achieved!

PIC Award Recipients with Secretary Jewell

Photo Credit: Department of the Interior

The Huron-Erie Corridor Initiative, a decade-long effort of the GLSC, has received a 2013 Department of the Interior (DOI) Partners in Conservation award, which is one of the highest recognitions bestowed on organizations by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior.

“The Department of the Interior is proud to recognize the accomplishments of those who are innovating and collaborating in ways that address today’s complex conservation and stewardship challenges,” Secretary Jewell said at the awards ceremony at the Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C., on January 16. “These partnerships represent the gold standard for how Interior is doing business across the nation to power our future, strengthen tribal nations, conserve and enhance America’s great outdoors and engage the next generation.”

Representatives from the Huron-Erie Corridor Initiative, including the USGS GLSC, Michigan Sea Grant, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Great Lakes Fishery Commission attended the 2013 Partners in Conservation Awards Recognition Event. A local presentation of award certificates is also planned for February 5, during the Annual Meeting of the Huron-Erie Corridor Initiative. The initiative was honored for its relevant new science that will assist resource managers in making decisions concerning the restoration of native aquatic species and their habitats in the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers. The initiative gained recognition for the international collaboration it fosters.

The Partners in Conservation Awards recognize outstanding examples of conservation legacies achieved when DOI engages groups and individuals representing a wide range of backgrounds, ages and interests to work collaboratively to renew lands and resources. The achievements of the Huron-Erie Corridor Initiative have been realized through the outstanding participation of diverse organizations on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

The St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River, also known as the Huron-Erie corridor, are the international waters that connect Lake Huron to Lake Erie and provide habitat for over 65 species of fish. The region, which includes the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge and the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge, is part of the central Great Lakes flyway for millions of migratory waterfowl. It contains some of the largest and most diverse wetlands remaining in the region.

Environmental changes in the corridor over time have resulted in the loss of habitat for fish and other organisms. The partners developed a plan to increase habitat for lake whitefish, lake sturgeon, walleye and other native fish populations, based on research suggesting that water flow, depth and temperature are important in the placement of spawning reefs. Pre- and post-construction monitoring demonstrated an immediate response by over 14 native fish species, including spawning by the commercially important lake whitefish, which was a first in over a century; use by the globally rare northern madtom; and spawning by lake sturgeon, which is listed as a threatened species in both Michigan and Ontario.

Seven additional fish spawning habitat projects are planned for construction in the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers by 2015. With funding support from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, over 20 acres of fish spawning habitat will be restored in these urban rivers by 2015.

The Huron-Erie Corridor Initiative (HECI) is an international, collaborative partnership including federal, tribal, state, provincial, local governmental and non-governmental participants. View the full list of partners here. In 2013, the HECI membership adopted the use of the St. Clair-Detroit River System Initiative (SCDRSI) to more aptly reflect the geographic focus of the strait itself rather than the adjacent lakes.

Photo (from left): Anne Castle, U.S. Department of Interior; John Dettmers, Great Lakes Fishery Commission; Mary Bohling, Michigan Sea Grant; Kurt Newman, U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center; Sally Jewel, Secretary of the Interior; Rich Drouin, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources; Jim Boase, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; and Bill Werkheiser, U.S. Geological Survey.

USGS press release on receiving the award

DOI press release on the award event in Washington

Huron-Erie Corridor Initiative website

Photos of the Initiative

Habitat restoration video

News article and video

Project infosheet

Zebra and Quagga Mussels Book

Photo Credit: USGS

A new book by Thomas Nalepa (NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory) and Don Schloesser (USGS Great Lakes Science Center) provides an extensive update on zebra (Dreissena polymorpha) and quagga (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) mussel invasion in North America. The mussel species are two of the most devastating invaders in North America. Among their many considerable impacts, the invasive mussels have negatively affected aquatic environments and created substantial problems for raw water users such as water treatment facilities and power plants.

Quagga and Zebra Mussels: Biology, Impacts, and Control, Second Edition provides a broad view of the zebra/quagga mussel invasion, offering a historic perspective and up-to-date information on mussel research. Comprising 48 chapters written by 128 authors from 10 countries, this second edition includes reviews of mussel morphology, physiology, and behavior. The book details mussel distribution and spread in Europe and across North America, and examines policy and regulatory responses, management strategies, and mitigation efforts.

