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MBI offers specialized expertise in aquatic and terrestrial biological assessment, monitoring, and technical evaluation. Our goal is to assist our clients toward better management, restoration, protection, and improvement of our nation’s natural resources. MBI also offers specialized training in aquatic resource ecology, evaluation, and restoration, as well as personalized training to meet the unique needs of individuals and organizations.
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Facing the Fear of Midges

Author: Cynthia Bauers

Midges have a notable reputation among biologists. Like that one difficult family member you dodge at gatherings, many biologists (myself included) do not look forward to encounters with midges. However, aquatic Bioassessment programs must make this choice – leave midges at the family level, i.e. Chironomidae, or identify them to the genus and species level. It is the latter that gives midges a reputation as being “too difficult and time consuming”.

The source of their apparent notoriety is due to a few things. First of all, Chironomid midges are small. Mature larvae range in size from about 2 to 30 mm, and many of the characters used for identification such as antennae and structures of their mouthparts are minute. Because their features are extremely small, it is best to examine specimens with a compound microscope. This leads to the next source of difficulty - mounting the midge on a microscope slide. While placing a midge on a slide doesn’t sound daunting, it can quickly prove otherwise. The specimen must be positioned in a specific way to allow clear visibility of those previously mentioned minute characters. Dealing with midges simply takes time and practice.

Despite these challenges, Chironomid midges have great value in aquatic bioassessment. Midges are an important part of aquatic food webs and are often the most diverse and abundant group of macroinvertebrates encountered during monitoring. There are 369 different taxa listed under Chironomidae on the Ohio EPA Macroinvertebrate Taxa List – if we stopped at Chironomidae it would be only 1. By comparison, the same list has 322 Mayflies, Caddisflies, and Stoneflies combined. In addition, they inhabit nearly every aquatic habitat and reveal a wide range of water quality. By taking the time and effort to identify midges to the lowest taxonomic resolution possible, the reward is a much better assessment of a river or stream. This reward is obtained by revealing their rich taxonomic diversity which reveals equally rich information about a river or stream. Processing to the genus/species level allows midges to function as better indicators of water quality. A diverse mix of responses to common aquatic stressors is the reward for the effort taken to process midges beyond the family level – it leads to better biological monitoring.

So what’s a biologist to do? How can one face and overcome the fear of midges? The task seems similar to a weekend hiker deciding to travel the entire Appalachian Trail – and it’s obvious that proper training and good planning are necessary. The following is the approach that is proving effective for me ....so far.

Start Small
There are often huge numbers of midges collected from large streams and rivers so it seems best to start the learning process from samples collected at smaller from smaller streams. The diversity and abundances of midges are much more manageable within these samples and easier to build upon.

Start Big
Mounting midges onto slides is truly a challenging task. One must be meticulous to successfully position several midges in the proper way under the same cover slip. It has proven much easier to learn how to handle and position larger specimens and then progressively move to smaller ones.

Find a Good Teacher
In order to identify midges to the genus and species levels, it seems imperative to have an experienced taxonomist initially verify the structures listed in the keys. It is often confusing to locate characters for the first time especially because the midge may be smaller or not mounted as well as the key’s illustrations. Like any technical task, an apprenticeship period is required.

Lie to Yourself
Okay, lie may be a strong word. But in the same way dieters tell themselves the low-fat brownie tastes just as good, there is an assertion frequently repeated among the veterans in the lab “Midges are fun!”. There is power in positive thinking so okay - I’ll concede, “Midges are………..fun”.

Get Organized
As is true when learning most new things, it is important to have your materials organized and record new discoveries as you encounter new things. There are several keys necessary to use as references and within the various keys sometimes different terminology is used for the same features so it’s important to stay organized and build on previous discoveries. When faced with any new challenge, however unpleasant, there are usually lessons to be learned, knowledge to be gained, and character to be built. With the experience gained from facing my fear of midges, who knows what challenge may be accomplished next?

Realize the Reward
In Ohio, midges are an essential component of the methods by which rivers and streams are assessed because they are key indicators for determining stream and river quality. This makes identifying midges “worth the effort”.

