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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

April 2016 Activity Highlights
Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
La Crosse, Wisconsin

Topics covered in the April activity report.

Awards and Recognition

Best Student Paper Award

A paper co-authored by Richard Erickson (UMESC) has received the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry’s (SETAC) Best Student Paper Award. The lead author, Rebecca Lazarus (EPA, formerly USGS-PWRC) will receive the award at the 37th Annual Meeting of SETAC North America, November 6-10, 2016, in Orlando, FL.  Co-authors include; Barnett Ratter, Natalie K. Karouna-Renier (PWRC), Peter C. McGowan (USFWS), Robert Hale (College of William and Mary), and Mary Ann Ottinger (University of Maryland College).

Scientific Journal’s Highlighted Article

A 2015 article titled, “Spring plant phenology and false springs in the conterminous U.S. during the 21st century,” authored by Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was featured in the “Highlights of 2015” collection of Environmental Research Letters. The featured articles in the collection, each described as pioneering, were chosen on the basis of referee endorsement, scientific impact, advance made within the field, novelty and broad appeal. The article is available online at,

Collaborative Science

Long-tailed Ducks captured on Thermal Imagery

Larry Robinson, Kevin Kenow (UMESC), and Brian Lubinski (USFWS) collected daytime and nighttime natural color and thermal infrared imagery of Long-tailed ducks (Clangula hyemalis) over upper Lake Michigan, April 19-20, 2016. This proof-of-concept mission successfully documented the presence and location of migrating long-tailed ducks using imagery collected with a cooled, midwave high-definition thermal infrared sensor. Imagery was collected during the afternoon and after sundown on the 19th. A species verification flight was collected over the same area on the morning of the 20th. The thermal camera is integrated into the plane's global positioning and inertial measurement systems, which provides the information needed for accurate and automated georeferencing of aerial imagery. Once georeferenced, this thermal imagery can be used with ancillary datasets such as bathymetry, forage availability, vegetation maps, and natural or color infrared aerial mosaics, for better analyses of distribution and habitat use of wintering long-tailed ducks.  The long-tailed duck is listed as 'vulnerable' by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and a 'high priority' conservation species by the Sea Duck Joint Venture, due to declining populations world-wide.

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge

Mike Wellik and Jayme Stone (UMESC) traveled to the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge to retrieve UMESC’s marine radar unit and tour the refuge, April 4-5, 2016.  Wellik works in UMESC’s Ecological Sciences branch and is working with the Refuge to use the radar unit to collect data on migratory birds passing through or within the Refuge. Stone works in UMESC’s Geological Sciences branch and accompanied Wellik to gain a bettering understanding of the Refuge’s ecosystem and surrounding areas, to aid in the processing of the radar data. The Squaw Creek Refuge contains 7,415 acres of wetlands, grasslands, forests, and native prairie along the eastern edge of the Missouri River floodplain, important feeding and breeding grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife.  The Radar’s data will be processed to extract biological information on how birds use the Refuge.

University of New England

Rebecca Kreiling and William Richardson (UMESC) traveled to the University of New England (UNE) in Armidale, NSW, Australia, May 2-16, 2016, so Kreiling could complete her PhD confirmation at UNE. Kreiling presented her research proposal and undergo an oral defense before the PhD Confirmation Panel. Kreiling’s PhD research is associated with Great Lakes Restoration Initiative project 49: Characterizing zones of high potential nutrient cycling in agricultural catchments and their relation to agricultural best management practices. Richardson is a member of Kreiling’s PhD review committee, and is planning to give a presentation on the effects of agriculture on river ecosystems, for a general audience at UNE.


University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Mathematical Biology Seminars

Richard Erickson (UMESC) presented a 2-part invited seminar to the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Mathematical Biology working group on hierarchical models. The first seminar was a case study of how hierarchical models may be used estimate DNA damage in tree swallows, presented March 29, 2016. The second seminar was an introduction to using R and Stan for hierarchical modeling, scheduled for April 5, 2016.

