Minnesota LGU Taking Citizen Aquatic Plant Monitoring to New Level!

At conferences, we often encounter curious coordinators of citizen monitoring programs about how they could use automated consumer technologies to monitor aquatic habitats.  When they learn what BioBase does, a frequent question is: “That sounds pretty cool and something we could certainly apply, who else is using BioBase for citizen science applications?”

In response, we always highlight the Prior Lake Spring Lake Watershed District (PLSLWD) in Minnesota USA.  PLSLWD is a leader when it comes to leveraging the talents of volunteers, partners, and Lowrance and BioBase technology to implement a comprehensive, standardized aquatic plant monitoring program.  To learn more about the PLSLWD’s program and implementation strategies, check out this report.

Schematic showing the collection of merged files collected by citizen volunteers.  A PLSLWD intern coordinated efforts across multiple volunteers, informed citizens about desired travel routes, and even preloaded transect guides in their Lowrance Chartplotter for citizens to follow.

 

 

Maps of Bottom Hardness (top), Bathymetry (middle), and Aquatic Vegetation Abundance (% of water column filled with vegetation or biovolume, Bottom) collected by citizens on Prior Lake with Lowrance Sounders/Chartplotters and processed automatically by BioBase Automated Lake Mapping System.

 

BioBase Helps Manage Honeoye Lake Macrophyte Harvesting Program

Guest Blog By Terry R. Gronwall, Chairman of the Honeoye Lake Watershed Task Force (Honeoye, NY)
Honeoye Lake is one of the smaller (~1,800 acres) Finger Lakes in Upstate New York.  We have been managing our macrophyte population by using a harvester for about 25 years.  The objective of our harvesting program is to both provide relief for the recreational lake users and to remove biomass containing phosphorus from the lake every summer.  We average around 800 wet tons of biomass removed per season.

When we learned about ciBiobase we saw this service as a way to make our macrophyte harvesting operation more efficient by concentrating our efforts on areas in the lake that have macrophytes growing through most of the water column.  This is shown as the red zone on our macrophyte maps.  We plan to monitor our actual harvesting rates relative to our macrophyte maps over the summer harvesting season to see if we achieve our goal of increased productivity.

Continue reading “BioBase Helps Manage Honeoye Lake Macrophyte Harvesting Program”

How do natural fluctuations factor into your lake management?

Since its inception in 2011, BioBase has helped a large number of lake managers and researchers across the globe create detailed, near real-time aquatic plant abundance maps.  But what happens when “real-time” becomes a “long-time?”  What is the “natural” range of aquatic plant growth in lakes? To what degree does an invasive species change the total plant abundance in a lake over the long-term? Likewise, to what degree does the removal of the invasive through management affect plant abundance within this historical context? These are questions research has yet to answer.   Why not given how much is at stake??

Continue reading “How do natural fluctuations factor into your lake management?”

Amendment to BioBase Guest Blog: GIS Tools helping CAP manage sedimentation

Earlier this year, Senior Biologist Scott Bryan from the Central Arizona Project (CAP) blogged about how the CAP is using BioBase to manage sedimentation in Arizona’s lifeblood 336-mile aqueduct.  Since then, CAP GIS Wizard Glenn Emanuel has worked some amazing magic on the BioBase grid exports using Spatial and 3D Analyst Extensions for ArcGIS (Figure 1).

Central Arizona Project, sedimentation, Lowrance, ciBioBase, BioBase, sonar, mapping, acoustics
Figure 1. Images showing the change in sediment volume prior to and after experimental dredging activities in a Forebay of the CAP canal.  The Raster Calculator in ArcGIS’s Spatial Analyst was used to subtract a “current” bathymetry from a baseline bathymetry (e.g., “as built”) to estimate sediment height and volume.  Images are 3-dimensionally enhanced using 3D Analyst for ArcGIS. Image courtesy of Scott Bryan and Glenn Emanuel, Central Arizona Project

The data and images allow CAP to make informed decisions regarding the efficiency of sediment removal operations.  In addition, ArcScene was used to produce a 3D scene of the forebay (Figure 2), which can then be animated with a video fly-through.

Central Arizona Project, sedimentation, ciBioBase, ArcScene, Lowrance, BioBase, sonar, mapping, acoustics
Figure 2. “Fly-through” images of sediment height  in Little Harquahala Forebay in the CAP Canal collected by Lowrance HDS sonar and GPS, BioBase cloud processing software, and finally exported/imported into ArcScene.  Image courtesy of Scott Bryan and Glenn Emanuel, Central Arizona Project.

