If you can’t tell whether or not the pronotum of a thoracic segment of a Netspinning Caddisfly is scleratized, you’re not alone. You may have never even heard of a Netspinning Caddisfly. Fine details such as these are not noticed by casual observers, but play a major role in the world of aquatic entymology. When it comes to water monitoring, these details are important for identifying benthic macroinvertebrates (BMI), which are excellent indicators of water quality.
For four days in January, CSI’s two BMI staff members, Michi Schulenberg and Adrianna Hirtler, attended an intensive training workshop in Schenectady to learn the details of BMI identification and take a test to become certified taxonomists. Being able to identify organisms as specifically as possible is important for water quality monitoring because organisms vary in their tolerance to different kinds of pollution. By identifying to a very basic level, a BMI sample can tell you whether or not a stream is being impacted by pollution. Identifying to a more detailed level could help you target what type of pollution may be present in a stream.
Michi and Adrianna together have over a decade of experience with BMI identification. Still, the workshop presented a lot of new material. The instructor, Chris Fishel, from Watershed Assessment Associates, the environmental consulting form that offered the workshop, identified organisms with the ease that most adults would identify the alphabet. Learning with Chris was a highlight of the workshop for Adrianna, who said that learning about subtleties of some of the trickier organisms would have been difficult on her own, or by working with an ID book. “Having someone else show us where to look, or confirm what we were looking at was very helpful. Being able to ask, ‘am I looking at the labrum or the labium right now?’ and getting tips on the overall form of each family made a big difference,” said Adrianna.
Eight other people attended the workshop, including three from other countries. Several were professional entymologists looking to strengthen their background and add to their credentials. Only two others took the certification test at the end of the workshop. In order to pass test and gain certification, one must correctly identify at least 38 out of 40 photos of organisms. Identifying from photos is more challenging than under a microscope, where you can manipulate the organism to aid with ID. Both Michi and Adrianna scored 36 out of 40 on the test, high enough to retake the test without penalty. “Regardless of the test outcome, this training is great for our programs,” said Michi, who will be retaking the test next week along with Adrianna. Gaining the certification is helpful for getting recognition from the DEC and other agencies.
CSI’s BMI program has seen rapid growth in recent years, and could not reach our current level without having such experienced staff. Workshops like these allow CSI to gain more confidence in our programs and have more knowledge to share with volunteers.
Think you could pass the test? You can try a practice test online: http://www.sfstcp.com/NABSTCPHome/TestDescriptions/SelfEvaluation/tabid/165/ctl/Login/Default.aspxreturnurl=%2fNABSTCPHome%2fTestDescriptions%2fSelfEvaluation%2ftabid%2f165%2fDefault.aspx (you’ll be required to create a login)
*Update – as of February 21, both Michi and Adrianna passed the test, gaining their certificate as certified Taxonomists! Congratulations to Michi and Adrianna!*