As part of my thesis, I’m interviewing active researchers at the Academy of Natural Sciences to hear about the projects they are working on. I want to get a sense of what REAL scientific research is like, so I can convey that in the Google Earth file I’m preparing for the Academy’s website.
The Academy’s education department organizes field trips for adults that allow supporters of the museum to accompany scientists on local research excursions. On June 4th, I tagged along on a stream study led by lead scientist and section leader, Dr. Jerry Mead, and staff scientist, Michelle Brannin, both from the Academy’s Watershed and Systems Ecology department.
There were about 10 of us altogether, including Jerry, Michelle, and the adult programs coordinator at the Academy, Jill. Once we all gathered by a clearing near the stream, Dr. Jerry Mead began talking about his research of Crabby Creek. He explained to us that the stream had been rerouted when a new wastewater management system was put in years ago. What used to be Crabby Creek is now solid ground that covers up a long sewage pipe. The creek was diverted to another path with the help of engineers and restoration structures made of huge rocks. Unfortunately, the was management professionals and engineers did not talk to scientists about their plan, and there has been some trouble maintaining the integrity of the restoration structures.
Jerry and his team at the Academy have been studying the health of this particular stream to determine what needs to be done to keep the ecosystem healthy. After he showed us around the area, Michelle began to describe what we would be doing with them that day. Jerry and Michelle had identified some of the restoration structures that had failed and some that were still successful. We were to assist them in taking samples of the macroinvertebrates in the stream to determine the effects of the structures on the ecosystem. We took three samples near failing restoration structures, three samples near successful restoration structures, and three samples further upstream, to use as reference points.
The process involved using a metal frame, measuring one square foot, attached to a mesh bag that helped catch specimens while filtering out water. Michelle demonstrated by placing the frame in the water, holding it steady with one hand, while churning the rocks within that square foot with her other hand, making sure she was going through every bit of rock in order to catch as many macroinvertebrate specimens as she could. This went on for ten minutes. After each ten-minute sample, we used a piece of equipment to measure the streamflow of each sampled area. The equipment measured the amount of water passing through any given point in ft3/s.
In between samplings, we placed the mix of collected debris and specimens into plastic trays, and began picking through debris to find all the macroinvertebrates that were caught in the sample. Jerry kept a running list of the total number of specimens, the number of families represented, and the number of each different species we managed to catch.
Although we didn’t come to any conclusive results (because there were still a handful of samples to go through by the time the trip was over), we found something interesting after examining only two or three samples: the biodiversity near the failing restoration structures was exponentially more diverse than near the successful restoration structures.
Hmm! I’m not sure what results Jerry and Michelle came up with after examining all of the samples, but it will be neat to see how they use this data moving forward with their research. As we were collecting samples, Michelle was talking about how she wanted to use her research to put positive change in motion, how environmental science and research is what keeps biodiversity alive, ecosystems thriving, and our planet happy.
It was really neat to be a part of REAL science… to do something meaningful! If you live in the Philadelphia area and want to participate, check out the Academy’s adult programs. I had a lot of fun and definitely learned a lot not only about the stream and what a scud or a mayfly nymph looks like, but about the research process itself, and the purpose behind it!
The rest of my photos from the stream study can be found here.