Bee Restoration, Lake Trout, and Birding Apps: this week in environmental news

To save bees, city plans 1,000 acres of prairie (mother nature network): It’s generally a bad time to be a bee in the United States. Populations of the pollinating insects have been declining for more than a decade, including managed honeybee colonies as well as various species of native wild bees. Of course, this isn’t just bad news for bees. Not only do honeybees give us honey and wax, but bees of all stripes play a pivotal role in our food supply. This spring, the city of Cedar Rapids will seed 188 acres with native prairie grasses and wildflowers, part of a broader plan to create a diffuse, 1,000-acre haven for bees and other pollinators. This should help local ecosystems as well as local farms, and if it works as intended, it could become a model for similar projects elsewhere. The 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative in Cedar Rapids is hoping to create a movement to build oases for pollinators across the country.

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A bee forages among purple flowers near Iowa City. Photo: Geoffrey Fairchild/Flickr.

Searching for bee veterinarians (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan State University is searching for veterinarians willing to treat bees. The Pollinator Initiative at Michigan State launched the search after a recent FDA decision outlawed over-the-counter antibiotics for all food-producing animals. That means a veterinarian has to give beekeepers a prescription for antibiotics. Meghan Milbrath, a beekeeper of 23 years, has a list of 22 Michigan veterinarians who are willing to work with beekeepers, and it is online for beekeepers to find and pick from, depending on their location. In the meantime, Milbrath will train the veterinarians on how to write bee prescriptions. She is teaching online courses and hosting monthly webinars. Eventually, she hopes to create a bee health elective in the College of Veterinary Medicine at MSU.

Unique lake trout could help restore Lake Michigan population (Great Lakes Echo): Scientists have found a potential new ally in the fight to restore lake trout in Lake Michigan. Elk Lake in Northwest Michigan is home to a strain of that fish that researchers believe can contribute uniquely to restoring it. Elk Lake trout have been self-sustaining and reproducing for years. Scientists have been attempting for decades to reintroduce strains from Lake Superior and other areas in the basin–with mixed success. Stocking from Elk Lake may be more successful. Diversity benefits reintroduction efforts because different strains survive in different habitats. Improving lake trout stocking has broad public support.

It’s like Shazam for birds: Song Sleuth app IDs birds by their song (treehugger): The Song Sleuth app was just released for iOS, with an Android version in the works for this fall, and it not only helps people become better birders by helping them identify birds by their songs, but it also includes access to The David Sibley Bird Reference, which offers additional details about the birds, including the birds’ seasonal range maps, song samples, and illustrations of their appearance. Song Sleuth users need merely open the app, push the record button, and allow the app to listen in and record the bird’s song, after which the users are presented with the three most probable birds that the song belongs to. Users can geotag their recordings, add custom notes to them, download the audio files for future reference, or even send their recordings to others via email of messaging apps, further adding to the social nature of the birding community (or used to attract more people to the art and science of birding).

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Song Sleuth App. © Wildlife Acoustics.

Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute, Frogs, and Endangered Bumblebees: this week in environmental news

Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute (MSU Extension): The Michigan Lake and Stream Leaders Institute (LSLI) provides a unique and intensive leadership development opportunity for citizens, local leaders, and water resource professionals who wish to develop technical and people skills needed by leaders who can effectively protect Michigan’s lakes and streams. Participants take part in classroom and field-based sessions designed to help them better understand local water resource management planning and program implementation. Expert presenters from academia, natural resource agencies, and local communities cover topics including watershed management, lake and stream ecology, environmental education, leadership, and working with local and state government. The Institute is conducted through five in-depth sessions held across Michigan. The sessions will be held:

  • June 2-3: Kettunen Center, near Cadillac
  • August 18-19: Kellogg Biological Station, near Kalamazoo
  • October 6: Michigan State University, East Lansing
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Bullfrog ready for dinner. Photo: Martin Hejzlar/Shutterstock

Supernatural spit is the frog’s secret weapon for catching bugs (Mother Nature Network): Frogs are famous for the long sticky tongue they use to snag prey. But what is it about this tongue that allows a frog to nab an insect, pull the insect back to its mouth with lightening speed, and eat it — yet the stickiness doesn’t glue the frog’s mouth shut? The secret is super sticky saliva that’s reversible. A new study demonstrates that the saliva can turn from a honey-like viscosity to one more like water and back again, and all within a few seconds. Super-special spit and a trippy tongue make capturing insects a snap.

