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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

September 2013 Activity Highlights
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Topics covered in the September activity report.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Biopesticide Control of Zebra Mussels in Open-water

Jim Luoma, Kerry Weber, Todd Severson and Jeremy Wise (UMESC) in collaboration with Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. and the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, conducted an in situ field efficacy trial in Lake Minnetonka (Robinson’s Bay, Deephaven, MN) to evaluate the response of zebra mussels to Zequanox® under conditions similar to those expected in potential open water applications (September 23-27). The trial evaluated the potential use of Zequanox® to control of dreissenid mussel populations in limited, open-water conditions and is being done through a recently developed Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between USGS and Marrone, with Marrone providing full funding for the research.  The current project is a critical step to evaluate the potential use of Zequanox®, a biopesticide registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to control dreissenid mussels in industrial water systems, for limited open-water applications.  For additional information contact James Luoma (

Geospatial Sciences & Technology

Mapping TNC Lands on the Illinois River

Larry Robinson (UMESC) and Brian Lubinski (FWS) collected 6-inch/pixel color infrared aerial imagery of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) lands Emiquon Preserve and the Merwin Preserve at Spunky Bottoms, within the Illinois River floodplain, September 3.  The TNC works closely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Illinois Natural History Survey, and the University of Illinois to restore and preserve the Illinois River and its floodplain.  The imagery will be used to document TNC's ongoing restoration efforts within these two Preserves, which includes reestablishing wetlands and increasing open water habitat, and planting prairie and hardwood tree species.

Reed Canary Grass Control and Floodplain Forest Restoration

Jason Rohweder (UMESC) attended a reed canary grass control and floodplain forest restoration meeting at the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge in Winona, MN, September 3.  The purpose of the meeting was to bring everyone up to speed on past and current research and monitoring related to reed canary grass control and floodplain forest restoration along the Upper Mississippi River; and discuss opportunities to share information and work together on future projects to further our combined knowledge of floodplain forest restoration techniques.   

Middle School gets GIS and Technology Demo

Enrika Hlavacek and Joe Jakusz (UMESC) presented, “GIS, Geospatial Technology and Why It Matters,” to students at Lincoln Middle School in La Crosse, WI, September 12.  The presentation was designed to give local middle school students a brief look at the various uses and applications of geospatial technology.

National Park Service

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Erin Hoy, Andrew Strassman (UMESC), and Jim Drake (NatureServe) conducted ground vegetation reconnaissance and Mapping Verification within the Mississippi National River and Recreational Area (MISS), September 8-14, for determining if the field key to vegetation and mapping metrics align properly with the ground conditions.  The MISS Vegetation Mapping Project is being conducted for the National Park Service’s Vegetation Inventory Program.  This particular field trip will provide UMESC’s mapping team with the data necessary for mapping the entire park.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

The Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) conducted a close-out meeting and deliver final mapping and classification products for the National Park Service (NPS) Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CUVA) vegetation mapping project, September 25-26 at CUVA in Peninsula, OH. The CUVA vegetation mapping project is in support of the NPS Vegetation Inventory Program (VIP). The meeting's agenda includes: presentations on the NPS VIP (Tammy Cook, NPS VIP), CUVA project overview (Kevin Hop, UMESC), vegetation classification (Jim Drake, NatureServe), vegetation mapping (Andrew Strassman, UMESC), accuracy assessment (Joe Jakusz, UMESC and Heidi Langrehr, WI DNR), and final products (Kevin Hop, Jim Drake, and Joe Jakusz). A discussion on future product applications will be facilitated by Tammy Cook. A field tour will be conducted to showcase first hand some of the data products. The primary objective of the NPS VIP is to produce data sets of vegetation occurring within national park units. This information fills and complements a wide variety of resource assessment, national park management, and conservation needs. Close-out meetings provide a venue of questions and answers to occur between the recipients and developers; this ultimately enhances the understanding and use of products by the recipients.

News Media and Outreach

Climate Change and Dengue

Richard Erickson (UMESC) was interviewed by Patricia Sagastume (freelance reporter, Al Jazeera America) regarding climate change and dengue, and the current dengue outbreak in Florida.  Erickson studied the effects of climate change on dengue disease dynamics for his M.S. research at Texas Tech University.  Dengue is a mosquito-borne virus that is currently resurging in the United States and has been described by the World Health Organization as the “most important mosquito-borne viral disease in the world” (

Minnesota Bound – “Loon Banding”

Kevin Kenow, Steve Houdek, and Luke Fara (UMESC) were featured in the television program Minnesota Bound, September 1.  The trio was featured in the section titled, “Loon Banding,” as they deployed geolocator tags on common loons breeding in Minnesota.  The work is part of a study designed to document migratory movements, foraging patterns, and wintering distribution of Minnesota common loons.  Natural resource managers are concerned about vulnerabilities of the common loon to disease (e.g., avian botulism on the Great Lakes) and contaminants (e.g., dietary mercury, exposure to oil spill residues) throughout their annual cycle.  Results of this study are expected to guide state and federal resource managers as they develop conservation strategies for managing populations of common loons.  A link to the story (Episode #670, Story #1) is available on line at and at

Native Mussels and Climate

Teresa Newton (UMESC) was interviewed by Tamara Dean (freelance writer) regarding the history of native mussels in the upper Midwest, focusing on perils to their population and the role that humans have played in both threats and conservation.  Dean was also interested in how climate change may affect native mussels. Newton and graduate student Alissa Ganser (UW-La Crosse) studied the effects of climate change on native mussels and found that juvenile and adult mussels were quite sensitive to elevated water temperatures.  Background information on Newton’s work modeling the responses of imperiled freshwater mussels to anthropogenically induced changes in water temperature, habitat, and flow in streams of the southeastern and central United States is available at  The interview was conducted September 16.