In addition, this book provides extensive coverage of the impact of invasive mussel species on freshwater ecosystems, including effects on water clarity, phytoplankton, water quality, food web changes, and consequences to other aquatic fauna. The authors also review and offer new insights on how zebra and quagga mussels respond and adapt to varying environmental conditions. This new edition includes seven video clips that complement chapter text and provide a greater understanding of mussel behavior and distribution.

The first edition of the book, Zebra Mussels: Biology, Impacts, and Control, was published in 1993. The first edition encompasses many studies conducted during the first few years of the mussel invasion into North America. In the 20 years since the first edition was published, zebra mussels have continued to spread, and quagga mussels have become the greater threat in the Great Lakes, in deep regions of large lakes, and in the southwestern Unites States. Quagga mussels have also expanded greatly in eastern and western Europe since the first book edition was published.

Read more about the new book on the CRC Press Website.

Photo Credit: K. Kowalski, USGS

Phragmites australis (common reed) is a tall wetland grass that researchers at the GLSC have been working with for over a decade. In a way, it is both a friend and foe, depending on which strain is being referenced. Read on to learn more.

Phragmites australis has been a component of North American wetlands for many years. However, a European strain introduced in the early 19th century is invading wetland habitats and aggressively displacing native vegetation. Invasive Phragmites alters the soil, produces copious seeds, and forms very dense stands that allow it to outcompete native plants for resources. As invasive Phragmites enters an area, plant diversity often declines and critical habitat for fish and other wildlife is altered.

Widely used management strategies include the use of herbicide, burning, and flooding to manage Phragmites and promote the growth of native plants. These methods are resource intensive and difficult to sustain indefinitely. Recently, GLSC researchers and their collaborators (the Great Lakes Commission, SUNY-Brockport, Wayne State University, Rutgers University, Indiana University) have begun investigating other innovative management tools in order to provide resource managers with a new, sustainable suite of control options.

At the North Central Weed Science Society’s Annual Meeting in Columbus, OH, on December 11, 2013, GLSC contractor, Wes Bickford, gave a presentation titled "Developing Innovative Management Strategies for Invasive Phragmites australis" as part of the Invasive Species Symposium. Developed with coauthor Dr. Kurt Kowalski (GLSC Research Ecologist), the presentation described the GLSC’s Phragmites control research, including (1) a collaboration with Wayne State University to explore gene silencing as a control option for Phragmites and (2) a recently formed collaborative of research scientists across many disciplines focused on understanding microbial symbiosis in Phragmites and the ways the microbial community could be manipulated to decrease the competitive abilities of invasive Phragmites. Wes also presented two posters describing (1) recent GLRI-funded research and the resulting Phragmites mapping and decision support tool and (2) the Great Lakes Phragmites Collaborative. This symposium was organized by the Ohio Invasive Plants Council and the Midwest Invasive Plants Network and draws researchers, land managers, students, and interested public together to learn about the ecology and management of invasive plants, including Phragmites australis

Photo Credit: Krystal Frohnapple, USGS

Dr. Noel Pavlovic, a research ecologist for the GLSC, received top honor, the Paul H. Douglas Memorial Award, from ‘Save the Dunes’ on December 12, 2013. Save the Dunes, headquartered in Michigan City, Indiana, works to preserve, protect and restore the Indiana dunes and all natural resources in Northwest Indiana’s Lake Michigan Watershed. Paul H. Douglas was the U.S. Congressman who was instrumental in passing a bill in Congress to create the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, thus preserving the most species diverse area in the Great Lakes and Midwest.

In years past the Douglas Award has typically gone to a volunteer, however, this year the organization wanted to recognize that there are many kinds of heroes who protect the Indiana dunes, not just volunteers. For over 30 years, Dr. Pavlovic has worked at the GLSC Lake Michigan Ecological Research Station in Porter, Indiana studying native plants as well as the impact of invasive species, particularly oriental bittersweet. Much of his research takes place within Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and he has become an important resource and authority regarding plant ecology in the Great Lakes region.