National Park Service starts keeping track of park disturbances (Great Lakes Echo): For the first time, the National Park Service is collecting concrete data to monitor and find patterns in what affects national park landscapes. The data on how park landscapes are affected by various disturbances both inside and outside the parks will help park managers maintain them for the ecosystem and for the visitors. Fire and beavers, for example, play key roles in developing habitat by changing the structure or composition of the landscape. Similarly, some human-induced disturbances are better for the environment than others. Sustainable forest harvest can aid the regeneration of a forest, while land development for things like new parking lots do not. Cataloging the disturbances will help with assessing if the impact is beneficial or recoverable.

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The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the rusty-patched bumblebee as endangered in early January, a first for any bee species. Image: Dan Mullen.

Fight invasives or protect pollinators: Neonicotinoids present tough choice (Great Lakes Echo): Neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides frequently used in agriculture, gets plenty of bad press for killing pollinators like honeybees. But they’ve also emerged as an important combatant of the emerald ash borer, an invasive insect that has devastated ash populations all over the United States with the highest risk localized to the American Midwest and the northern half of the Eastern seaboard. For pollinator protectors in Michigan, that’s a problem. With the recent designation of the rusty patched bumble bee as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – the first time any bee species in the U.S. has landed on such a list – the race for effective conservation tactics has accelerated. The Michigan Pollinator Protection Plan Committee will have a draft of the plan available for public comment between March 10 and April 14.

Lake Erie Waves, Great Lakes Forests, and Mudpuppies: this week in environmental news

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Turbulent waves in Lake Erie. Photo: Dave Sandford.

This Is What A Great Lake Looks Like After All The Vacationers Are Gone (Buzzfeed): Photographer Dave Sanford spent time on Lake Erie shooting the Great Lake’s turbulent fall season. From mid-October to mid-November, the longtime professional sports photographer traveled each week to Port Stanley, Ontario, on the edge of Lake Erie to spend hours taking photos. His goal was to capture the exact moment when lake waves driven by gusting winds collide with a rebound wave that’s created when the water hits a pier and collection of boulders on the shore. People are blown away that these are from a lake, and not an ocean due to the size and force.

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Crayfish in Burt Lake are thought to be on the decline. Image: Greg Schechter, Flickr.

Pharmaceutical pollution takes toll on crayfish and other species (Great Lakes Echo): Drugs seeping into groundwater threaten crayfish and have a domino effect of environmental impacts that harm fish and other species, according to new research. Pharmaceutical pollution happens when medicines are improperly disposed or flushed into septic tanks and sewers as the body eliminates them. Treatment can’t filter them so they make their way into lakes and streams. Crayfish are a keystone species, one that many others species depend upon. If they died, so would trout and bass. That would lead to algae overgrowth and in turn, insects and invertebrates would die when decaying algae used up all the oxygen. At this point there are not solutions for removing pharmaceuticals once they are in lakes and streams, so this is a prevention issue. We need to keep it out of the waterways, improving septic and sewer systems to filter pharmaceutical pollution is a critical need.

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Red pine forest in West Michigan. Image: Marie Orttenburger.

Researchers look to brace Great Lakes forests for climate change (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes forests will get warmer and suffer more frequent short-term droughts, scientists say. The stakes are high. Forests are staple ecosystems in the region. Many wildlife and plant species depend on forest stability. Plus, forests are a part of the regional culture. The approaches to climate change adaptation for trees are as diverse as the tree species.

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Underwater shot of a mudpuppy at Wolf Lake. Image: Alicia Beattie.

Secretive amphibian can provide pollution clues (Great Lakes Echo): The mudpuppy is a fully-aquatic salamander thought to be on the decline–though the extent of that decline is unknown. The foot-long amphibians are classified a “threatened species” in the state of Illinois and considered a concern throughout the Great Lakes region. Destruction and degradation of habitat, along with invasive species, are spelling doom for mudpuppies. Mudpuppies are also very sensitive to pollution. That characteristic could make them especially important to researchers. Population statistics and tissue samples could clue scientists in on the effects pollution and habitat degradation are having on those environments.

Native Prairies, Mini-Tsunamis, and Sand Dunes: this week in environmental news

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Volunteers collect native seeds that will be used to increase prairies. Image: Heidi Frei

Native prairie restoration fights invasive species and helps the endangered ones (Great Lakes Echo): From flower pots to 100-acre lots, planting native prairie plants is increasingly important as they face threats from invasive species and human development. Prairies in the Great Lakes region are known for hosting bobolinks, wild turkeys, butterflies and a vast array of wildflowers. A program was created to collect seeds from native plants to promote prairie growth and engage volunteers with the environment. It’s something that everyone can help with.

