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in the drift: Winter 2014


Issue 18, Winter 2014

Dear Society for Freshwater Science,

So far so good with the email-embedded newsletter. Last issue was our first time trying this, and we didn't hear any complaints. We'll call that a good sign and keep at it. We mentioned the following viewing hints last issue, but they are worth repeating: (1) choose to view your email in html format, (2) allow images in the mails you get from us, (3) check your "promotions" folders for the newsletter, as it has been known to wind up there in its new format, and (4) please do not "unsubscribe" because this is the list we use for all SFS member communications.

January is a time to consider a long list of deadlines. The timing is not coincidental, as many are associated with our annual meeting prep. And the joint meeting this year is gradually building into something phenomenal. Combining the meetings of four different societies, it should have a huge and diverse attendance. Keep on your radars the newly developed JASM website. And don't forget to bookmark the SFS webpage if you haven't already. It gets updated regularly.

On the SRC ("Student Resources Committee") front, it is looking like there will be a lot of fun and useful opportunities for students at the JASM. Although the silent auction has been nixed for this year (too difficult to coordinate at such a big meeting), the mentor mixer is a go, and rumor is that there will also be a mentoring session for young professionals. Portland is also a great city for informal "field trips" within a short MAX ride from the conference center: countless microbreweries, food carts galore, Voodoo Donuts, Powell's City of Books, hikes in Forest Park, the rose gardens, trails along the Willamette River, etc. As usual, there are a number of student travel awards available. Check the following "Mark your calendars" section for application deadlines and links.

Happy abstract writing, and please do not hesitate to report any freshwater science news to us for highlighting in in the drift, your SFS newsletter. Email us!


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


Mark Your Calendars

JASM logo

Winter issue = deadlines issue. Here are some key ones to ink into your calendars, with links embedded:

Freshwater Science Article Spotlight:

Estonian bogs, saunas, and methane-based food webs

van Duinen, Vermonden, et al. Freshwater Science 32(4): 1260-1272

No matter our study system, we aquatic ecologists certainly must admit that Sphagnum bogs are pretty cool places. They create unusual aquatic habitats that tend to be both highly acidic and extremely low in nutrients, yet their food webs can include a number of invertebrates including larger predators like odonates (although vertebrates typically are absent).

A section of the “raised bog massif” at Nigula Nature Reserve, where the spotlighted study took place. (photo: Gert-Jan van Duinen)

Sphagnum bogs were once widespread in Northwestern Europe, including the Netherlands (where this issue’s spotlighted FWS authors are based), but many have been drained and cleared for agriculture and peat extraction. And the remaining Dutch bogs that are of primary interest to lead author Gert-Jan van Duinen and co-authors now face another conservation threat: increased atmospheric nitrogen deposition. For these naturally low-nutrient systems, adding excess N is bound to be a pretty big deal. Gert-Jan and colleagues ultimately aim to assess the impacts of this additional N on food webs of Dutch bogs. But first, they reasoned, they needed some baseline understanding of how bog food webs are structured in more pristine conditions. Namely, they wondered what key basal resources support the food webs in these unique and relatively unproductive systems in their natural state.

So they went to Estonia, specifically the Nigula Nature Reserve. Not far inland from the Baltic Sea, this reserve still has a multitude of relatively pristine Sphagnum bogs that beckon seductively to enthusiasts of such systems. And importantly to these FWS authors, atmospheric N deposition is minimal at Nigula.

The first step was to identify and collect samples of all the potential basal resources from a set of study pools. Because they intended to use carbon stable isotope analysis to infer key resources for higher trophic levels, the research team wanted to isolate (as purely as possible) samples of each potential resource. Gert-Jan admits that this was one of the biggest challenges of the study, but with an investment of creativity, time, and energy – as well as a local sauna – they met the challenge. They grew “gardens” of algae on plastic sheets suspended carefully in each pool, and they meticulously separated out dead organic matter, macrophytes, phytoplankton, and various invertebrate groups with the help of dissecting scopes set up in a nearby sauna that was kindly shared by the locals (see photo below).


Collecting BOM and invertebrates from one of the Estonian bog pools. One of the challenges of doing a thorough food-web study in these bogs was figuring out how to separate out each of the basal resources, Gert-Jan said. The team took all of these dipnet samples back to the “lab” (see next photo) and separated them into BOM and inverbetrate taxonomic groups under the dissecting scope. (photo: Gert-Jan van Duinen)

Although the Nigula Reserve now has a new field station for just such purposes, a few years ago when the research group was doing fieldwork for their spotlighted paper, they had to make do with a repurposed sauna. Above, students and techs sort bog samples in the sauna-lab. Presumably, they did not stoke up the fire too high while sorting BOM and other material. (photo: Gert-Jan van Duinen)

But what the team discovered from the stable isotopes was that they were still missing something. There was a strong signal of “lightweight” carbon (i.e., a low δ13C value) in the consumers and predators that indicated some other basal resource with a lower δ13C than anything they had collected. “Of, course, we wanted to know its identity,” objectively states Gert-Jan. This was a major piece of his PhD research, after all (not to mention part of the MSc work of second-author Kim Vermonden).