As Nichole Barker, Executive Director for Save the Dunes states, “Some of these people do their job exceptionally well, and when you spend time with them, you quickly sense that their passion for the Indiana dunes is contagious – Noel is exactly like that.” For access to the full article, visit the Save the Dunes website.

Lake herring

Photo Credit: USGS-GLSC

More native Great Lakes fish are now swimming in the vast waters of Lake Ontario. Over 15,000 young deepwater cisco (also called bloater) and lake herring were stocked into Lake Ontario last November as part of restoration efforts by the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. Deepwater cisco and lake herring were once among the most abundant fish in Lake Ontario, serving as important prey for native salmon and lake trout, and supporting commercial fisheries. However, Lake Ontario populations of these fish declined by the mid-1900s due to invasive species such as alewife and rainbow smelt. Currently lake herring are at low levels of former abundance and deepwater ciscoes were extirpated from the lake by the late 1970s. With funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, the Great Lakes Science Center and partners are restoring these species to create a more stable, resilient native fish community in Lake Ontario. Initial restoration efforts consisted of stocking 1,200 fall fingerling deepwater cisco in Lake Ontario off Oswego, New York during fall of 2012. A whopping 10,000 fall fingerling lake herring were stocked in Lake Ontario embayments during winter of 2012-2013. This fall’s stocking efforts upped the ante for restoration. Approximately 7,200 fall fingerling deepwater cisco were stocked off Oswego, NY on November 6, 2013 and 9,000 fall fingerling lake herring were released into Irondequoit Bay, Lake Ontario on November 14 and November 20, 2013. All of the stocked fish were reared at the GLSC Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science in Cortland, NY. The lab houses a new UV treatment facility which provides state-of-the-art capabilities for holding wild-captured eggs and raising fish for release. Reintroduction of these native prey fish species will increase food choices and enhance the natural recruitment potential of predator fish, including Atlantic salmon and lake trout. Restoration of native fish is also expected to mitigate previous effects of invasive species and reduce opportunities for new invasive species to colonize the lake by increasing food web resistance to invasion.

Photo: Lake herring raised at the GLSC Tunison Laboratory of Aquatic Science

Photo Credit: Jean Adams, USGS

Have you ever wondered what life aboard a research vessel might be like? Watch the video below to join GLSC researchers from our Lake Superior Biological Station as they traverse Lake Superior aboard the R/V Kiyi during this year’s annual spring "cruise" to assess the nearshore fish community. These cruises have been carried out annually since 1978 to provide long-term trends of relative abundance and biomass of prey fish in Lake Superior. The R/V Kiyi, built for the GLSC in 1999, conducts fish stock assessment, fisheries research, and habitat monitoring, particularly in the Apostle Islands area of Lake Superior from May to November. The R/V Kiyi uses trawls and gillnets to annually sample prey fish populations and to track progress in the sustainability of lake trout populations. The vessel is also used to collect fish and environmental samples for a wide spectrum of studies, including contaminant monitoring. The R/V Kiyi has sleeping accommodations for nine people, who may be on board for as long as fourteen days at a stretch. The GLSC operates five large research vessels, ranging in length from 70 to 107 feet, with one vessel stationed on each Great Lake. The vessels are equipped with wet laboratories, gear for fish, limnological, and contaminant sampling, hydroacoustical fish detection systems, and GPS navigation systems. The R/V Kaho is stationed at Lake Ontario Biological Station in Oswego, NY; the R/V Muskie is stationed at Lake Erie Biological Station in Sandusky, OH; the R/V Sturgeon and R/V Grayling are stationed at Cheboygan Vessel Base in Cheboygan, MI and serve Lakes Michigan and Huron; and the R/V Kiyi is stationed at Lake Superior Biological Station in Ashland, WI. 

