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in the drift: Fall 2015


Issue 23, Fall 2015

Dear Society for Freshwater Science,

Summer is long over, and the "Summer" issue of in the drift is long dead. Because this particular post-meeting issue continues to get increasingly later, well, we have come to accept that it is actually a "Fall" issue. Summer is not for newsletters. Unless you are in the southern hemisphere, in which case you can look forward to your summer reading when the January issue comes out.

During the long [northern] summer, there was a lot of behind-the-scenes activity going on at SFS. If you noticed some funny stuff going on with the website (like difficulty logging in or accessing the journal) not long after the annual meeting, this can be attributed to the monstrous task of migrating all of our web materials to a new server at Utah State University (managed by the same folks who ran our bang-up Milwaukee meeting and are currently planning Sacramento 2016). The USU folks have done a great job working out all the login and access issues, so you are all good to go now on the website. But the work continues. Next up, we'll be developing a new, much more modern version of the SFS website. So keep visiting and checking it out.

The FWS editorial staff has also been immensely busy with the increasing success of the journal. So busy in fact that this is the first time in 23 newsletter issues (i.e., in the entire history of in the drift) that we did not include the column "Pam's Journal Notes" from FWS editor Pam Silver. What there is to report, she says, is that she is very busy with all the manuscript submissions and extra pages being published. We voted in Milwaukee for a membership dues increase to support the increased activity and success at FWS. Stay tuned to find out how the extra resources will be used.

Mark Wetzel and the Literature Review Committee continue to update the SFS bibliographies as well (2013 is now done and available), and our new 2015-2016 administration, led by President Matt Whiles, is working on a number of mission-serving goals (read Matt's first "President's Environment").

Meanwhile, we hope you enjoy this issue of in the drift. The spotlighted FWS authors and all the other contributors never fail to provide enthusiastic feedback when we ask for content, and we appreciate this very much. Thanks to all of you!


Short SFS notes and quick links collected from "the drift"


Freshwater Science Article Spotlight:

The wondrous waterholes of northern Australia

Wallace, Waltham, Burrows & McJannet, Issue 34(2) pages 663-678.

Nearly all of the rivers of tropical northern Australia flow only ephemerally. Yet they harbor a diversity of freshwater organisms, including several species of native fish that can actually grow to quite immense sizes. This is only possible because the rivers do not dry completely in the absence of flow; surface water remains as series of disconnected pools, which the Aussies call waterholes. No SFSters, not billabongs. Jim Wallace from the Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER) at James Cook University, and first author of this issue's spotlighted FWS article, clarified the difference for us Nearctic types: Billabongs are located adjacent to the main river channel and only connect and fill during the wet season (sort of like oxbows), while waterholes primarily form within the main channel and contain the remnant surface water during the dry season.

The same waterhole in the Flinders River drainage in mid-September 2012 (above) and again in the middle of summer on 19 December 2012 (below). As expected, water temperature naturally peaks during the driest parts of the year towards and probably often beyond the thermal tolerance of many fish using these locations as dry-season refugia. (photos: Nathan Waltham)

So during the lengthy dry seasons, it is waterholes that serve as the critical refugia for obligate aquatic species (some highly charismatic, like the two in the photos directly below!), and there is concern that these important refugia could be vulnerable to climate change. Jim and his coauthors (representing TropWATER and CSIRO, Australia's federal science agency) wanted to establish a comprehensive database on the natural thermal regimes of waterholes throughout two major river basins in northern Australia, the Flinders and the Gilbert. In this region, climate models do not predict significant changes in precipitation, but they do predict increases in average air temperature, so the spotlighted authors also undertook to model how waterhole temperature regimes might change with increased climatic warming, and in turn how these changes could affect fish survival. Jim et al. hypothesized that many of the unique fauna (like the prized barramundi two photos below), because they are already adapted to environmental extremes during dry seasons, probably tolerate short-term conditions detrimental to growth and survival. But a big question is how long these fish can withstand temperatures above their thermal tolerance, particularly if they are forced to face longer and longer time periods under such conditions.

