April 12, 2016
What would you do if someone gave you $36 million – after you picked your jaw up off the ground, I mean?That’s our happy predicament: Last year, nearly 40,000 volunteers donated 1.5 million hours, valued at more than $36 million, to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Those combined hours equal 681 full-time employees. The Service has a workforce of only a little over 9,000 employees, so those volunteer hours are a mighty big gift.
We have an opportunity, however modest, to give all our volunteers a huge THANK YOU this week during National Volunteer Week.
INTERESTED? Get more information on volunteering with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It is almost impossible to list all the activities our volunteers help us with – everything probably describes it best – but here is a brief list: banding a bird, greeting a visitor, leading a birding tour, helping with a wildlife survey, sustaining a garden, planting native plants, pulling invasive weeds, working on various maintenance tasks and more.
Volunteers came out for February’s annual mussel-cage repair day at Genoa National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin to help repair our old mussel cages and get them ready for the upcoming production season. After a couple seasons in the river, mussel cages need refurbishing. Genoa staff treated the volunteers to a lunch of hamburgers with all the trimmings. It is a small price to pay for the amount of hard work done by our dedicated group of volunteers. Photo by USFWS
BY DOUG ALOISI, GENOA NFH
Megan Bradley arrives at Genoa NFH. Credit: USFWS
Megan Bradley, formerly the Southwest Virginia Freshwater Mussel Recovery Coordinator of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fishes, has joined us at Genoa National Fish Hatchery (NFH) as our new freshwater mussel propagation biologist. We are very excited to have her join our team as she brings a depth of experience in intensive mussel propagation systems with her that we plan to use in the “Clam Palace”, our freshwater mussel propagation facility.
Genoa’s mussel program is a relatively new program, beginning in 2000, and originally concentrated on extensive mussel culture. This method focused on the placement of fish that have been “infested” with mussel larvae, or glochidia, and caged over suitable mussel habitat. As the field of mussel propagation has progressed, more intensive methods of mussel culture have been developed. These involve controlling temperature, water quality, and feed availability in specially designed culture units that typically recirculate or use standing aerated water. Megan did her Masters of Science work at Missouri State University with Dr. Chris Barnhart, one of the pioneers of modern freshwater mussel propagation. Some of the very systems that Dr. Barnhart developed have either been put into use or will be put into operation soon in order for us to further the station mission of freshwater mussel conservation. Megan will be working closely with Nathan Eckert, our senior mussel propagation biologist, on the many ongoing Recovery and Restoration projects that Genoa is working on.
Please join us in welcoming Megan to the Midwest!
BY EMY MONROE, WHITNEY GENETICS LAB
On the left, Zeb, Nick Berndt, Mai Yang, and Erica are checking out the new code Katie updated so they will know how to analyze the black carp data as it is generated this week. On the right, Kyle Von Ruden, Maren Tuttle-Lau, and Nick Grueneis are loading reactions in the automated liquid handling systems. Credit: Emy Monroe, USFWS
The Whitney Genetics Laboratory (WGL) team added three new employees this winter, and everyone welcomed the extra hands and creative minds to the work group. Our new team members come to us from three different states: Erica Mize moved here from South Dakota, Katherine (Katie) Bockrath moved from Georgia, and Zebadiah (Zeb) Woiak was back in Wisconsin before starting at the lab.
Each of our new employees brings a different skill set to our lab, and they have already diversified the analyses conducted in the lab and introduced new methods to streamline efforts, saving money and time. They got to know each other and the rest of the WGL team by working over the winter to optimize methods for genetic identification of wild-caught fish eggs and larvae.
These samples are collected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field offices or state partners via ichthyoplankton sampling events as part of the unified efforts against Asian carp in the Chicago Area Waterway, the Upper Mississippi River, and tributaries of both systems. WGL can now provide our partners species identification services by collecting sequences from two different genes and using those sequences to compare results to an international sequence data base. Of course, they would not be ready to go unless they were ready to help process the thousands of environmental DNA (eDNA) samples as part of the early detection and surveillance programs for bighead and silver carp.
They spent a few weeks in training with our experienced team members, and this past week, they passed their lab exams and demonstrated proficiency in following the procedures outlined in the Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP). Thus, they are “QAPP-certified” – and just in time, eDNA samples should begin arriving in a couple of weeks!
