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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

March 2015 Activity Highlights
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Topics covered in the March activity report.

Aquatic Ecosystem Health

Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s Lake Committee Meetings

Christopher Rees attended the Great Lakes Fishery Commission's (GLFC) Lake Committee Meetings in Ypsilanti, MI, March 23-27, 2015. The meetings provided stakeholders with a status of the lake report for each of the five Great Lakes, as well as bringing together all aspects of the scientific community to discuss ongoing and future activities on each of the Great Lakes. While in Michigan, Rees and Mike Steeves (Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada) will hold a training class on collecting standardized water samples for environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis, for a two year eDNA research project funded by the GLFC.

Aquatic Invasive Species

New Zealand Mudsnail Surveillance

Christopher Merkes (UMESC), Keith Turnquist (Univ of WI-Stevens Point), Christopher Rees, and Jon Amberg (UMESC) published, “Validation of eDNA Markers for New Zealand Mudsnail Surveillance and Initial eDNA Monitoring at Mississippi River Basin Sites.”  After validating four genetic assays for eDNA detection of New Zealand mudsnails, popular trout streams were tested at 45 sites in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa for the presence of New Zealand mudsnail DNA.  The results provide evidence that New Zealand mudsnails have not moved out of the initial infestation stream Black Earth Creek in Wisconsin. A copy of the publication is available at,  For more information contact Chris Merkes at
Merkes, C.M, Turnquist, K.N, Rees, C.B, Amberg, J.J. 2015. Validation of eDNA markers for New Zealand mudsnail surveillance and initial eDNA monitoring at Mississippi River Basin sites. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2015-1037, 13 p.

Environmental DNA and Zebra Mussel Distributions

Christopher Rees, Christopher Merkes (UMESC) and John Lund (MN WSC) carried out environmental DNA (eDNA) water sampling on Maple Lake and Lake Le Homme Dieu near Alexandria, MN, on March 9-10, 2015. The sampling effort was intended to investigate the potential of using eDNA to characterize zebra mussel distribution in lakes with established and recently introduced zebra mussel populations. The effort was a follow up sampling from fall 2014 and will determine the feasibility of using eDNA in both summer and winter months. The project is part of a larger research effort to develop eDNA as a treatment prioritization tool for targeting controls as well as development of zebra mussel control technologies.  This work is funded by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) and is a collaborative effort between the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC), and Minnesota Water Science Center (MN WSC).

Climate Change

Role of Habitat Refugia in Mitigating Climate Change

Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) participated in annual discussions of the NASA-funded research collaborative, “Effects of extreme climate events on avian demographics: the role of habitat refugia in mitigating climate change,” March 2-4, 2015, in Madison, WI. Thogmartin’s collaborators include, Pat Heglund (USFWS Region 3 Refuges), Volker Radeloff, Anna Pidgeon, Steve Vavrus (Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison), Resit Akcakaya (Stony Brook Univ.), Curt Flather (USDA Forest Service), and Tom Albright (Univ. of Nevada, Reno).


OnEarth – Flame Retardants and Wildlife

Tom Custer was recently interviewed by Susan Cosier for onEarth, a magazine produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council.  Cosier was interested in Custer’s work with tree swallows, using their eggs to collect contaminant data for Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project #80 (Birds as Indicators of Contaminant Exposure in the Great Lakes).  Cosier was interested in learning whether or not Custer had detected polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants in tree swallows.  Information from the interview was used in an article on flame retardants and wildlife (  For more information contact Tom Custer at


University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire - LiDAR

John (JC) Nelson, Enrika Hlavacek, Jayme Stone and Steph Sattler were invited to discuss the uses and availability of LiDAR data in and around the Upper Midwest, at an advanced GIS class at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, March 19, 2015.  UMESC has been working with high-resolution LiDAR data for several years, in support of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Long Term Monitoring program for the Upper Mississippi River System, and USGS support to the National Park Service’s Vegetation Inventory Program.  The group also discussed what it is like to work for the USGS, as well as internship and volunteer opportunities.

University of Wisconsin-Stout – Environmental Science Advisory Board

Brian Ickes participated in the second annual convention of the Environmental Science Advisory Board at the University of Wisconsin (UW)-Stout, March 31, 2015, where Ickes serves as a board member and adviser.  As a polytechnic institution, the Environmental Science program at UW-Stout provides a broad science, management, and policy foundation that includes field work and internship experiences, as well as a new $43 million science facility.  Board discussions centered on (1) core curriculum development and content; (2) pedagogical approaches; (3) practicums; and (4) skills students need in today’s environmental sciences fields.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse – Math/Biology Seminar Series

Kevin Aagaard gave an invited oral presentation on plant spatial patterns during succession on March 12, 2015. Seminar was presented at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse’s Math/Bio Working Group Seminar Series.

Partner Meetings

North American Joint Bat Working Group

Richard Erickson presented preliminary results on the species wide effects of wind energy development on the Indiana Bat, at the North American Joint Bat Working Group Meeting in Saint Louis, MO, March 6, 2015. Erickson’s team used a migratory connectivity model connecting winter hibernacula with summer maternity roosts, and found that mortality from wind energy generation occurred most frequently along migration pathways rather than around roost locations. Depending upon the magnitude of impact, wind energy generation has the potential to reduce population size and lead to extirpation of subpopulations. The authors identified the conditions under which this could occur, but additional field research is necessary to determine rates of mortality from wind energy generation experienced by this endangered species.  Erickson’s presentation it titled, “Potential effects of wind energy development on Indiana Bat Population Dynamics,” by Richard A. Erickson, Wayne E. Thogmartin (UMESC), Jennifer A. Szymanksi (USFWS), Robin E. Russell (NWHC), and Jay E. Diffendorfer (GECSC).