Researchers creating warning system for low oxygen water (Great Lakes Echo): Researchers are developing a system to warn water managers when unpalatable, harmful water from Lake Erie is headed their way. The project, with $1.5 million in federal funding, could give water treatment plant operators time to prepare to treat water that is hypoxic by predicting the movement of oxygen-depleted Lake Erie water. Hypoxia occurs when dissolved oxygen in a body of water is depleted to a level that is harmful to aquatic organisms. This is a particular problem in the central basin of Lake Erie, where it’s deeper.

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Large waves on Lake Superior. Image: Greg Kretovic, Flickr

Mini-tsunamis a hazard in the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes have their own miniature version of tsunamis – more than 100 times per year. That’s according to new research led by the University of Wisconsin Madison. The name of these waves – and the danger that comes with them – are relatively unknown to those in the region. Their name, meteotsunami, is a contraction – broken down, it means meteorological tsunami. They’re about a foot high. And they’re not caused by earthquakes like actual tsunamis. Researchers are now looking into a way to predict when these mini-tsunamis might occur in order to warn beachgoers. According to the study, Lake Michigan is most prone to these mini-tsunamis, followed by Lake Erie and Lake Huron.

Michigan Dune Alliance helps protect Michigan’s iconic sand dunes from invasive species (Model D): From the towering glory of Sleeping Bear Dunes to more modest southern Lake Michigan beaches, perhaps nothing in our state represents “Pure Michigan” better than our iconic sand dunes. But as with so many of Michigan’s fragile native ecosystems, invasive weeds threaten to strangle the dunes. Exotic fungi and invasive bugs are killing the trees that are part of the dune ecosystem, while invasive water plants are choking coastal marshes and interdunal wetlands. There are around 550 miles of coastline on the Mitten’s west that are under siege from alien invaders. Luckily, the combined forces of the Michigan Dune Alliance are on a search-and-destroy mission throughout that long stretch of sand.

Lake Sturgeon, Ice Coverage, and Tree Identification: this week in environmental news

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Juvenile lake sturgeon. Image: Michigan DNR.

Seasonal lake sturgeon releases put nearly 8,000 fish into Michigan waters (Michigan DNR): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and several partners released more than 7,800 juvenile lake sturgeon into various public waters across the state this summer and fall in an effort to rehabilitate this culturally significant fish species. The juvenile fish were collected from the wild last spring and reared in streamside facilities until they reached at least seven inches or larger in size. Most fish were tagged prior to being released into their respective rivers to allow future evaluations of stocked fish.

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Ice Chart for Nov 28, 2013. Image: GLERL Digital Ice Database

How much ice should we expect to see on the Great Lakes this winter? (MSU Extension): Our last really big ice cover winter for the Great Lakes was 2013-2014 where over 92 percent of the Lakes were frozen over. So, during a really good ice winter, like that of 2013-14, how early did ice start forming in the Great Lakes? As early as Thanksgiving, 2013, (November 28) ice had already started forming and by December 31, 2013, there was significant cover. Now fast forward to 2016. There is no ice formed anywhere in the Great Lakes and we are past Thanksgiving. The reason is that all the Great Lakes are at their highest average temperatures for at least the past 5 years. As researchers continue to study and gather data on Great Lakes ice cover, we will begin to more thoroughly understand impacts, implications and ecological functions of Great Lakes ice cover.

Tree identification (MSU Extension): Michigan boasts around 100 tree species, depending upon how a tree is defined. There are about a dozen characteristics available to help identify trees. Learning which subset of characteristics to use for a particular tree is where practice and skill are needed. Some characteristics are seasonal, such as leaves, fruits, and flowers. Most others are more year-round, such as twig and branching patterns, buds, bud scars, bark, tree form, site, and tree associates.

Online tool combats sales of invasives (Great Lakes Echo): The Great Lakes Commission created a web tool designed to prevent sales of aquatic invasive species over the Internet. The software searches the web looking for sites selling plants or animals invasive to the Great Lakes and then records the data. The project’s director says most of the invaders purchased are aquatic plants. They make their way from homes into the environment. Being aware of what you buy is key to preventing accidental purchases of invasive species online.

Lake Erie, Birds, and Earthworms: this week in environmental news

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Lake Erie algal bloom in 2015. Image: NASA

Michigan declares Lake Erie impaired (Great Lakes Echo): Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder designated that state’s portion of Lake Erie as impaired on November 10. Lake Erie has been threatened by toxic algae blooms for several years, threatening drinking water quality in Toledo and limiting recreational uses. Within the past year, the governors of Michigan and Ohio and the premier of Ontario signed a memorandum of understanding acknowledging the threat of toxic algae. They set a goal to reduce phosphorous loading up to 40 percent by 2025.