Richard Erickson (UMESC) gave a guest lecture on Myotis bat population model and corresponding tool developed at UMESC for the USFWS, April 6, 2016, during a Mathematical Biology class at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Earth Day

Teresa Newton and Patty Ries gave presentations and provided hands-on activities on, “Creatures that Reside in the Mighty Mississippi River,” for 150+ 4th and 5th grade students at the West Salem Elementary School’s Earth Day celebration, April 6, 2016.  

Girls Scouts – STEM Activate Event

Randy Hines, Larry Robinson, and Jenny Hanson participated in the first “Activate,” an expo-style event organized by Girl Scouts of Wisconsin-Badgerland Council to provide scouts and their families with an opportunity to explore the myriad of innovative Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) career opportunities.  Each vendor provided a hands-on activity so the girls could discover the fun and excitement of STEM careers, hoping to inspire the pursuit of a STEM education.  UMESC provided 3D laptops with imagery demonstrating vegetation mapping.  Activate was held April 10, 2016, at the Myrick Park Center in La Crosse, WI.

Partner Meetings

Middle Mississippi River Partnership

Jennifer Sauer represented the USGS Midwest Region at the Middle Mississippi River Partnership (MMRP) meeting, April 1, 2016, in East Alton, IL.  The MMRP is a collaboration of twenty-one federal/state agencies and not-for-profit organizations that have a common goal of restoring and enhancing the natural resources of the Mississippi River corridor, between St. Louis, MO and Cairo, IL.

Jean LaFitte National Park Vegetation Mapping Project

Erin Hoy, Stephanie Sattler (UMESC), Rickie White, and Milo Pyne (NatureServe) held an accuracy assessment meeting and field training for the Jean LaFitte National Historical Park and Preserve (JELA) Vegetation Mapping Project, April 4-8, 2016, at the Barataria Preserve Education Center in Marrero, LA.  This meeting and field effort will provide an opportunity for UMESC and NatureServe staff to train regional botanists in vegetation data collection for the accuracy assessment of the JELA Vegetation Mapping Project, a mapping effort conducted under the National Park Service (NPS) Vegetation Mapping Inventory Program. Accuracy assessment data collection involves the recording of spatial, temporal, and vegetative data (by strata) at predetermined locations within the Park.  Additional participants include, Al Schotz (Alabama Natural Heritage Program), Julie Whitbeck, and Dusty Pate (NPS).  Accuracy assessment data collection will continue through October, 2016.

Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program - Statistical Training for Monitoring Data

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program Long Term Resource Monitoring (LTRM) element held a multivariate statistical training at the USGS’s Upper Midwest Environmental Science Center, April 12-14, 2016, in La Crosse, WI.  The training was an important opportunity for Federal and state partners to maintain and improve statistical analysis when working on more than 25 years of long term data on fish, vegetation, and water quality collected on the Upper Mississippi and Illinois Rivers.  UMESC is the science lead for the LTRM.

USGS Unconventional Oil and Gas Exploration Research Coordination Workshop

Jennifer Dieck, Jack Waide, Jayme Stone, and Mark Gaikowski (UMESC) attended the USGS Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG) exploration research planning/coordination workshop at Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center near Jamestown, ND, April 12-14, 2016.  The purpose of the workshop was to assess the current understanding of potential impacts on and vulnerabilities of wetland and aquatic ecosystems and biota in the Williston Basin/Bakken Formation and Marcellus Shale in relation to UOG development.  Furthermore, the workshop will focus on developing research strategies/approaches and specific studies which would guide future research on UOG impacts in both formations.

eDNA & Amphibians

Richard Erickson and Craig Jackson (UMESC) met with Danelle Larson (MN DNR) on April 28, 2016, to discuss potential future uses for eDNA technology.  Larson was wondering if eDNA technology could be used to monitor amphibian populations and trends within Minnesota’s prairie pothole region.


