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.

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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.

Pacu Fish, Endangered Butterflies, and the Common Loon: this week in environmental news

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Pacu Fish. Image: Thinking Humanity.

‘Human-toothed’ Pacu in Michigan waters, endangered species running out of time (Great Lakes Echo): The Michigan Department of Natural Resources recently reported finding fish with “human-like teeth” in southeastern Michigan lakes. Anglers spotted red-bellied pacu in Lake St. Clair and near Port Huron. These unusual fish sport teeth eerily reminiscent of humans’ so they can eat seeds and nuts. While they’re not native to Michigan, DNR said they’re not invasive.

 

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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Photo: Joshua Stevens, NASA Earth Observatory

Celebrating 100th anniversary of parks system with a great Great Lakes view (Great Lakes Echo): The U.S. National Park Service celebrates its centennial in 2016, commemorating 100 years of stewardship of America’s natural and historic treasures. Many of those monuments, scenic rivers, parks, and historic sites are visible from space – where the views are just as compelling.

 

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Mitchell’s Satyr. Photo: Bill Bouton

Endangered butterflies released by Kalamazoo Nature Center (WMUK 102.1): The Kalamazoo Nature Center released 18 rare butterfly caterpillars. The Mitchell’s Satyr butterfly is a nationally endangered species. There are only 11 groups of the butterfly left in the entire United States. The Mitchell’s Satyr has been called a “canary in a coal mine” for America’s wetlands. Almost all of the butterflies live in the southernmost counties of Michigan because they live in a rare habitat – fens.

 

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Common loon. Image: US FWS.

Loony for a diving bird (Great Lakes Echo): Great Lakes common loons are a barometer for water and habitat quality since they’re sensitive to pollution and very particular about where to nest. Listen to the podcast to learn more about the common loon.

Forest Birds, Fish Slides, and Rare Butterflies: this week in environmental news

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Magnolia Warbler. Image: Jon Swanson.

Great Lakes forest birds mostly stable or increasing (Great Lakes Echo): A record study that took 25 years and 700 birdwatchers and researchers has found that most birds at three different national forests in the Great Lakes region are either increasing or stable. The study is another great example of the important role volunteer bird watchers can play in tracking populations of the birds they love. The count became an annual tradition for many bird enthusiasts. The study is cause for guarded optimism about the state of forest birds in the Northwestern Great Lakes Basin.

Fish slides, anyone? (Great Lakes Echo): Sturgeon go back to the river to spawn safely. But hydroelectric dams often block rivers, forcing fish to spawn in more dangerous spaces. Listen to this podcast to learn more about how the River Alliance of Wisconsin is giving fish a little boost.

Healthy ravines for healthy watersheds (Great Lakes Echo): Created by the same retreating glaciers that carved and filled the Great Lakes, you could say lakeshore ravines are the lakes’ blood relatives. Great lakes ravines face deterioration at the hands of invasive species and pollution. Conservationists are working to address this issue.

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The Poweshiek Skipperling is an endangered butterfly that lives mainly in prairie fen wetlands in southeast Michigan. Image: Dave Cuthrell, MSU Extension.

Rare butterfly rests its wings in unique SE Michigan ecosystem (Great Lakes Echo): Listen to WKAR’s radio story about Kevin Lavery’s expedition to find the endangered Poweshiek Skipperling. It’s only found in a half a dozen places on Earth, and two-thirds of them are in Michigan. The rare butterfly once thrived on the Great Plains is now fighting for its survival in Michigan.

MI Invasive Species, Poweshiek Skipperlings, and Bees: this week in environmental news

Michigan Invasive Species (MI.gov): Does your work take you to several outdoor sites in one day? Do you fish or hunt at different locations in the same week? If so, your actions could be considered high-risk for spreading species around the state. Want to learn more? Take a few minutes to watch this new video that briefly explains the best ways to look for and remove invasive species.

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Poweshiek skipperling. Photo: Erik Runquist/Minnesota Zoo.

The Poweshiek Skipperling: A Prairie Butterfly on the Brink (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Endangered Species): Poweshiek skipperlings are small butterflies that live only in native prairies that have never been plowed, which makes them vulnerable. Until recently, the species (Oarisma poweshiek) was one of the most common prairie-obligate skipper in the Midwest. Yet, in the last decade, surveyors observed an abrupt and rapid decline in the species, and population after population began to vanish. Despite extensive surveys, the skipperling appears to exist in critically low numbers at just a handful of sites scattered between Wisconsin, Michigan, and Manitoba.

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The proposed trail. Image: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Trail segment installed at Sleeping Bear (Great Lakes Echo): A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held recently for a new segment of the Sleeping Bear Heritage Trail at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The trail will eventually run 27 miles from Empire northeast about halfway up the Leelanau Peninsula. To limit environmental impact, the trail follows existing utility corridors, abandoned roads and a narrow gauge railroad. That minimizes its impact on forested areas and wetlands. Boardwalks are built with helical piles, a more environmentally friendly alternative to cement foundations. Instead of digging up landscape and pouring permanent cement, the piles screw directly into the ground and can be unscrewed if needed.

MSU researcher: more wild bee habitat would benefit growers (Great Lakes Echo): For farmers across Michigan and the country, pollination is essential for making their crops grow. For years now, they’ve kept a close eye on a key pollinator, bees, mainly because their numbers have been declining. Listen to the podcast with Rufus Isaacs, a professor of entomology at MSU, to learn more.

Great Lakes, Robot Cleanup, and Cormorants: this week in environmental news

Water levels and surface temperatures up for Lakes Michigan/Huron in 2016 (MSU Extension): Visitors to the beaches and boat launch ramps will notice both higher lake levels and earlier seasonal warming of the Great Lakes than in the past several years. The NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory shows that Lakes Michigan and Huron are the highest they have been since August 1998. What about the water temperatures? Again, they are well ahead of 2015 and well ahead of long-term average of Lake Michigan.

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Robot collecting a tennis ball. Image: Robot Missions

Robot is on a mission to clean up Great Lakes shorelines (Great Lakes Echo): A robot designed by a maker in Toronto could soon be clearing up trash strewn across shorelines everywhere. The next step involves many more field tests throughout the summer and small revisions to the robot’s design. After those tests are complete, the robot will be deployed in August on Toronto Island in Lake Ontario to clean up the shoreline. There’s a lot of interest in the project because it combines robotics with environmentalism, creating a robot with a social impact.

The dirty eight: Great Lakes pollutants targeted by U.S. and Canada (Great Lakes Echo): Canada and the U.S. recently announced they will develop and coordinate strategies to reduce exposure to eight contaminants they have designated as Chemicals of Mutual Concern in the Great Lakes. The designation made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement also requires the countries to develop where needed the water quality standards for the pollutants.

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Cormorants at an East Chicago colony. Image: Patrick Madura

Can cormorants help control Great Lakes invaders? (Great Lakes Echo): Cormorants’ fish-stealing rep may be a bum rap – and the truth is more complex, as the first dietary study of cormorants in southern Lake Michigan shows. Researchers found the cormorants are chowing down on invasive species – mainly alewife, round goby and white perch – which together accounted for 80-90% of their diet. No studies to date have demonstrated that cormorants have a consistently negative effect on fisheries over broad geographic regions.