So the group moved on to the next indicator: phospholipid-derived fatty acids (PLFAs). As such, they added new team members with specialization in this field (including authors Paul Bodelier and Jack Middelburg, ultimately increasing total authorship on their paper to 8). They had an idea that the missing link might be methane, which is known to have a very negative δ13C. C from methane could enter the bog food webs via methane-oxidizing bacteria, but it would be impossible to sort out functional groups of bacteria under the scopes in the makeshift sauna-lab. Conveniently, methane-oxidizing bacteria have distinct PLFAs, and the authors found these PLFAs throughout the food web, including top predators. Not only did they show that methane-oxidizing bacteria act as a key basal resource in natural bog ecosystems, but they also found strong evidence that methane-derived C is taken up by algae (via bacterial metabolism). As such, the lightweight, methane-derived C can enter the food web either directly or indirectly.

This interesting finding in the Estonian bogs leaves Gert-Jan et al. pondering a number of future research directions, especially with regard to understanding what is happening with N deposition in the bogs closer to home in the Netherlands. They have already shown a strong correlation there between nutrient concentration and mean δ13C – a pattern suggesting decreasing importance of methane-oxidizing bacteria in bogs as N deposition increases. The researchers hypothesize that benthic organic matter increases in quality with increasing nutrient availability and thereby increases its role as a basal resource. Gert-Jan et al. are brimming with various ideas for testing this, and we wish them all the best in their pursuit of understanding and conserving these unique systems.

Pam's Journal Notes

Pam's Corner

FWS editor Pam Silver comes through again, contributing an essay that we did not have to edit. And guess what? It is about editing. Here she is, providing some insight about her a passion for editing the old-fashioned way: by actually correcting FWS authors’ writing.

This essay was motivated by several events. On 2 occasions during the week before it was due, colleagues expressed amazement that I actually read and do the technical editing and initial copy editing of every paper in the journal. “No one does that anymore!” When I asked a colleague why he had sent his paper to another journal, he said “I did not want to spend any more time on it. I send the important ones to you.” The final push was a column by Brian Moss, who wrote: “Many contemporary editors may see a very different role for themselves compared with those fifty years ago, when editors did a great deal of detailed rewriting. There are still some editors in the classic mode and I have no wish to offend them by generaliza¬tion, but overall, editors should again begin to edit, rather than just make decisions on the basis of referee reports.” (SILnews63, p. 8). I agree completely. Here’s why.

Freshwater Science Cover

Editors are teachers. When I was little, my father made me edit his writing. I was to check commas and provide feedback. My dad was a meticulous writer and editor, but he wanted (so he told me) another set of eyes. I know now that this exercise was for my benefit, but it taught me to write simply and directly. As a new scientist, I learned from the skilled editing of my papers by Rosemary Mackay and Dave Strayer. When I became an editor, Dave Rosenberg taught me that every paper should receive my undivided attention, that editing cannot be rushed, that facts must be triple-checked, and that every paper must be polished as close to perfection as I could get it.

Every paper I edit, no matter how well written and carefully polished, contains factual errors, mostly in the literature cited. Many contain discrepancies between text and tables/figures. Many have errors in the text, figures, tables, or supplemental data. These errors would have been published, had my copy editor and I not found them.

Scientists are not always good communicators. Much good science is unreadable because of poor writing. Some authors are inexperienced and need guidance. Others struggle to express themselves in English. For others, the urge to “write like a scientist” or to make the work sound “important” overwhelms judgment, and the resulting paper is, as Brian Moss put it, “obscure.”

Most papers can be shortened by several hundred (or even thousand!) words without loss of content and with increased flow and clarity. Many authors write twisted sentences, use multiple terms to mean the same thing, or use abbreviations with no explanation. Editors correct these problems, improve flow and clarity, tighten arguments, and remove jargon.

Papers are more useful when they are error-free, readable, and of high quality. Thus, editing adds value to papers. Every paper sends a message that goes beyond science. I was taught that presentation matters, and I want the papers published in FWS to say that I care about authors and the journal.

New Aquatic Entomology Book

Aquatic Entomology book

June 2013
Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0-19-957321-9
296 pages

Aquatic Entomology at Oxford University Press

The research duo of Jill Lancaster and Barbara Downes, both longtime SFS members, published a new book in mid-2013 called, simply, Aquatic Entomology. According to Jill, a key aim in producing this concise treatise emphasizing the basic, organismal biology of aquatic insects was to bridge a gap in the literature. Basic entomology texts emphasize terrestrial insect biology. Stream and freshwater ecology books focus on broader ecological concepts in the water but often gloss over the basic biology of key players, i.e. insects. Numerous, often excellent texts are available on these two broad subjects, but the outcome, Jill says, is that “aquatic insects often get short shrift from both”. Futhermore, she elaborates, the education of today’s cohorts of freshwater researchers often happens in programs like engineering, hydrology, or environmental science – which typically do not include basic training in zoology. At the same time, aquatic insects continue to feature prominently in both basic and applied freshwater research. But in the absence of biological understanding of the focal organisms there is a risk of scientific inefficiency and, at worst, misapplication of research results.

