Wanted: Citizen Scientists
Another DNR project asks public for help
By Jared Raney
In the last few years, the Wisconsin DNR has taken significant budget cuts, and in light of declining ecosystems, increase in invasive species and many other environmental problems, the call has come for the public to step up.
Citizen-science is a rapidly expanding concept, and the lastest project calling aid of citizen scientists is an effort to halt the decline of endangered mussels in Wisconsin lakes and rivers.
Jesse Weinzinger, graduate student at UW-Green Bay, stopped through Rhinelander last week to train citizen scientists on mussel surveys.
“There hasn’t been a statewide survey done for freshwater mussels since the 1970s,” said Weinzinger, whose thesis project is to develop assessment protocol for citizen scientists. “Freshwater mussels are the most imperiled fauna or flora worldwide. It’s estimated that 70 percent of the species are imperiled, and going toward extinction.”
Freshwater mussels are an important part of watershed ecosystems, a single mussel filtering up to 10 gallons of water every day, according to Oneida County Aquatic Invasive Species Coordinator Michelle Sadauskas.
“They’re actually a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem, because they’re very sensitive to changes in pollution, in water levels, and so we’re just trying to learn more about what’s in our state’s waters,” Weinzinger said.
Nearly a dozen participants showed up on a dreary Tuesday afternoon to wade in Boom Lake looking for mussels. The protocol is simple: surveyors tie two parallel ropes to stakes on the shore, creating a lane that is searched for a set time. The amount of mussels that can be found within that timeframe are meant to give an indication of the bigger picture.
“One part of my study is to get citizen involvement, so they can eventually monitor trends and populations and stuff like that. So the plan is to train them, and go out to wadeable streams and rivers,” Weinzinger said. “We plan on setting up stations on streams to actually do yearly monitoring or periodic monitoring… So that’s kind of the ultimate goal, to set up each station so that we can monitor the health of an ecosystem.”
More information can be found by searching for the Wisconsin Mussel Monitoring Program.
“Understand that there aren’t just zebra and quagga mussels, which is kind of the popular trend, they’re very negative to ecosystems,” Wienzinger said. “But there are 51 species of native mussels in the state that actually are very beneficial to lakes and rivers.”