Rainy Lake Watershed Forum

James Larson presented results from a study of the relationship between water level fluctuations and mercury incorporation into the food web and fisheries production of northern Minnesota lakes, at the International Rainy-Lake Of The Woods Watershed Forum in International Falls, March 11-12, 2015.  Larson’s presentation was titled, “Effects of Artificial Lake Level Management: Multidisciplinary Preparation for a Review of the IJC 2000 Rule Curves for Rainy Lake and Namakan Reservoir,” by James Larson (UMESC), Kevin Peterson (MN DNR), Ryan Maki (NPS), Jon Vallazza, and Brent Knights (UMESC). 

Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring Program

On March 16, 2015 Kevin Aagaard gave an invited webinar presentation on temperature/calorie relations and a continent-wide waterbird migration model, for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge Science Team.  The presentation is associated with a collaborative work effort with members of the Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring (IWMM) program from a USGS and FWS joint venture.

Kevin Aagaard gave an invited webinar presentation on a predictive local-level waterfowl abundance model, as well as the temperature/calorie relations and a continent-wide waterbird migration model presentation on March 19, 2015 for the IWMM Science Team.  The presentation on waterfowl abundance modeling is associated with a cooperative project with Shawn Crimmins (Wisconsin DNR), Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC), Jim Lyons (USFWS), and Brian Tavernia (PWRC).

Fisheries Coordination Meeting – Early Detection of Invasive Species

Jon Amberg and S. Grace McCalla participated in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sponsored fisheries coordination meeting in Bloomington, MN, March 19, 2015.  The meeting was held to coordinate efforts for the early detection of aquatic invasive species in ichthyoplankton tows using next-generation sequencing.

Monarch Conservation Planning Working Group

Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC), Jay Diffendorfer (GECSC), and Darius Semmens (GECSC) held the second meeting of the Monarch Conservation Planning working group at the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, March 31-April 3, 2015, in Fort Collins, CO. This working group meeting was comprised of nearly two dozen conservation and restoration biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, non-governmental organizations such as Journey North and Monarch Watch, as well as academic scientists; their objective is developing restoration strategies for lessening the imperilment of the Monarch butterfly.

Wayne Thogmartin, Jason Rohweder, and Tim Fox gave a presentation on a set of desktop and web-based geospatial tools created to model existing and potential milkweed on the landscape, at the Monarch Conservation Planning working group meeting at the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis, March 31-April 3, 2015, in Fort Collins, CO.


Upper Mississippi River Tree Swallow Health

Thomas Custer co-authored a publication on the health of tree swallows, Tachycineta bicolor, on the Upper Mississippi River (UMR). Their health was assessed in 2010 and 2011 using biomarkers at six sites downriver of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN metropolitan area, a tributary into the UMR, and a nearby lake. Chromosomal damage was significantly elevated at two sites on the UMR (Pigs Eye and Pool 2) relative to the Green Mountain Lake reference site, while the induction of ethoxyresorufin-O-dealkylase (EROD) activity was only observed at Pigs Eye.  Results suggest that the health of tree swallows has been altered at the DNA level at Pigs Eye and Pool 2 sites, and at the physiological level at Pigs Eye site only.

Scientific Meetings, Conferences and Workshops

Geospatial North America Conference

Enrika Hlavacek attended the Foundation for Open Source Software for Geospatial (FOSS4G) North America Conference, March 9-12, 2015, in Burlingame, CA. The conference offered the opportunity to learn about the latest geospatial software developments and meet with experts from the open source community.

Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society and the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee

UMESC scientists participated in the 2015 Joint Meeting of the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society (FMCS) and the Upper Mississippi River Conservation Committee (UMRCC), March 22-26, 2015 in St. Charles, MO. Presentations include,
Oral Presentations (UMESC)

Oral Presentations (UMESC co-authored)

Poster Presentations (UMESC)


Larry Robinson attended the Interagency Aviation Training A-312 Water Ditching and Survival Module in Woodbury, MN, March 4, 2015.  The A-312 Module is required for anyone that flies over water beyond gliding distance to shore and is standard training for performing low-level flights over the Great Lakes. This module teaches students the proper procedures to follow in the event of aircraft ditching and provides the skills needed to safely egress and reach the surface of the water. Training includes a water dunker exercise that simulates a ditched aircraft.


DNR – Department of Natural Resources
eDNA – environmental DNA
GECSC – Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center
GIS – Geographic Information System
GLFC – Great Lakes Fisheries Commission
IWMM – Integrated Waterbird Management and Monitoring  
LCCMR – Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources
LiDAR – Light Detection and Ranging
NWHC – National Wildlife Health Center
PBDE – polybrominated diphenyl ether 
PWRC – Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
UMESC – Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
UMR – Upper Mississippi River
USDA – U.S. Department of Agriculture
USFWS – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USGS – U.S. Geological Survey
UW – University of Wisconsin
WSC – Water Science Center

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