Any user of BioBase properly equipped with the proper third party GIS software can create these amazing map products that are more than just pretty pictures.  They create a real-life, tangible perspective of aquatic resource conditions that BioBase users are interested in managing, protecting, and restoring.

Detect Change in Your Lake Before it’s Too Late!

Citizens all over the globe love their lakes and go to great lengths and spend lots of money to protect and manage them.  In the US, the Environmental Protection Agency supports a multitude of State, Local, and citizen efforts to monitor water quality in lakes and has implemented a rigorous National Lakes Assessment.  Despite these efforts, lakes across the nation continue to be impacted from runoff pollution and invasive species proliferation under our noses. How does this happen?

Continue reading “Detect Change in Your Lake Before it’s Too Late!”

Aquatic Plant Abundance Mapping and Resilience!

Merriam-Webster Defines resilience as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.  Eminent University of Wisconsin-Madison Ecologist Dr. Steve Carpenter further adds that resilience is the ability for a system to withstand a “shock” without losing its basic functions, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msiIV5NdLVs

Resilience is a relatively easy concept to understand, but it can be difficult to measure in lakes without monitoring subtle changes over time.  This stresses the importance of long-term monitoring and being on guard for new changes to water quality, aquatic plants, and fish.  Volunteer networks and agencies across the country are making great strides in monitoring water quality by dropping a disk in the water and scooping up some water and sending it to a lab for analysis.  In essence, taking the lake’s “blood” sample.  Indeed, water quality samples can be very telling.  But what is happening to the rest of the lake “body”?  How is it changing in relation to its liquid diet of runoff or medication to treat invasive species?  Unfortunately, until now, natural resource agencies, lake managers, and volunteers have not had the capabilities to objectively and efficiently assess these changes without time-intensive, coarse surveys of vegetation cover.

Your body’s immune system is the engine of resilience.  When your immune system becomes compromised, you become vulnerable to a wide range of ailments that may not be a threat to someone with a healthy immune system.  The same goes for lakes.  In the glaciated region of the Upper Midwestern US and Canada, healthy lakes are those that have intact watersheds where the hydrologic cycle is in balance.  Without going into great depth, keeping water where it falls (or at least slowing it down), goes a long way in keeping the hydrologic cycle in balance.  Healthy glacial lakes also have clear water, a diverse assemblage of native aquatic plants, and balanced fish communities.  When humans or the environment alter any one of these components, the lake must adjust in order to compensate for those alterations and remain in a healthy state.  The ability of the lake to do so is this concept of resilience (Figure 1).

Figure 1.  Conceptual diagram of a resilient system.  The height of the slope and the deepness of the valley are the compensatory mechanisms that bring a lake back to some resilient baseline condition after a short-term “shock” like a flood or a temporary septic failure.  Lakes with forested watersheds, clear water, native aquatic plants, and balanced fish communities are typically in this condition.

Slowly, as more curb and gutter goes in, green lawns replace native grasses, personal swimming beaches replace marshes, fish are overharvested or overstocked, or invasive species are introduced, the lake slowly loses its ability to compensate (Figure 2).  All of a sudden you hear “I’ve never seen that before” become more common when people describe a phenomenon on the lake that well, they’ve never seen before.   You may start to observe more algae blooms, more attached algae on rocks and plants, plants growing where they’ve never grown before, invasive species taking hold and thriving.  This is an example of the lake losing resilience and succumbing to the vagaries of the environment.  Under these circumstances, the lake can’t compensate anymore and you never know what you will see from year to year.  With no baseline, objective assessment of aquatic plant abundance and no monitoring of change in abundance and cover from year to year, it makes it even harder to know how much the lake has actually changed and what you need to try to get back to with implemented best management practices .

Figure 2.  An example of the consequences of the cumulative impacts of environmental and human stressors on lake resilience.  As lakes become more impacted by various watershed and in lake practices and invasive species, resilience is slowly worn away.  The valley becomes more shallow and a new “domain” enters the picture.  Lake conditions slosh around from one state to the next depending on the vagaries of weather and other disturbances.  Not knowing to expect from one year to the next becomes the norm.