Identifying the origin of waterbird carcasses in Lake Michigan using a neural network source tracking model

Kevin Kenow (UMESC), Zhongfu Ge (GLSC), Luke Fara (UMESC), Steve Houdek (UMESC), and Brian Lubinski (USFWS), had their article "Identifying the origin of waterbird carcasses in Lake Michigan using a neural network source tracking model" published by the Journal of Great Lakes Research.  Monitoring the appearance of waterbird carcasses on beaches provides the primary means of assessing the spatial and temporal patterns, as well as magnitude, of die-offs resulting from type-E botulism on the Great Lakes.  Interpreting the actual site of bird exposure to botulinum toxin from beach surveys is hampered from a lack of information on the drift patterns of carcasses, along with the confounding influences of surface currents, wind, waves, and water temperature.  The article describes the development of a neural network model used for predicting waterbird carcass drift in response to wind,wave, and current forcing. The model was validated using drift data for radiomarked common loon (Gavia immer) carcasses deployed in northern Lake Michigan and used to back-trace non-radiomarked loon carcasses found on beaches in various parts of Lake Michigan during an avian botulism outbreak in autumn 2012.  The neural network source tracking model provides a promising approach for identifying locations of botulinum neurotoxin type E intoxication.  The paper is available online, at

Monarch Conservation desktop decision support tools

In support of the USGS' Monarch Conservation Science Partnership, Jason Rohweder and Wayne Thogmartin (UMESC) developed desktop decision support tools to help in conservation planning for the imperiled monarch butterfly. These tools, developed using the python scripting library with ESRI ArcGIS software version 10.3, include a 'County Ranking Tool' which can be used for national, regional, or local prioritization of conservation activity; a 'Milkweed Calculator' to tabulate the amount of current and expected milkweed in a particular area of interest, and; a 'County Area Adjustment Tool' which can tabulate consequences of land change (a tool which has utility well beyond monarchs and the resources that sustain them). These tools and an associated user's manual are available at:

Lake Invaders; Invasive Species and the Battle for the Future of the Great Lakes.

William Rapai contacted UMESC April 8, 2016, to announce the publication of, “Lake Invaders; Invasive Species and the Battle for the Future of the Great Lakes.” The book contains quotes from Nicholas Johnson (GLSC-HBBS) and Robin Calfee (CERC).  Rapai also acknowledged in his announcement he had conversations with, or gained perspectives from, Rip Shively (CERC), David Bunnell (GLSC), Patrick Kocovsky (GLSC-LEBS), Mark Gaikowski, Jim Luoma, and William Richardson (UMESC). Copies of the book are available from the Wayne State University Press, at

Spatial patterns of native freshwater mussels in the Upper Mississippi River

Patricia Ries, Nathan De Jager, Steve Zigler, and Teresa Newton (UMESC) published, “Spatial patterns of native freshwater mussels in the Upper Mississippi River,” (UMR) in the Journal Freshwater Science.  This research quantifies spatial patterns of adult and juvenile (≤5 y of age) freshwater mussels across multiple scales based on survey data from 4 UMR study reaches (navigation pools 3, 5, 6, and 18). Results suggest that: 1) the detection of patches of freshwater mussels requires a multiscaled approach, 2) insights into the spatial and temporal dynamics of structuring mechanisms can be gained by conducting independent analyses of adults and juveniles, and 3) maps of patch distributions can be used to guide restoration and management actions and identify areas where mussels are most likely to influence ecosystem function.  The paper is available online at

Scientific Meetings, Conferences, and Workshops

US-International Association for Landscape Ecology

Nate De Jager, Molly Van Appledorn, and Andrew Strassman participated in the 2016 Annual Meeting of the US-International Association for Landscape Ecology, April 3-7, 2016, in Asheville, NC.  Presentations included:

American Fisheries Society

Marybeth Brey (UMESC) participated in the American Fisheries Society (AFS) Governing Board's mid-year meeting in Potomac, MD, April 5-7, 2016.  Brey currently serves as President of the Equal Opportunities Section of AFS.

John (JC) Nelson and Enrika Hlavacek (UMESC) attended a CDI-sponsored Software and Data Carpentry workshop at the Denver Federal Center, April 12-14, 2016.  Nelson and Hlavacek will bring back the skills they learn at this workshop to help UMESC continue to expand its data and software development teams.

