Friday, Dec 1, 2017

ROGERS CITY – As a group of Rogers City Middle School seventh-graders peered into the water of a vernal pond at Herman Vogler Conservation Area Wednesday, Michigan Natural Features Inventory zoologist Daria Hyde pointed out what they were looking for.

The submerged eggs are from a blue spotted salamander, Hyde said, and the tiny swimming thing toward the bottom is a fairy shrimp.

“Where?” the students asked.

“See it swimming at the very bottom?” she said, pointing it out.

Jacob Getzmeyer spotted it: “That’s awesome,” he said.

The students were part of a trip to the natural area to help the Michigan Natural Features Inventory map and monitor vernal pools, Hyde said. After splitting up into two groups, one took data on the pond while another went on a hike through the woods, trading off after the first group gathered all its data.

Students’ data will be entered into a statewide vernal pools database, Hyde said, and on Wednesday they used microscopes to look at specimens they collected, counted frog eggs and took other measurements. Getzmeyer and Chloe Hentkowski, both wearing chest waders, measured the deepest point of the pool, took water temperatures and measured its length and width.

With the help of nets, students got to see first-hand the teeming life in the pool’s waters. They gathered mosquito larvae, caddisfly larvae inside their protective cases, wood frog eggs, a few leopard frogs, a newt and several of the tiny orange fairy shrimp. Some took to the task with zeal, while a few were a bit more wary of the squirming critters they scooped up.

Michigan Natural Features Inventory herpetologist Yu Man Lee said fairy shrimp are only found in vernal pools, which are small ponds that fill in the spring and dry up later in the year. They’re one of the creatures the organization is hoping to learn more about by monitoring vernal pools and collecting a few specimens. There are supposed to be three species of the fairy shrimp in Michigan, but only one has been documented so far. There’s much more to learn about the invertebrates, like whether the other species emerge later or are found in different vernal pools.

The students were taking part in a pilot program organized by Michigan Natural Features Inventory, with funding from a Great Lakes Fisheries Trust grant and in collaboration with Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative, Lee said. The organization already had a vernal pool monitoring program for families, and last year it expanded the program to include teachers, high school, middle school and upper elementary students. A dozen schools are participating or will be soon, including Onaway Area Community Schools and Alpena Public Schools, and more are expected to sign on as the program grows.

Michigan Natural Resources Inventory wanted to get students involved because, for one, the organization needs the help, Lee said. For another, vernal pools are an easy ecosystem to study, and a way for students to take science beyond the classroom and see a real-world application through place-based education. That type of learning can teach them the value of conservation.

“Plus, it’s fun,” she said. “We take people out and the kids really enjoy it. Everybody we take out seems to enjoy working in the pools and seeing the animals.”

Brandon Schroeder, Northeast Michigan Sea Grant extension educator, said NEMI GLSI helped coordinate the program by referring teachers and lining up training. It’s an ideal program for Rogers City students, since they’re studying something that’s essentially in their backyard.

Holly Wirgau’s seventh-graders were the first group to work in the vernal pool, and afterward she said they’ll come back in a month and again in the fall to see how the pool has changed.

That day’s lessons correlated with what Wirgau’s students are learning in the classroom, she said, and taught them about how to take scientific data.

“I enjoy hands-on education for the kids, I think the kids are getting out into nature and getting a real-life experience,” she said. “They’re learning things that could potentially lead to a job opportunity for them that they might’ve never thought about.”

Getzmeyer liked getting into the pond, he said. He rattled off all the different aquatic creatures he saw while wading in the water.

“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “The best part was seeing the frogs.”

Read the full Alpena News article here.


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