Stay tuned for more vessel video footage as we regularly update the GLSC website with clips from our new video series, "Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built." We will show you from start to finish how a research vessel is created. From the first piece of metal welded to the last touch of paint, you'll see how ideas, materials, and hard work come together to create the Research Vessel Arcticus, a 77-foot steel vessel designed to explore Great Lakes ecosystems and replace our 36-year-old R/V Grayling. GLSC Statistician Jean Adams created the video “Eight Days on Lake Superior aboard the Research Vessel Kiyi” and is also in charge of creating the video series depicting the creation of the R/V Arcticus.

GLFC Video Database Example

Photo Credit: GLFC

Are you making a presentation about lake trout restoration and need a video of a sea lamprey to grab your audience's attention? Or perhaps working on a story about Great Lakes invasive species and want to show an Asian carp jumping from the water? Look no further than the Great Lakes Fishery Commission new video database! The Great Lakes Fishery Commission recently launched an engaging, open-access video database on its website. The videos, available streaming and in HD, chronicle sea lamprey in the wild, sea lamprey spawning, various aspects of the sea lamprey control program, and cutting edge fisheries research. Many of the videos feature research completed by USGS Great Lakes Science Center scientists. Members of the media, agency personnel, teachers and students, and the public are encouraged to use the images and video clips for broadcast, print articles, presentations, and outreach materials. The videos complement the commission's existing photo database, which was significantly expanded in 2011. The video database is available on the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's multimedia page at: www.glfc.org/multimedia/videos.php No login is required to view the videos. All videos are also available for free download; most clips are available in high definition format. The video database currently contains nearly one hundred clips, each including a title, description, and credit information. The commission's multimedia room is fully searchable. New videos and photos will be added to the databases as they become available. If you would like to have your photo(s) or video(s) included in the databases, please contact Jill Wingfield [jwingfield@glfc.org; 734-669-3005]. Submissions will be reviewed by GLFC staff and considered for inclusion.

Photo Credit: A. Miehls, USGS

Sea lamprey, jawless, parasitic “vampire” fish that invaded the Great Lakes through shipping canals and proceeded to devastate the Great Lakes Fishery in the mid-1900s, have been a HOT topic lately as clues to their sexual communication strategies have been identified. Sexual communication is not just for humans - many animals use sexual communication to obtain mates as well. In nature, females often choose males based on their preferences for male traits. Recently, researchers from the Great Lakes Science Center and Michigan State University (MSU) have found evidence that female sea lamprey preference for a male-released mating pheromone evolved as a result of receiver bias, which suggests the male trait exploits a bias in the sensory system of females.

In this study, the role of a bile salt commonly referred to as ‘3kPZS’ in both sea lamprey and silver lamprey was compared. Bile salts are used to aid digestion, but ‘3kPZS’ has come to do much more over time. Larvae of silver lamprey, which are smaller and native to the Great Lakes region, excrete the bile salt in high enough concentrations for migratory females to sense it. The bile salt in silver lamprey serves as a signal to females that an area is a good place to lay eggs. But the research shows that this nonsexual signal (in silver lamprey, which are ancestral to their invasive cousins) has become sexual in sea lampreys. Sexually mature male sea lamprey release exaggerated amounts of ‘3kPZS,’ which induces long-distance upstream migration in adult female sea lamprey in search of spawning males.

A very rough parallel to this phenomenon can be seen with cologne and perfume use in humans. The scents were originally used to cover up body odor, but once daily showers and the like became common after the advent of the industrial revolution, people began to use cologne to advertise their sexiness, explained MSU researcher Weiming Li.

Evidence for the use of ‘3kPZS’ as a sexual signal in sea lamprey can be found by observing male sea lamprey at the end of their life. Sea lamprey start out as small, harmless larvae in streams that eventually transform into blood-sucking fish that move out into the lakes, attach to other fish (e.g., lake trout, salmon, whitefish, perch), and drain these fish of their bodily fluids, which typically results in death. After 12-18 months of parasitic living, sea lamprey detach from their prey and migrate (sometimes large distances) to streams in order to mate and then die. During this final phase of their life cycle, sea lamprey do not eat and their sole purpose becomes reproduction. Male sea lamprey (unlike male silver lamprey) are known to excrete large quantities of ‘3kPZS’ during this final life stage. This is likely to demonstrate how fit and desirable they are, even though it would seem that they should be conserving energy. As Li puts it, "It takes a lot of energy — and it's been starved for months and migrated for a long time over a long distance. Every drop of energy is important to them. Sea lampreys go this far to advertise their sexuality.”