The evolutionarily ancient Australian freshwater sawfish, Pristis pristis, requires large, deep waterholes that endure through the dry season. This species is currently on the endangered species list. (photo: Stirling Peverell)

Second author Nathan Waltham (also from TropWATER) proudly displays a 20-kg barramundi (Lates calcarifer), one of the most iconic fishes of northern Australia. Many dry-season waterholes, even the smaller ones, could contain barramundi, although probably not this large. Want some barramundi recipes? Try Pinterest. (photo: Nathan Waltham)

Sitting in the lab and hypothesizing is one thing; gathering high-quality temperature data from remote waterholes is something else entirely. Jim told us that many of the focal waterholes were >500 km from Townsville (home of the TropWATER Freshwater Ecology Research Lab), and that's as the crow flies. And it is not as though there are easy-driving superhighways across the Flinders and Gilbert watersheds, in remote NE Australia (both rivers flow into the Gulf of Carpentaria). The authors achieved success in data gathering through, Jim says, "a combination of custom-designed automated recording equipment, backed up with frequent visits for servicing and additional manual measurements". Definitely challenging, but when we asked him what his best advice is for early-stage researchers, Jim admitted that getting into the field and seeing the ecosystems for what they really are is probably the most important thing you can do, no matter how difficult or hot it is. "Follow up interesting observations you make in the field because these often lead to exciting new science and eventually innovative management outcomes."

What the spotlighted authors found was that the fish using these waterholes are indeed regularly exposed to higher-than-optimal temperatures during the dry season, and that temperatures do occasionally reach levels that are detrimental to growth and survival. However, it is likely that fish species vary greatly in their tolerance of such conditions (experiments are ongoing to determine species-specific temperature thresholds, which currently are not very well understood). The authors' models suggested that climate warming could lead to thermal conditions in which the least tolerant species significantly decline, potentially even to extinction. Given the rather harsh prognosis, management recommendations become more difficult. The authors and their colleagues are continuing work in the waterholes, with an emphasis now on addressing an ongoing pressure to develop irrigated agriculture in these remote watersheds. Little is known about how water extraction for irrigation will influence conditions in the waterholes, but it is likely that this activity will increase the strain on the already vulnerable aquatic fauna. This continuing work is highly relevant both for Australia and for many developing countries around the world in tropical and sub-tropical regions.

Speaking of charismatic aquatic megafauna... This is a replica (in the main street of Richmond, Queensland) of Kronosaurus queenslandicus, a marine reptile that lived in Australia's great inland sea about 110 million years ago and grew to 10 meters in length. Jim Wallace says that the ~500 residents of this remote northern Australian town are "so proud of the discovery of Kronosaurus nearby that they not only have this life size replica (and museum), but also all the litter bins in main street are surrounded by Kronosaurus jaws!" So this region has a history of extinction of large aquatic fauna. We are just hoping it does not repeat in the near future, with the interesting species that now occupy the large river systems. (photo: Nathan Waltham)


ITD Q&A: Sue Norton

SFS member and secretary of the Board of Directors (and fiddle player extraordinaire) Sue Norton caught up with us about her book, Ecological Causal Assessment, which came out at the end of last year.

Ecological Causal Assessment
CRC Press, October 2014, 513 pp.
ISBN: 978-1-4398-7013-6

ITD: We need to start from square one, Sue: what does "ecological causal assessment" mean?

SueN: Ecological causal assessments figure out why an undesirable effect happened. In aquatic systems, an undesirable effect could be a fish kill, a toxic algae bloom, or a change in a biomonitoring index, like an IBI. Understanding how it came about is the first step in identifying which management actions will do the most good.

ITD: How did you get started working on ecological causal assessments?

SueN: My interest in ecological causal assessments started in the mid-1990s. It was spurred by the pivoting of water quality monitoring methods toward the biota: asking stream organisms themselves about the condition of the environment that they live in. The Rapid Bioassessment Protocol project led by Jim Plafkin and Mike Barbour operationalized these methods for many organizations, particularly the state and Tribal agencies that are on the front lines of environmental protection here in the U.S. Biological monitoring methods are great for determining when something is amiss, however, they do not tell us what is going on or how to fix it. Donna Reed-Judkins and Bill Swietlik in U.S. EPA's Office of Water recognized the need for methods to answer this next suite of questions. They formed a large group of collaborators to develop and test-drive methods, resulting in the publication of the Stressor Identification Guidance Document in 2000. I was very fortunate to be involved in that, along with my co-authors Susan Cormier and Glenn Suter.

