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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”.

Elucidating Ecological Ethos: The Gar

Author: Lon Hersha

It seems most of us fishermen got our start on a trip to the “wilds” of a pond or lake with our dads. Looking back, I realize it was as much about spending time with my dad as catching fish. For me it started with a bamboo pole, a hook, a sinker, a bobber and a worm. My first catch was a Bluegill. Though the fish ended up back in the water, I was the one that was hooked. I have fished ever since.

Like anything we do, with repetition comes skill and knowledge. However, this type of education (the “doing” kind) is limited by our experience. If all my fishing experiences were limited to that first pond and a bamboo pole, I’d still have a pretty narrow view of fishing. Once I started fishing in creeks, rivers and marine environments that skill and knowledge expanded. Talking to and fishing with other people allowed for even more learning and what I learned revealed as much about fishermen as fish. The Longnose Gar is an example of this experience.

My first encounter with a live Longnose Gar was as an adult. It conjured up thoughts of prehistoric sea creatures with which I had often dreamed of being contemporaries. While the many teeth protruding from its long snout gave me a sense of trepidation, I yearned to get a closer look and touch its strange scales. Surely this had to be a not-so-distant relative of the plesiosaur. My brief reverie was interrupted by several surprisingly scurrilous remarks directed at the fish from a couple of local fishermen that were near us. While their intent may have been to demean, debase, and engender malicious intent, in my mind I wondered what hidden powers this creature might have to elicit such vitriol. I determined I had to know more.

As it turns out the Longnose Gar, Lepisosteus osseus, has, in fact, been around for some time. Fossils of this ancient fish have been found alongside dinosaur fossils (McGrath, P.E., E. J. Hilton, 2011)…in other words they are what they appear to be: prehistoric. The female Longnose Gar does not mature sexually till she’s 6 years old. She can reach a length of over 6 feet, weigh as much as 55 lbs. and lives an average of 22 years (the oldest recorded age is 39 yrs.). The males are smaller, shorter lived and mature in half the time. They are skilled predators and will eat almost any fish that they can get in their mouth. However, they demonstrate preferences for certain species depending on where they’re found. Most commonly these will include clupeids (shad and herring), cyprinids (minnows) or Lepomis sp. (sunfish).

Longnose Gar was a major food source for Native Americans and the early colonists in Virginia. Unfortunately, in the early 1900’s these fish began to be characterized as worthless and destructive. This attitude toward gar has deteriorated to the present day, as exhibited by the local fishermen during my first encounter with a Longnose Gar. But what is the source for this characterization?

Most likely it is an accumulation of unfavorable experiences combined with the embellishment necessary for telling a good story. When caught on a fisherman’s line, the gar will twist or roll in an attempt to free itself. This creates a tangled line, the bane of fisherman, and a battle with a thrashing head of razor sharp teeth. When caught in a net, their twisting flight response produces a hopelessly tangled knot of beak, teeth and net. While the meat of the gar is edible, it is only mildly so to most modern palates and the effort to prepare it is hardly worth the tangled line and slender, bony fillets. Add to this the perception that their voracious appetite is responsible for the reduction of the target population (game fish) and it is not difficult to imagine the inevitable deterioration of the Longnose Gar’s reputation. Yet even with humans a reputation is at best tenuous, particularly if it’s a good one. In the end a reputation tends to be little more than an accumulation of a few experiences interpreted by a preponderance of opinion. Wisdom would always dictate closer scrutiny.

In the economy of ecology where nature dances in perfect step with the law of sensitive dependency on initial conditions (popularly referred to as “The butterfly effect”), the Longnose Gar is no less, and perhaps more, important than the symbolic butterfly. In natural systems where gar populations have been depleted there is more often a dynamic increase of forage fish populations such as gizzard shad, sunfish or minnows and not the anticipated increase in game fish. In actual studies of the diet of Longnose Gar, game fish represent about 1% of its diet (Eschelle, 1968). Further, the Longnose Gar is an important host for the glochidia of the freshwater mussel Yellow Sandshell (Lampsilis teres). Due to its sensitivity to pollution this mussel has become endangered in much of its range. Eliminating Longnose Gar from a system would play a major role in eliminating this sensitive mussel as well.

Despite its ability to adapt to and thrive in a wide variety of conditions ranging from very low oxygen waters to salinities up to 33 ppt., it has been designated as a threatened species in 3 states due to human activities, unintentional and intentional. So, reputation notwithstanding, when we elucidate the ecology of the Longnose Gar (and any organism, for that matter) we can see the wisdom of considering the matter well prior to taking action effecting its very existence.
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MBI Announces 2014 Training Courses

We are offering a variety of courses for the 2014 season:

  • Amphibian Index of Biotic Integrity (AmphIBI)/Amphibian Identification (April 29 – 30)
  • Habitat Assessment using the QHEI (May 6 – 7)
  • Primary Headwater Habitat (PHWH) (May 8 – 9)
  • Ohio Rapid Assessment Method (ORAM) for Wetlands (May 13 - 14)
  • Level 3 Ohio Credible Data Training (June 2 – 5)
  • Vegetation Index of Biotic Integrity (VIBI) (June 10 – 12)
  • Identification of Common Wetland Plants (June 17 – 19)

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