This research was published in a paper by MSU researcher, Tyler Buchinger, and co-authors including GLSC researcher Nick Johnson. The paper, titled “Evidence for receiver bias underlying female preference for a male mating pheromone in sea lamprey,” was recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Nick Johnson is the corresponding author (njohnson@usgs.gov). As the research was published during the government shutdown, Nick was unable to be interviewed. Weiming Li, a coauthor from MSU, was interviewed in his place. Read media coverage of the paper at the following site: National Geographic.

Burger Boat Company Welder

Photo Credit: Jean Adams - USGS

Follow our video series, "Science Afloat: How a Research Vessel is Built", and we'll show you from start to finish how a research vessel is created. From the first piece of metal welded to the last touch of paint, you'll see how ideas, materials, and hard work come together to create the Research Vessel Arcticus, a 77-foot steel vessel designed to explore Great Lakes ecosystems.

Part 1: The R/V Arcticus Build Begins

Research vessels are floating scientific laboratories that play a critical role in the mission of the USGS Great Lakes Science Center. With one research vessel stationed on each of the Great Lakes, GLSC scientists are able to conduct cutting-edge research and track long-term trends in the ecology of these vast and valuable ecosystems. One of the oldest vessels in the GLSC fleet is the 75-foot Research Vessel (R/V) Grayling. The R/V Grayling has been instrumental in sampling deepwater ecosystems of Lakes Michigan and Huron since it was built in 1977. However, the R/V Grayling is nearing the end of its effective service life, as maintenance costs rise and newer technologies are required to meet GLSC partner needs.

To replace the R/V Grayling, the GLSC is building the 77-foot R/V Arcticus. In a nod to the rich legacy of the R/V Grayling, the name R/V Arcticus was drawn from the species name for the arctic grayling, Thymallus arcticus. The new vessel will be a versatile platform with the capacity to continue historical lake-wide fishery surveys while also providing state-of-the-art scientific instrumentation to advance GLSC research. "The new vessel will include innovative 21 century technologies to advance fishery science conducted by the USGS Great Lakes Science Center and its partners." said Russell Strach, Director of the GLSC.

The vessel's primary field sampling capabilities will include bottom trawling, plankton and benthic invertebrate sampling, hydroacoustics, gill netting, and collection of environmental data. The R/V Arcticus will offer greater research capabilities, increased fuel efficiency, improved health and safety features, and lower maintenance costs than its predecessor. The vessel was designed by JMS Naval Architects (Mystic, Connecticut) and is being built by the Burger Boat Company (Manitowoc, Wisconsin), which was awarded the contract in 2013.

Watch the short video clip on the right to see the build begin!

The creation of the R/V Arcticus will be chronicled in a multi-part video series filmed by GLSC scientist, Jean Adams. Major construction milestones during the build will include the arrival of materials, construction and assembly of hull modules, outfitting of components, inspections and testing, painting, and finally the commissioning, sea trails, and journey to its home port of Cheboygan, Michigan. Progress for each milestone will be documented in short videos released on the GLSC website.

Construction of the vessel began in October 2013, after a two-and-a-half month detailed design process. The inaugural video of the series shows the early phases of construction, including the arrival of plate metal and the planning, shaping, grinding, and welding of the first sections of the main deck. Additional pieces will eventually be fitted together to form the larger modules of the vessel.

The vessel is expected to be completed by October 2014. Be sure to check the GLSC website regularly for updated videos as each construction milestone is achieved!

Photo Credit: A. Miehls and R. Kraus, USGS

The Great Lakes fishery is a multinational resource valued around seven billion dollars annually. On average, the amount of fish harvested from Lake Erie equals or exceeds all other Great Lakes combined. However, over the past 50 years Lake Erie has experienced a gradual temperature rise that is beginning to impact commercially and recreationally important native fish species. Researchers from the GLSC and partnering agencies are working to address this issue by examining seasonal fish distribution patterns and comparing them to a variety of environmental conditions, including water temperature and dissolved oxygen levels.