ITD: What motivated the book?

SueN: We started the book with a very practical purpose--to share methods and strategies that we have found to be useful for identifying causes. A deeper motivation for me is a desire to foster clear thinking about environmental problems. Ecological systems are complex and the factors that we can influence are not always easy to distinguish from natural trends and random processes. We are often inundated with data, competing explanations and strong opinions. Making matters worse is our tendency as humans to leap to a conclusion and then gather information that supports our favored hypothesis. You can see evidence of these tendencies in the popular press, from the controversy surrounding vaccines and autism, to the persistence of some to question whether human activities cause climate change. As scientists we are not immune to cognitive errors, but we have a greater responsibility to be vigilant in minimizing their effects, because our conclusions are trusted to guide management actions. The book provided a great opportunity to delve more deeply into our intellectual heritage of science and philosophy, the strengths and foibles of human cognition, and the underlying assumptions of frequently used sampling designs and analytical methods.

SFS everyday hero: Sue Norton.

ITD: One of the quotes about the book (from Dick de Zwart) suggests that ecological causal assessment "resembles forensic science". What does he mean by that?

SueN: When relatives ask me what I do, I often answer "Our group is like CSI for streams". Forensic scientists collect and analyze evidence to support legal investigations and are especially known for their role in criminal court trials. We share an emphasis on deriving and analyzing evidence and the goal of impartiality. Although our method was developed to aid EPA's responsibilities under the Clean Water Act, actions taken as a result of our investigations are frequently implemented without additional legal deliberation. And we still don't have a TV show.

ITD What types of ecological systems does the book cover?

SueN: The method can be applied to undesirable effects observed in any ecological system. However, most of the examples in the book are drawn from aquatic systems, especially lotic ones. We do discuss several applications in terrestrial systems and include a case study of kit fox population declines.

ITD: Who do/did you anticipate to be the main audience for the book?

SueN: We wrote the book for practitioners-the scientists and engineers responsible for investigating and managing ecological systems. They may work for a state or Tribal agency, or for a consulting firm or university. Although I am not aware of any college courses on Ecological Causal Assessment currently being offered, I think that the book would make a great basis for a graduate-level course or seminar. After all, thinking clearly about causes is a skill we all can use, no matter where our careers take us.

ITD: Would you tell us a bit about the EPA's CADDIS (http://www.epa.gov/caddis) website and your role in developing it?

SueN: Ecological causal assessments are challenging because investigators need to know about all of the ways an adverse effect might be produced. For example, stream biota can be affected by excess sediments, nutrients, toxic substances, altered flows, or elevated temperatures. We developed CADDIS to provide a place for investigators to find basic information on many common causes, especially on causes with which they might be less familiar. The website also describes types of data and analyses useful for causal assessment, which may differ from those that are readily available or familiar.

CADDIS exemplifies the ability of the internet to reach wide audiences. In 2014, the site was visited over 170,000 times by 85,000 users. To me, this means that the site is being used by a broader group than the original intended audience of public sector scientists. Websites like CADDIS are a powerful means for communicating what we know about how humans degrade aquatic systems to those who are learning, or who may not have the time or inclination to read the scientific literature.

ITD: How closely involved were you in the development of CADDIS?

SueN: I have been involved with CADDIS from the get-go and can claim credit for the somewhat tortured acronym, which stands for the Causal Analysis/Diagnosis Decision Information System. Susan Cormier and Glenn Suter share credit for the original concept and method. Lester Yuan, Rick Ziegler, Kate Schofield, and Maureen Johnson led the last major redesign and update. However, the website truly has been a team effort, and could not have happened without contributions from many scientists in the U.S. EPA and the States and support from our contractors and reviewers.

ITD: Have you heard any feedback yet, in terms of readers applying the methods described in the book to a real-world environmental problem?

