Monday, April 21, 2014

Mother Earth Week 2014 - Aquatic Ecology at the Ziibiwing Center

This week I am participating in the annual Mother Earth Week activities at the Ziibiwing Center.  This will be the 5th year that I have participated int his program.  Every year I bring in buckets of pond water for students to sort through.  The goal of this activity is to show students how the absence or presence of certain aquatic macroinvertebrates can used as indicators of water quality.

I get my water samples from several local ponds in the Mt. Pleasant area.  Unfortunately, most of these ponds were greatly affected by the recent flooding.  Heavy rains resulted in large amounts of sediments being added to the ponds, making the waters very murky.  So instead of getting my samples from permanent ponds, this year I collected water and invertebrates from a series of seasonal ponds located in a local woodland.

Red Maple trees reflected in a seasonal pond

Seasonal ponds offer a unique set of challenges for aquatic life.  Because these ponds only hold water for part of the year it limits the types of species that can be found living in them.  For instance, fish cannot survive in them.  Other species adapt by burrowing into the mud when these ponds dry out and remain dormant until rains flood the ponds again.

Another unique aspect of life in seasonal ponds is the source of food for most of the animals.  Permanent ponds are home to a variety of aquatic plants and algae.  These plants and algae harvest energy from the sun through the process of photosynthesis and form the base of food chains in permanent bodies of water.

However, because seasonal ponds dry out for much of the year these photosynthetic organisms do not grow in seasonal ponds.  Instead dead leaves fill the bottom of shallow seasonal ponds and become the base of the food chain.  These leaves fall from surrounding trees and are shredded and consumed by a variety of organisms in the seasonal ponds. 

Dead leaves form the base of the food chain for many dwellers of seasonal ponds
So what are some of the organisms that you can expect to find in a seasonal pond?

Northern Casemaker Caddisfly

Aquatic Sowbug

Planaria or flatworm

Fingernail or Pea Clam

Pouch Snail

For more information on Aquatic Invertebrate sampling check out these other posts from the past year:

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