Of major concern to both fisherman and researchers alike is the recent observation that increased water temperature in Lake Erie is impairing the yellow perch population while white perch, an invasive and less desirable species, is prospering in the warmer waters. Native to North America’s Atlantic Coast between New Jersey and South Carolina, white perch were introduced to the Great Lakes in the mid-1900s, likely due to the opening of shipping canals. As current conditions appear to be favoring these invaders, it could potentially mean a decline in certain native species populations, including yellow perch. By surveying fish populations in Lake Erie, researchers will develop a clearer picture of food web changes taking place as a result of the environmental impacts that Lake Erie is experiencing. The study’s results will be passed on to the Lake Erie Committee task groups so that informed management decisions can be made.

Richard Kraus, GLSC Research Fishery Biologist, is the Lead Coordinator for this project and funding comes from the Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative and the Northeast Climate Science Center. Kraus was recently interviewed by Jennifer Jordan of National Public Radio on-board the R/V Muskie on September 6, 2013 about GLSC science on Lake Erie. The interview was featured in an article titled "Too warm for your fried perch dinner?" on Michigan Radio's Environment Report on October 3, 2013. Listen to the story here.

Photo Credit: Tim O'Brien - USGS

Mission accomplished! After 30 days and 1700 miles, Tim O'Brien and the hardworking RV Sturgeon crew have completed the Lake Huron survey and are safely docked at their home port in Cheboygan, MI.

For his final entry from the field on October 28th, Tim reflects on their experiences at sea, the importance of a close-knit team for completing work safely and effectively, and the value of the science they completed during the survey. In total, the crew collected nearly 250 miles of hydroacoustic data, caught thousands of fish, and even finished ahead of schedule. Congrats to Tim and the RV Sturgeon crew on a successful journey and job well done! Be sure to stay tuned for future blog updates as Tim and others process the many samples they collected during the survey.

You can follow Tim's journal at: The USGS Great Lakes Science Blog. To subscribe to Tim's blog, click the "Entries RSS" link under Meta on the right side of the page (Chrome users may need to install an extension for the RSS feeds).

Photo Credit: Steve Farha, USGS

Keep your eyes alert while boating on the Great Lakes - you might see a USGS research vessel cruising the deep blue waters while sampling fish! Almost every year since at least the 1960s, USGS Great Lakes Science Center scientists have collected fish from all of the Great Lakes as part of their fall fish stock assessments. These fish surveys allow scientists to estimate the number of young fish recruiting into the populations of valuable fishery species, like walleye and yellow perch, and prey fish, such as bloater, rainbow smelt, and alewife. Because the fish surveys have been on-going for many decades, they also allow scientists to understand long-term changes in fish communities, for example, response of native fish to species invasions. The fall fish stock assessments typically consist of two types of surveys. The first is a bottom trawl survey, which involves towing a net along the bottom of the lake. The net collects fish that live on the lake bottom, such as young walleye and deepwater cisco (also called bloater chubs). The second is a hydroacoustic survey that is paired with a mid-water trawl used to assess "pelagic" fish (fish that live in open water). Hydroacoustics is a technology that allows scientists to remotely sense fish by bouncing sound waves off of their bodies, similar to a fish finder, and mid-water trawls are nets towed in the middle of the water column. Hydoacoustic surveys are used to measure the size and number of fish, while mid-water trawls are used to collect specimens to identify the proportion of each fish species present. Hydoacoustic surveys are particularly important for determining year-class strength of alewife, an invasive fish that is a dominant prey for many top predator fish in the Great Lakes, such as lake trout and salmon. The fish surveys last from as little as two weeks to over six weeks, depending on which lake is being sampled. A crew of at least five science and boat staff lives on board the research vessels during the sampling trips. The USGS has one research vessel stationed on each of the Great Lakes, so watch for these vessels as they make their way through the vast waters of the Great Lakes: Research Vessel (R/V) Kiyi in Lake Superior, R/Vs Sturgeon and Grayling in Lakes Michigan and Huron, R/V Muskie in Lake Erie, and R/V Kaho in Lake Ontario.

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