Upper Mississippi River

Water Level Management (Drawdown): Vegetation Pre-Assessments

UMESC scientists, Pete Boma, Steve Houdek, Luke Fara, Amy Fellenz, Liza Walleser, Blake Sauey, and Wisconsin DNR staff Jeff Metcalf and Ryan Nutter, conducted field work to assess the distribution and abundance of aquatic vegetation in open water areas of Mississippi River navigation Pool 3, under a collaborative agreement with The Nature Conservancy, August 9-September 5.  A water level drawdown (seasonal water level reduction) of navigation Pool 3 is scheduled for summer 2015. In order to evaluate vegetation response to the drawdown, baseline information is needed on the distribution and abundance of aquatic vegetation in areas most likely to be impacted by the draw-down.  The primary objective of the drawdown is to improve conditions for the growth of aquatic vegetation with special emphasis on perennial emergent species. 

Mississippi River Basin Report Card

Barry Johnson (UMESC) participated in a workshop to determine the information needed to develop a report card for the Upper Mississippi River Basin, September 11-12 in Moline, IL. The workshop is sponsored by America’s Watershed Initiative and The Nature Conservancy, led by staff from the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science.

Conceptualizing the Value of Great River Floodplains

Ken Lubinski (UMESC) participated in a gathering of river scientists and planners titled, “Conceptualizing the Value of Great River Floodplains: Illinois, Mississippi, and Missouri River Confluence Region,” September 27-28 in St. Louis, MO.  Attendees explored the future of the floodplain areas around St. Louis, using models to estimate ecosystem services under four management scenarios.  This discussion was directly related to the USGS Midwest Region’s Large River Initiative, which is currently in review.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Chinese Delegation: Science and Management Collaborations

Kevin Kenow (UMESC) and Jim Nissen (FWS) co-hosted a delegation from Poyang Lake National Nature Reserve, China, on a tour of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge on September 3. The delegation was composed of Reserve managers and biologists.  Discussions centered on how USGS scientists from the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managers collaborate to collect information and incorporate those data into management plans, as well as on restoration projects involving submersed aquatic vegetation.

Midwest Threatened and Endangered Species Conference

Teresa Newton and Steve Zigler (UMESC) were invited to give presentations at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's annual Midwest threatened and endangered species conference in Winona, MN, October 2.  Zigler will present the results from hydrophysical models used to predict the distribution and abundance of mussels, including threatened and endangered species, which can be used to aid resource managers with the conservation and restoration of native mussel assemblages.  Newton will present results from a study that used passively induced transponder tags (PIT tags) to measure vital rates (survival, growth) in threatened and endangered mussels, as a mechanism for understanding the relative health of native mussel assemblages.  Background information on how Newton uses PIT tags to study mussels is available at

Perfluoroalkyl Contaminants and Tree Swallows

Christine Custer, Thomas Custer, Paul Dummer, and Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) recently published the results of a study of the effects of perfluoroalklyl exposure on nesting tree swallows in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  This research validated earlier findings that there was a negative association between the dominant perfluoroalkyl contaminant, perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), in tree swallow eggs and the subsequent hatching success of those clutches.  Multistate Markov chain modeling was used to assess factors affecting hatching success, a new application of this technique.  A credible association was also found between PFOS concentrations in eggs and plasma which allows for either tissue type to be used in contaminant investigations.  Available at,

Wildlife Ecology

Waterbird Society

Thomas Custer (UMESC) has organized a special symposium on contaminants and wildlife, at the 37th annual meeting of the Waterbird Society in Wilhemshaven, Germany, September 25-28. Custer is bringing together avian contaminant scientists from across the globe to share information on this topic.

Lake pH and Mercury Accumulation

The results from a study conducted by the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC), Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the effects of lake pH on the accumulation of mercury and other trace elements in tree swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) and common loons (Gavia immer), were featured in the USGS’s GeoHealth newsletter, available at  The original study was published in the April 2012 edition of Environmental Pollution.  Contact: Thomas Custer (

Passenger Pigeon and Conservation

Jessica Stanton (UMESC) gave the presentation, “How a Common Species Went Extinct: The Story of the Passenger Pigeon and Lessons for Modern Conservation,” to the Coulee Region Audubon Society at their monthly meeting in La Crosse, WI, September 18. The talk, open to the public and geared toward a general audience, highlight how understanding an extinction event from a century ago is still relevant for wildlife conservation and stewardship today.


CRADA – Cooperative Research and Development Agreement
CUVA – Cuyahoga Valley National Park
DNR – Department of Natural Resources
FWS – Fish and Wildlife Service
GIS – Geospatial Information System
MISS – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
NPS – National Park Service
PFOS – perfluorooctane sulfonate
TNC – The Nature Conservancy
UMESC – Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
USGS – U.S. Geological Survey
VIP – Vegetation Inventory Program

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