Toxins kill thousands of birds along Lake Michigan shore (Great Lakes Echo): Since 2006, dead birds have been washing up on Lake Michigan beaches. But this fall has been exceptionally grim, with up to five thousand birds being found dead along the shore. Researchers say the birds are dying because of a toxin called avian botulism, which can form on the lake bed under certain conditions. Botulism forms when there’s a lack of oxygen in the water. Even as botulism begins to form, it’s down near toxic valleys that many small fish continue to eat, consuming the poison as they feed. Local and migratory birds that land on Lake Michigan, tired and famished from their journey, consume small fish like the invasive Round Goby. Having eaten the infected fish, the birds become sick and die out on the lake due to paralyzing effects.

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Restoration projects have made it possible for safe water recreational use in the Sarnia region of the St. Clair River. Image: Megan McDonnell

U.S., Canada battle St. Clair River’s polluted legacy (Great Lakes Echo): The St. Clair River that connects Lake Huron with Lake St. Clair has a long history of environmental problems. They are challen­­­­­­­­­­ges as diverse as E. coli bacteria that shut down beaches, industrial pollution by PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury contamination so severe that residents are advised to limit their consumption of locally caught fish. In recent years cleanup and sediment remediation projects have vastly improved the river and it is beginning to flourish once again. There have been more than 280 fish and aquatic wildlife habitat restoration projects on the St. Clair River, 12 of which were shoreline restoration projects.

Sea lamprey, Asian carp, zebra mussels and earthworms? (Great Lakes Echo): The wriggly soil-dwellers may not have the bad rep of some of their invasive counterparts, but they do have the power to change entire ecosystems. Now a recent study has found that an abundance of earthworms causes a decrease in the small plant matter scattered on the forest floor. By eating away at what scientists call “fine root biomass” worms can significantly change the forest. Worms start a bottom-up chain reaction that can bring about fundamental environmental changes. They affect what plants are able to root and grow in the soil. The kinds of plants that grow affect which species of animals can live in a forest.

Migratory Birds, Invasive Plants, and Citizen Science Projects: this week in environmental news

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A radar image shows a large migration event that occurred recently. Bubble size indicates the relative bird density; arrow direction and length indicate the migration direction and speed. This image represents about 25-50 million birds aloft. Image: Birdcast

How our unseasonably warm fall is affecting migratory birds (Interlochen Public Radio): 2016 has been on a record-breaking warm streak, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. So what does this unseasonably warm fall mean for birds that need to start packing up and heading south? Andrew Farnsworth, research associate with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says how weather patterns affect birds varies by species. Some birds are dramatically affected. Some species may stay around for quite a lot longer than they might otherwise if temperatures are warmer. This effects waterfall: common loon and ducks on the Great Lakes, for example. On the other hand, some species are less affected by temperature, and instead time their trips south based on changes in the amount of daylight, such as warblers known as calendar migrants. Farnsworth says that while in general, birds are able to respond quickly to changes, they might not be able to keep up with the pace of human-caused climate change.

New research shows invasive plants can feed farms, power homes (Interlochen Public Radio): Researchers who work in wetlands in Michigan are taking a new approach to invasive plants. Instead of removing plants like phragmites and switchgrass, they’re harvesting them. They say these plants are a threat to biodiversity, but they can benefit farmers and even power homes. Scientists are working in the middle of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, which has 10,000 acres of marshes and bogs, forest and farmland. Their team is removing invasive cattails from the area. Once these nutrients have been harvested, they are then put to good use. Working with local farmers, the harvested cattails are shredded and applied directly to crop fields where the biomass breaks down, providing organic material, as well as recycled chemical fertilizer. The invasive plants may have other economic uses as well.

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Scientists are experimenting with new uses for invasive cattails in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge. Image: Sam Corden

Interactive map helps bridge science-citizen divide (Great Lakes Echo): People can help keep their local lakes, rivers and streams healthier with a new app. The non-profit Ontario Water Rangers won the event put on by the Great Lakes Observing System to encourage the use of open source data either from GLOS or other water data collection services. The app functions like a Google Map. Clicking on a dot zooms in to display small magnifying glasses. Users can then contribute observations including but not limited to wind speed, algae growth or invasive species and read a summary of past observations.

Lake Superior gates to be automated, improving fish spawning (Newstimes): A set of gates that helps control water flow out of Lake Superior is being automated. An 80-acre area of rapids just downstream is one of the Great Lakes’ most productive fish spawning areas. Officials say the project will give the Corps more flexibility to operate the gates in ways that will improve conditions for fish.