SueN: In one of the earliest case studies of our method, Chris Bellucci and his colleagues from the State of Connecticut found a broken sewer pipe that was intermittently discharging toxic substances into the Willimantic River. The discharge was rerouted, and the stream biota recovered. Another early case study guided restoration actions in Long Creek, Maine. Many states have adapted and applied the method in their water quality programs. For example, the State of Minnesota has applied the method systematically across watersheds in the State to guide management plans. More recently, I have had the opportunity to assist the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in their investigation of health issues observed in the smallmouth bass population in the Susquehanna River. We are hopeful that applying the method will help reduce the number of hypotheses under consideration, focusing future monitoring and research toward the most likely causes.

ITD: Do you have any take-home messages that you could share from your experiences conducting causal assessments?

SueN: One of the lessons that I've learned through our case studies is to keep an open mind--what you think is the obvious culprit at the outset of project often turns out to be something else entirely. Doing causal assessments is a great way to keep humble! But also, causal assessments are a great way to learn more about how aquatic systems work, how things can go wrong, and how we can better target management actions to improve the aquatic systems we study and love.

ITD: What is the best way for SFS members to get their hands on a copy of the book?

SueN: The book was published by CRC Press, and is available from any of the major book sellers. You can also expect a copy or two to appear at the Silent Auction at the Sacramento meeting.

Action shot: Sue visits a reach of Salinas River, California as part of a causal assessment case study. (photo: S. Hagerthey)


Kim's Cash-Flow Corner

Over the years, how many of us at SFS have benefitted from our society's Endowment Fund, to travel to a meeting or to support our research? Have you ever wondered how the Endowment Fund supports the society's goals and student achievement? In her third installment of the "Corner", our Finance Committee Chair Kim Haag provides a brief history.

The Society for Freshwater Science Endowment

What exactly is the Endowment fund? It is actually a collection of funds, growing to 9 in all (each underlined below) in recent years, established to support travel to annual meetings and research by students and other society members. The Endowment is only a little more than 25 years old, but its success over the years has been impressive. We owe this success to direct contributions from SFS members, matching funds from the Society, and everyone who participates in the live and silent auctions.

A plan to create a Society Endowment originated in the late 1980s, and Jack Stanford became the first Chair of the Endowment Committee. The Endowment was designed to be a pool of assets invested to provide long-term growth, interest, and dividends; the interest and dividends would be available for disbursement whereas the principal would remain intact. Two separate funds were established by 1990, the General Endowment Fund and the Karl W. Simpson Memorial Fund (supporting research in applied sciences). By the end of that first year, the total balance in the combined Endowment Funds was $2,300, derived solely from individual contributions. The following year (1991), the Americas Fund was established to support travel to the annual meeting by students from Latin America.

In 1992, the NABS by-laws were revised to accommodate the formation of a standing committee specifically to oversee the Endowment funds. It was called... drumroll... the Board of Trustees of the NABS Endowment Fund for Scientific Research and Education (whew!). I (Kim) served as the Chair of the Board of Trustees from 1994-98. Student travel to annual meetings was deemed a high priority for disbursement of Endowment funds, but unfortunately the principal of the Endowment was too small to yield sufficient interest and dividends to provide much support during the early years. The Board of Trustees in consultation with others in the Society developed a new plan to match Endowment contributions using a part of the profit from annual meetings. We also began some now-traditional annual meeting activities to help contribute to the Endowment, specifically the silent auction and the bidding auction, which were initiated by auctioneer Don Webb at the 1996 meeting. The Endowment began to grow rapidly thanks to the decision to provide matching funds and to the auctions, which serve a greater social role as well.

As the ball really got rolling, a number of other specific funds came into being. The Boesel-Sanderson Fund, supporting research on the natural history of aquatic organisms, was originated by Harley Brown to commemorate two mentors that were important to his career. The Robert C. Petersen Memorial Fund was created in 1996 to support travel to the annual meeting by students from non-North American countries. The Conservation Fund was developed to support research by graduate students in areas related to biodiversity, conservation, endangered species, or restoration. The Systematics and Natural History Fund was created in 2005 to support research by any Society member in those fields. The Christy Fellows Memorial Fund was established in 2009 to support travel by an Australian graduate student to the annual meeting, and the Patrick Mulholland Memorial Fund was created in 2012 to support travel to the annual meeting by students studying stream biogeochemistry.