International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species

Jon Amberg, Marybeth Brey, James Luoma, and Christopher Merkes (UMESC) participated in the 19th International Conference on Aquatic Invasive Species in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, April 10-14, 2016.  The group is planning to participate in the workshop, “Zebra and Quagga Mussels: Issues Relating to Infestations in Infrastructures and Open Waters,” and make the following presentations.

Upper Mississippi River Systemic Forest Stewardship Team

Nathan De Jager (UMESC) met with the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) Systemic Forest Stewardship Team to discuss future projects related to forest ecology on the UMR, April 12, 2016. The Stewardship Team is comprised of staff from all three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ UMR district offices and focuses on forestry issues that span the entire length of the UMR. 

Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program’s Habitat Needs Assessment Steering Committee

Nathan De Jager (UMESC) participated in the first meeting of the Upper Mississippi River Restoration Program’s Habitat Needs Assessment Steering Committee, April 13, 2016. The Habitat Needs Assessment is designed to use the best available data and modeling approaches to help management agencies along the Upper Mississippi River (UMR) identify priority ecosystems, species, and locations that could benefit from habitat rehabilitation and enhancement projects across the length of the UMR.

Isle Royale National Park Moose-Wolf-Vegetation Management Planning Team

Nathan De Jager (UMESC) presented the final results of the FY2014 Natural Resources Preservation Program project, “Assessing Ecological Impacts of Moose Herbivory under varying moose population densities absent the regulatory effects of wolves on Isle Royale,” to the Isle Royale National Park Moose-Wolf-Vegetation Management Planning Team, April 14, 2016. The project was designed to model the effects of alternative wolf management scenarios on long-term and large-scale future trajectories of forest succession. The Planning Team is currently developing an Environmental Impact Statement in response to its dwindling wolf population.

Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC) Technical Team

Chris and Tom Custer (UMESC) presented their GLRI results (Birds as indicators of contaminant exposure and effects) to the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC) Technical Team, April 14, 2016.  Results from five locations in the Milwaukee AOC, representing 3 separate drainages, were presented, as will the results from one location that was extensively remediated in 2013.

National Eagle Center

Eileen Kirsch (UMESC) participated in the National Eagle Center Science Advisory Committee Meeting, April 26, 2016, at the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN.  This committee was set up in 2015 to provide scientific feedback on National Eagle Center activities and initiatives concerning eagle management at local and national levels. 

Mississippi River Research Consortium

Scientists from the Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center will participate in the 48th Annual Meeting of the Mississippi River Research Consortium (MRRC), April 27-29, 2016, in La Crosse, WI.  This year’s keynote speaker, David Strayer (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies) is also planning to visit UMESC on April 27, where he will give the presentation, “Twenty-five years of change in the Hudson River's bivalves.” UMESC’s MRRC presentations include,
Oral Presentations:

Poster Presentations:


The Geospatial Sciences & Technologies Branch held a JavaScript Training course April 18-22, 2016, at UMESC. This comprehensive training will provide staff members with hands-on experience in JavaScript in order to further the team's online and mobile development skills, particularly in regards to geospatial applications and web mapping.


AFS – American Fisheries Society
AOC – Area of Concern
CERC – Columbia Environmental Sciences Center
DNR – Department of Natural Resources
eDNA – environmental DNA
EPA – Environmental Protection Agency
ESRI – Environmental Systems Research Institute
INHS – Illinois Natural History Survey
JELA – Jean LaFitte National Historical Park and Preserve
LTRM – Long Term Resource Monitoring
MMRP – Middle Mississippi River partnership
MRRC – Mississippi River Research Consortium
NPS – National Park Service
PWRC – Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
SETAC – Society of Environmental Toxicologist and Chemists
STEM – Science Technology Engineering and Math
TNC – The Nature Conservancy
UMESC – Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center
UMR – Upper Mississippi River
UNE – University of New England
UOG – Unconventional Oil and Gas
USFWS – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
USFS – U.S. Forest Service
USGS – U.S. Geological Survey

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