A demonstration of the difference between a resilient lake and one that is losing resilience can be found in a paper published by Valley and Drake in Aquatic Botany in 2007 entitled “What does resilience of a clear-water state in lakes mean for the spatial heterogeneity of submersed macrophyte biovolume?”  Valley and Drake found very consistent patterns of vegetation growth from one sampling period to the next over three years in a clear lake (Square Lake, Washington Co. MN USA; Figure 3).  Each survey in Figure 3 took two days to survey and another week to make these plots.  Not including time on the water, ciBioBase produces these same plots in an hour.
 

Figure 3.  Submerged aquatic plant biovolume (% of water column inhabited by plants) as a function of depth in Square Lake, Washington Co., MN USA.  Notice the consistency of the pattern of vegetation growth from one time period to the next (study took place for 3 years from 2002-2004; Valley and Drake 2007).  Water clarity in Square Lake is high with diverse aquatic plants.

In contrast, patterns of vegetation growth were quite variable in a moderately turbid lake with abundant Eurasian watermilfoil; West Auburn Lake, Carver Co. MN USA; Figure 4).  For example, in summer 2003, a bloom of attached algae formed on Eurasian watermilfoil stems and effectively weighed down the stems and prevented them from reaching the surface.  This bloom was unique to 2003 and was not observed at any other time during the study.

Figure 4.  Plant growth as a function of depth in a moderately turbid Minnesota Lake with abundant Eurasian watermilfoil (West Auburn Lake, Carver Co. MN USA; Valley and Drake 2007).  Plants grew shallower and more variable in this more disturbed lake. 

If stressors continue unabated, then the lake can “tip” into a new, highly resilient domain of poor health (Figure 5).  The feedback mechanisms that used to keep the lake in a healthy state have now switched to new feedback mechanisms that are keeping it in an unhealthy state.  Algae begets more algae, carp beget more carp, stunted bluegill beget more stunted bluegill, if invasive plants are lucky enough to grow, they beget more invasive plants.  Getting the lake back to the original state is nearly impossible at this point.  It’s like Sisyphus rolling the rock uphill only to have it roll right back down again!  Although controversial, at some point, citizens, regulators, and lake managers need to start rethinking expectations and adapting management approaches in highly degraded systems.  Rather than trying to restore a lake to a Pre-European settlement condition through expensive, risky, and Draconian measures, it may be more reasonable to ask: “How can we have good enough water quality to support naturally reproducing stocks of game fish?”  “Can we manage invasive plants in a way that maintains fish habitat AND recreational opportunities?”  After the wailing and gnashing of teeth subsides and some agreement is reached on objectives and management strategies, then it becomes essential to determine whether implemented management practices are having their desired effect.  It doesn’t take two weeks and $10’s of thousands of dollars to do a vegetation survey.  Volunteers can do it, lake consultants can do it, state agencies can do it and they’ll all do it the same objective way with ciBioBase and they can all work together!

Figure 5.  Example of a lake that has flipped into a degraded regime regulated by new feedback mechanisms that keep it in the degraded state. 

The Upshot

Resilience is an easy concept to understand on a basic level, but hard to measure in lakes and changes slowly over time.  This stresses the importance of long-term monitoring and being on guard for those things “you’ve never seen before.”  Uploading data to ciBioBase every time you are on the water gives an objective and quantitative snapshot of the current conditions in your lake of interest.  Be watchful for anomalies in monitored areas.  Vegetation growth should follow a relatively predictable pattern from year to year and if it doesn’t, that may be the first indication that the lake is losing resilience and precautionary conservation measures should be taken.  Conservation measures may include better onsite storm water infiltration (e.g., rain gardens, nearshore vegetation buffers), maintaining a modest amount of aquatic plant growth in the lake, maintaining a balanced fish community in terms of species, size, and abundance.  These efforts will go a long way in protecting the long-term integrity of our beloved lakes!

Suggested Readings:

Carpenter, S.R., 2003. Regime shifts in lake ecosystems: pattern and variation. In: Excellence in Ecology, vol. 15, Ecology Institute Oldendorf/Luhe, Germany.

Scheffer, M., 1998. Ecology of Shallow Lakes. Chapman and Hall, London.

Valley, R.D. and M.T. Drake 2007.  What does resilience of a clear-water state in lakes mean for the spatial heterogeneity of submersed macrophyte biovolume? Aquatic Botany 87: 307-319.


