From October 2015 to May 2016, the Community Science Institute (CSI) will host its second season of weekly sessions devoted to small aquatic organisms called benthic macroinvertebrates (BMI) and what they tell us about water quality in area streams. Sessions will be held at the CSI lab, 283 Langmuir Lab, 95 Brown Road, near the Ithaca airport. Whether you want to pick, sort and identify BMI in samples you collected this past summer, help with the sample backlog, or don’t know anything about BMI and are just curious about what these “spineless” (aka invertebrate) creatures say about water quality, Thursday nights at the lab are a great way to engage with a very tangible aspect of aquatic life – little critters that you can spot with the naked eye and whose beauty and complexity you may find yourself marveling at under the microscope!
There’s an inordinate amount of life lurking under rocks in local streams. Benthic macroinvertebrates are among the larger life forms, and CSI bio-monitoring volunteers sample them in order to learn about water quality. What’s living in a stream provides a good report card for water quality over the previous year or so. That’s because aquatic organisms need certain basic conditions in order to survive and develop. Beyond the basics, different organisms have different tolerances for various types of pollutants. CSI volunteers have been engaging in bio-monitoring activities for over a decade, and their work is establishing a useful baseline picture of what life under the rocks actually looks like and what it says about overall water quality in our streams. Sometimes, volunteers’ BMI analyses bring attention to sources of water pollution.
There are many ways to be involved in open lab nights, from simply helping pick organisms out from among the rocks, gravel and bits of plants that are part and parcel of stream samples (picking is a meditative kind of activity!), to putting the ones that look alike together and figuring out what taxonomic family they belong to. Adrianna Hirtler, CSI’s bio-monitoring coordinator and a certified aquatic taxonomist, will be at all the sessions to answer questions from novices and veterans alike and to help volunteers with BMI identification. If instead of picking samples and identifying organisms you can think of other ways of engaging with the world of BMI, creative suggestions are always welcome. Developing a photographic log of our local stream organisms is one possibility that comes to mind.
RSVP’s are suggested but not required. Since the main door to the Langmuir Lab building is often locked by 6 pm, it’s a good idea to let Adrianna know you’re coming by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you arrive during open lab hours and the door is locked, you can call up to the lab at 607-257-6606 for someone to come downstairs to let you in.