Wetlands, Headwater Streams, and Nutrients

Author: Pete Precario

It seems that every day we hear new stories of nuisance algal blooms, Microcystis cyanobacteria and water borne toxins causing our water supply to be unpleasant and unsafe to drink and making recreation impossible. This is no small or isolated problem. Grand Lake St. Mary’s near Celina, Ohio has made news and suffered from a number of toxic algal blooms making the water unsafe for years and causing substantial monetary loss to the recreational uses of the water. The latest and most unnerving story is in Lake Erie. While Lake Erie has suffered from staggering algal blooms for many years now, it wasn’t until the water supply for the City of Toledo was shut down that many people began to recognize the magnitude of the problem that has been right in front of us for a long time. It wasn’t until more than 400,000 people discovered that their water was unsafe that the issue made headline news across the state and the entire country. The fishing, boating and recreational business in the western basin of Lake Erie have lost large amounts of money resulting from the massive blooms for a number of years now. In virtually every algal bloom crisis we’ve seen the cause is the same – nutrient contamination. There are a number of sources of nutrient contamination. The same fertilizers that lead to bumper crops and beautiful green lawns on land lead to bumper crops of algae. The run-off of animal wastes from confined feeding facilities and pens add tons of nutrients to our waterways. Nutrients, mostly phosphorus and nitrogen, when applied to lawns, farm fields or stored on site are very vulnerable to being washed off and finding their way into some of our most significant water ways ultimately ending in Lake Erie and the Ohio River. The result is a massive and explosive growth of algae on a scale that is hard to imagine if you have never seen it. Nutrients carried by the Ohio River to the Mississippi have contributed to the loss of oxygen or hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico. How have we gotten to a point where these blooms and anoxic conditions seem to be a perennial problem with no solution in sight? Are we in a world where we must simply learn to live with this cycle of contamination? The answer is a definite no! There are significant steps we can take to reduce nutrient contamination and help clean-up our waterways. One common characteristic of most, if not all, of these nutrient contamination producing areas is the large scale loss of functioning wetlands and headwater stream systems. This in turn allows large volumes of nutrient rich water to quickly reach our lakes and “fertilize” the algal blooms we now experience regularly. Not only has northwestern Ohio lost its historic Black Swamp wetlands but, in more recent times, we have destroyed and continue to destroy significant wetland areas by draining and developing them and then simply redirecting the nutrient contaminated waters directly into rivers and lakes. Instead of the nutrients leisurely travelling through wetlands and being consumed and retained by natural processes we have blindly constructed veritable waterway super highways, speeding the contaminating nutrients into our lakes. This is as true for Buckeye Lake and Grand Lake St. Mary’s as it is for Lake Erie. We have all heard the analogy that wetlands are the “kidneys” of our water ways. This is a case where the continued loss of wetlands and headwater streams has severely damaged or removed our “kidneys” and we are now paying the price for that neglect and short-sightedness. We need to take significant steps to get back to a more natural, balanced system that will protect our waters and restore the biological integrity of our waterways. Clearly we need to begin to control the deposition of nutrients on land and to develop management practices that minimize runoff and contamination. But this is not enough. In addition we need to renew our efforts to not only protect our existing wetlands and headwater streams but to also begin to restore and rehabilitate our historic and valuable wetlands to their natural functions. We need to rethink and redesign drainage ditches to stop the rapid transportation of water. The key function of nutrient reduction can be readily restored to the streams and wetlands which can once again provide serious nutrient reduction in our water ways before it reaches our lakes and large rivers. A natural stream with a healthy habitat, stream bed and a connection to its flood plain can provide a substantial amount of nutrient reduction. Likewise, a healthy, functioning wetland can sequester vast amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen that would otherwise travel directly into our lakes only to fuel yet another devastating algal bloom. We have neglected and avoided dealing with this problem for far too long. It is time to take a serious look at this situation and take the important steps needed to get us back to normal.
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2014 Training Season Wraps Up

MBI continues to offer specialized training in aquatic Bioassessment. We hosted the following courses during 2014:

  • Ohio Rapid Assessment Method (ORAM) for Wetlands
  • Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity (VIBI)
  • Identification of Common Wetland Plants
  • Primary Headwater Habitat (PHWH) Training
  • Level 2 and 3 Ohio Credible Data Training, Fish and Macroinvertebrate specialties

  • We also provided a variety of personalized training to multiple organizations.

    We are planning to expand our educational offerings for the 2015 season, and will begin posting our courses in October of this year. Visit the training tab for complete details. As always, we can also work with your organization to develop personalized courses that will meet your unique training needs.

    Phone: (614) 457-6000 Office: 4673 Northwest Parkway, Hilliard, OH 43026