The total balance of the combined Endowment Funds as of 2014 was about $665,000. The funds yield interest and dividends of more than $25,000 per year which support travel to the annual meeting and various research activities by student and other members. An expanded description of each fund is on the SFS website. The SFS members should be very proud of the growth in the Endowment Fund and its continued development as it serves to further the goals of SFS.


Milwaukee 2015 Meeting Recap

Freshwater science in the freshwater city

Attendance: pretty solid for a "normal" year. It wasn't JASM, but as of the Business Lunch, there were 909 registrants for Milwaukee 2015.

Did you have the wrong affiliation on your nametag? That's because you need to log into the website and update your info. Do it now.

"Bottom Pickers' Society" This would have been our name if founding member Larry Larimore (1923-2015) had his way. Mark Wetzel gave a tribute to Larry on opening night.

"No matter what you do, there is going to be something for you to do." In Dave Strayer's presidential address, he emphasized that as ecologists we are now working in no-analog ecosystems. So no matter your area of specialization, you will have something to contribute. Let's get to it!

Society Awards: Our 2015 Distinguished Service Awardee Jon Morse said he was confused about getting the award because "I've just been having fun". The Environmental Stewardship Award went to Steve Hamilton of the Kalamazoo Watershed Council (and Michigan State University). And Carla Atkinson explained in her Hynes Award acceptance address why we should all think about nutrient cycling: because it is an indicator of ecological change in a changing world.

Top 100! Margaret Palmer, listed as one of the state of Maryland's "Top 100 Women" (and we think she must be at least in the Top 5), was the recipient of the 2015 Award of Excellence. In her address, she spent a lot more time celebrating our Society than her own career, and there is no indication that she is going to stop the great work anytime soon!

The filthy Chicago River. Peter Annin gave the opening plenary, "Water Tension and the Great Lakes Compact". Did you get the part about how the Chicago River used to flow into Lake Michigan, but it sometimes would develop a "crust of filth" so thick that cats and chickens could walk across? So in order to keep the river from polluting the lake, they went ahead and diverted it into the Mississippi drainage.

A special session for Dave Allan. Marking his retirement, an extra special, special session that included his son Brian Allan (a disease ecologist) and many members of his larger extended family (i.e., his fantastic SFS colleagues)

FWS grew and so did Pam's hair. At the business lunch, a longer-haired Pam Silver reported on the exorbitant growth of our journal, a nerve-wracking backlog, and an increased rejection rate. Great for the journal, but it looks like we are going to need more editorial help!

Paper-ballot vote for dues increase. The immense growth of FWS is going to need some additional financial support. Results of a vote during the Business Lunch to increase membership dues to this end: 474 yes; 58 no; 1 abstention. So it looks like we are going to have to forego another 2 or 3 fancy coffee drinks per year to afford our new SFS membership dues.

A ballroomful of chirping frogs. As Dave Strayer handed over the SFS presidency to Matt Whiles at the Business Lunch, the room was overtaken by frog noises (apparently in the form of various mp3s that Matt's fans had distributed from smartphone to smartphone). Let's welcome President Whiles, who brings a whole new style to the SFS presidency (denim and flannel). Emma Rosi-Marshall has taken on that key role of assistant-to-the-president.

Our SRC has a new chair also. That would be Joanna Blaszczak. We look forward to all the creative and enthusiastic endeavors the students of SFS will take on this year!

"Banquet" night with the Great Lakes sturgeons. OK, so the cheese trays and beer didn't exactly make it a banquet, but the society-wide social gathering at Milwaukee's Discovery World museum and aquarium was still pretty cool. Especially since we got to pet live Great Lakes sturgeon.

USU Conference Management Services. This was our first annual meeting organized by the Utah State folks since SLC 2008 and Grand Rapids 2009. As of this writing, USU Conference Management has taken over both the meeting planning and the website of SFS. We have moved to USU from the Schneider Group, who we thank profusely for their services the past three years.