What to do with all this Lake Habitat Data!?

Fifteen data points per second, four hours on Lake X today, several more tomorrow.  Lake Y and Z to follow.  Repeat next year and the year after.  Since no one has to process the data, it can be collected during non-dedicated mapping time by hitting record on your Lowrance HDS each time  your on the water.  Simple math tells you that this is going to lead to A LOT of data.  What are you going to do with it all?

This “problem” is new to biologists and lake management practitioners in the 21st Century.  Decision making in a data “poor” environment has been much more common and indeed is still a real problem.  The “problem” of too much data, really isn’t a problem at all.  Modern computing technology can return only information that is important to you and archive the rest for safe keeping.

With regards to aquatic plant assessment and monitoring in lakes, never before have we been able to rapidly collect and interpret information about how much plants are growing and where.   So, we spend three hours going back and forth on our favorite 230 acre, upload our data to ciBioBase and get a pretty map and some statistics on the density of the vegetation (Figure 1).  So what?  What does it mean?

Figure 1.Example automated summary report from ciBioBase.

Well, admittedly it is difficult to judge whether 78% of the lake being covered with vegetation (PAC) is normal.  What is normal?  This exemplifies the importance of collecting baseline information to judge whether changes from time A or B are significant.

The invasive aquatic plant, Eurasian watermilfoil has a tendency to grow to the surface of lakes, displace native plant species, and impede navigation.  The extent of surface growth and overall cover of Eurasian watermilfoil and other invasive plant species are typically the conditions that lake managers and citizens want to reduce.  ciBioBase provides a rapid and objective way to monitor how cover and surface growth of vegetation is changing as the lake is affected by various stressors and our responses to them (e.g., herbicide treatments).  For instance, often a water resource agency or citizen group will state objectives in a lake management plan something to the effect of “Objective 1: reduce the abundance of Eurasian watermilfoil by 80%.”  What should be asked next is 80% of what? What is our yardstick?  We can’t expect to be successful at water and fisheries resource conservation without clearly defining management targets and evaluating whether we’re getting there.

Furthermore, there is a tight link between water quality and aquatic plant growth.  Clear lakes with all native plant species often have high cover of vegetation, but relatively little surface-growing vegetation (except near shore or in shallow bays).  As more nutrients run into the lake from lawns and parking lots, aquatic plants initially increase in abundance and grow closer to the surface to get sunlight from the clouding water.  If we continue to mow our lawns down to the lake edge, over fertilize, and route water from parking lots and roofs into our lakes unabated, then aquatic plants crash because the water is too turbid to support plant growth.  Next thing you know, largemouth bass, bluegill, and northern pike disappear and you find your lake on the EPA’s Impaired Water’s List and now you need to spend million’s to clean it up.  ciBioBase can be used to prevent you from getting to that point.

One precise way of doing so is to monitor the maximum depth that vegetation grows in your lake.  There is a tight link between water clarity and the depth that plants grow in lakes (Figure 2).  The extent of plant growth integrates the short-term dynamic nature of water clarity and gives a measure of the overall water clarity conditions for the year.  The conventional water clarity monitoring routine involves citizens and lake managers taking a dozen trips a season to the middle of the lake to drop a Secchi disk down and measure the distance where the disk disappears from sight.  With one 3-hr mid-summer ciBioBase survey, you can get a measure of water clarity conditions for the entire season.  This depth should remain relatively consistent from year to year in stable watershed and lake conditions.  A change of two feet over the course of a couple of years should raise a flag that conditions in the lake may be changing and initiate some initial investigation into possible causes.



Figure 2. Relationship between the maximum depth of vegetation growth as a function of water clarity from 33 Minnesota lakes where lakes were mapped with sonar and water clarity data was collected with a Secchi disk.

To bring this discussion full circle, we should ask: how do we know the change in point A or B is due to a real change in lake conditions and not an artifact of our sampling?  This question plagued the 20th Century Lake Manager to the point of gridlock.  In the 21st century, we can overwhelm the question with data to get almost a census of the current conditions rather than a small statistical sample fraught with error.  Lake Managers don’t have to physically wade through all this data to find the answer.  High-powered computers and processing algorithms can do the heavy lifting, the lake manager or concerned citizen can focus on implementing practices that will result in clean water and healthy lake habitats.