The Lancaster and Downes approach to addressing these problems is a well-written and easily digestible but thorough book, slim by most standards (296 pages in total, but including >120 figures and >1000 references) that should soon find a revered place on your bookshelf with little excess mass. Organized into 5 main Parts (14 total chapters), Aquatic Entomology starts by describing general insect body plans and phylogeny/evolutionary history. Step-by-step, Jill and Barb then work through a number of biological explanations for the environmental drivers that we all recognize as important to aquatic insect distribution (e.g. flow, temperature, dissolved oxygen). Alas, it is enlightening indeed to back up some of our arm waving about the impacts of things like climate change and land use on aquatic insects with a deeper understanding of the basic biological mechanisms! Other topics covered in the book include – in no particular order – development, mating, feeding mechanisms, digestion, oviposition, chemoreception, and the mechanics of locomotion, both in the water and on land.

Well-matched in style to the text, the numerous figures are straightforward, offering succinct visual explanations to sometimes-difficult concepts. Jill tells us she did most of the drawings herself (“we couldn’t afford a professional illustrator”), and the results are effective and at times entertaining. The overall style and tone make the book accessible to just about anyone with an interest in aquatic insect biology (including non-academics). For us freshwater scientists, it will make a valuable companion to the essential references for whatever our specialty happens to be. And it is a great teaching tool as well, for both taxonomy- and ecology-focused courses. Indeed, we already know of some university instructors using this book in their classes. This useful book probably should on be on the shelves of all SFS members. Get yourself a hardcopy or ebook here.

Aquatic Entomology book authors
They also walk the walk. Jill Lancaster & Barb Downes sampling aquatic insects from a stream near Melbourne last summer. (photo: Bobbi Peckarsky)

The 3rd SUSE Meeting happens in Portland

15-17 May

SUSE Website: urbanstreams.wordpress.com

The SUSE3 banner, illustrating a slice of the diversity of symptoms associated with the urban stream syndrome, as well as the idea that urban streams lie along a strong gradient of degree of urbanization (see also the next photo of a study stream in urban Portland, Oregon).

The upcoming SUSE (Symposium on Urbanization and Stream Ecology) meeting takes the stage first in Portland during the three days leading up to the ‘JASM’. Officially termed ‘SUSE3’, this meeting will be just the third of its kind, but if it turns out anything like its predecessors it will be quite productive. With a goal of advancing the scientific study of stream ecosystems in urbanizing environments, this small but international group (<120 participants) has thus far met in 2003 in Melbourne, Australia and in 2008 in Salt Lake City (associated with the NABS meeting there).

These prior meetings both resulted in J-NABS special issues (24:3 and 28:4), the papers of which have been well received (>1000 total cites to date). These include a key paper by Chris Walsh et al. in the first of the two issues that introduced the rest of us to the concept of the “urban stream syndrome” – a poignant example of the scientific synthesis that the SUSE meetings strive for. (Have a look at this EPA webpage for an overview of the urban stream syndrome and the concept of “urbanizing” streams in general.)

SUSE3 in Portland will aim for similar levels of sharing and synthesis and will provide a valuable opportunity for strengthening the international network of ecologists studying urbanizing streams. The scientific focus of this symposium will be on improving understanding of 1) mechanisms of impact common among all urbanized streams, and 2) the global variability in mechanisms resulting from regional differences in climate, geography, municipal infrastructure, and native species composition. The SUSE3 organizing committee (comprised of 9 SFS members from 3 countries) is planning a highly interactive program including social events and field trips, breakout sessions, vignette-style talks followed by group discussion, a full slate of ‘traditional-style’ talks and posters, and (we imagine – don’t quote us on this one) plenty of nice hoppy Oregon beer. The idea, say the organizers, is to promote “collaboration and synergies”. And not to worry: in addition to beer and food carts Portland does have its fair share of urbanizing streams, and they will be represented at SUSE3 (see photo below).

SUSE3 invites all interested SFS members to attend and help advance our understanding of the ecology of urbanizing streams. Have a look at their website and see if you can squeeze in a couple of extra days if you’ve been thinking about urbanization lately.

Thanks to SUSE3 co-organizer Bob Smith for providing in the drift this info!

Oregon State University researcher Bill Gerth discovers a rare species of the amphipod genus Ramellogammarus in a small spring-fed stream in Portland. Believe it or not, this stream is smack in the middle of a fairly industrial area not far from the PDX airport (where many of us SFSters will be landing as we arrive for the JASM and SUSE3 meetings this May). Bill’s collections suggest these rare amphipods could be endemic to urbanized streams in the Portland metro area – a problem he is currently working on and intends to share with the SUSE group. Thanks to Bill for the photo and info!

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 Erin Hotchkiss and Becky Bixby.
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