See you down in Sactown! SFS 2016 will be in Sacramento, California, with the drought-appropriate theme "Running on Empty". In spite of the rather dry circumstances, organizer Jay Jones assured us that Sacramento has "lots of bars -- which might be of interest to this group". They also have an awesome system of trails along the American River corridor.

A freshwater city with freshwater streets: great for a Society for Freshwater Science meeting! (photo: Deb Finn)

Outside the Wisconsin Center, 17 May 2015. (photo: Luke Jacobus)

This is not the president of our Society. It is a wax cop guarding the front of the conference center. (photo: Deb Finn)

Instars and instar mentors with SFS incoming president Matt Whiles. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

President Dave Strayer and his all-important "assistant to the president" Michelle Baker, preparing for the 2015 BoD meeting. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

President Strayer congratulating Jon Morse on the Distinguished Service Award. "I've just been having fun", Jon says. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Dave Strayer, Emily Bernhardt, and Dave Allan presented the fabulous Margaret Palmer with the 2015 Award of Excellence. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Hynes Award winner Carla Atkinson is surrounded by her groupies following her presentation on opening night. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Committee meetings, Monday lunch. Amazing things get done for our Society during this hour and a half. If you are not on a committee, join one in 2016! (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Student Kris Voss models a fish tie during the live auction, which raises lots of money for the SFS Endowment fund. (photo: Mike Swift)

When your Milwaukee roommate is a native Wisconsinite... (photo: Deb Finn)

Karaoke song #1 at the live auction. Walter Dodds, Emily Bernhardt, John Kominoski, and Amy Rosemond, who came well prepared. No dorky nametag with the sequined gown! (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Karaoke song #2. Ex-presidents back up incoming president. Bern Sweeney in a strong supporting role. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Karaoke song #3. Jen Tank, Bob Hall, and their entire posse. We have not received word yet on how much these antics earned for the Endowment. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

The 2015 SFS Publications Committee, looking perky after the usual 7AM meeting. (photo: Mark Wetzel, who is also on the Pub Comm!)

The plethora of students who received Endowment awards for travel to Milwaukee for the annual meeting. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Bicarbonate buffering on the School of Freshwater Sciences tour. (photo: Mike Swift)

Jane Hughes and Bobbi Peckarsky, just after Jane's Wednesday plenary talk. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

The passing of the SFS presidential torch, including the standard mug and, this time around, a PBR tall-boy for outgoing president Dave Strayer. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

At the Taxonomy Fair. Pretzels, cheese, and taxonomy, Wisconsin-style. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

The SFS poster sessions have only been getting better and better over the past few years. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

The big Wed. night social event was at the Discovery World museum, which included this awesome sturgeon-petting pool. (photo: Mark Wetzel)

Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) (photo: Mike Swift)

Nick Aumen decides to captain the Great Lakes schooner on display at Discovery World. (photo: Mark Wetzel)


Your in the drift newsletter is brought to you by Deb Finn, Julie Zimmerman, and Patina Mendez. We represent the Public Information and Publicity (PIP) committee of SFS, co-chaired by Becky Bixby and Ayesha Burdett.
What's New
  • Making Waves Podcast Episode 27: Animal Migrations andnd Freshwater Nutrient Subsidies , Amanda Subalusky more
  • Making Waves Podcast Episode 26: Carbon Fates, Dr. Erin Hotchkiss more
  • Does Cultural Diversity Matter to Scientific Societies? Read the President's Environment more
  • SFS Student Presentation Awards! more
  • In the drift just fell into your sampler! The Spring 2015 Newsletter is here! more
  • Making Waves Podcast Episode 14: Nitrogen Fixation in a Warming World, Dr. Jill Welter more
  • The President's Environment: What's New? more
  • 4th International Symposium of the Benthological Society of Asia and 2nd Youth Freshwater Ecology School August 19-25, 2018

  • 2018 Benthic Ecology Meeting (BEM) in Corpus Christi, Texas, USA: 28-30 March 2018.


  • The deadline to submit proposals for AQUATROP Special Sessions or Symposiums is now November 17, 2017

  • SFS joins CASS in condemning silencing of EPA scientists

  • Andy Leidolf appointed as SFS Executive Director



More SFS News...

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