The lab has also been busy working with our partner lab at the US Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center to validate and test new eDNA markers for Black Carp. It has taken a couple of different field trips by our dedicated Carterville and La Crosse Fish and Wildlife Conservation Offices to find field positive samples to use in these validation studies. Last week, the second set of field samples were extracted, and everyone was busy in the lab on a Monday morning, setting up real-time polymerase chain reactions and learning how to analyze the data with freshly updated code on the computer. We are all looking forward to a busy and productive field season!
During September, several Region 3 scuba divers completed dives twice a week to check for gravid winged mapleleaf mussels on the St. Croix River near Saint Croix Falls(WI). Winged mapleleaf mussels are listed as endangered at both the state and federal level. This was, by far, the highlight of my diving season since I had the chance to observe several different mussel species displaying their lures to attract potential host fish. On one of my dives, we had the chance to observe two winged mapleleaf that were gravid and actively displaying. Nathan Eckert from the Genoa National Fish Hatchery brought these animals back as brood stock for future recovery efforts.
By Kyle Mosel
A female winged mapleleaf mussel is examined for signs of embryos within.
We’ve all heard the saying “Third time’s the charm.” This statement rang true during October in a mutually beneficial manner when Jenna Merry resumed working at the La Crosse FWCO … now as a permanent employee! Jenna first began working here during the summer of 2010 as a Student Temporary Employee while enrolled as an undergraduate at Winona State University. She returned to work here again in 2012, on a part-time basis, while enrolled in graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse where she earned a Master of Science degree (Biology) in 2015. Jenna left our office earlier this year to work briefly for the Carterville FWCO in Wilmington, Illinois, where her primary duty was keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. Jenna is a now a fishery biologist at our office whose focus will be to help prevent/control the spread of aquatic invasive species in the Upper Mississippi River Basin. Welcome home and back on board!
by Mark Steingraeber
Last month students from Southern Bluffs Elementary, Summit Environmental and Lincoln Middle Schools (LaCrosse WI) spent the day trading in text-books for hands on learning at the Genoa National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery partners with Southern Bluffs, Lincoln and Summit schools to support their mission of providing students with a solid educational foundation in the core academic areas with an environmental focus integrated throughout the curriculum. This directly correlates to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s connecting children with nature initiative. Genoa collaborates directly with teaches to match activities at the hatchery with corresponding class work. Students visit the hatchery in fall, winter and spring each year as part of the outdoor classroom and Genoa staff members also visit the classroom for in class lessons. In class lessons consist of native fish identification, fish anatomy, native fresh-water mussels and monarch restoration and habitat enhancement. During the first session of outdoor classroom students experience hands on learning activities based off of lessons in the classroom.
Students make and identify different animal tracks
In the fall students tour the hatchery and learn about the importance of aquatic resource management and the role the hatchery plays in sustaining and recovering fish and mussel populations. In winter students learn about animal tracks, furs, and experience the history and sport of trapping and importance of trapping as an effective management tool. Students also grow milkweed in the classroom over the winter months for planting on hatchery grounds in the spring. During spring session the students will have a tour of the hatchery to see how the fish have grown overwinter. This allows students to observe different species of fish and life stages from eggs through adults. The students end their day with a lesson on prairie restoration and the ecological benefits of prairies to many species of animals. In addition students plant milkweed that was grown over the winter in the classroom. Students also use quadrats to assess the amount of cover of different species of prairie grasses and possible invasive plants. This data allows the hatchery to assess its restoration practices and take action where needed. These hands on experiences trap memories and instill conservation in the minds of these future stewards of our natural resources.
By: Orey Eckes
An adult black sandshell
In an effort to further Genoa National Fish Hatchery’s mussel production the staff at the hatchery is constantly looking for ways to improve methods. Some improvements may come in the form of culture facility updates and others may come in the form of simply trying new things with fish. Production of the black sandshell at Genoa is an example of our constant efforts to get better. The black sandshell is widely known to use walleye and sauger as hosts for their glochidia, however with the uncertainty of how pond production can go sometimes the station is stuck in a position where there are simply not enough fish for mussel production goals. Enter yellow perch. Yellow perch are also raised at Genoa NFH and we consistently produce large year classes that are not as common with walleye production. Yellow perch and walleye are closely related and are both members of the perch family; therefore it was thought that perhaps black sandshell could utilize yellow perch as a suitable hose as well. In December we set up a small host test to determine if we were on to something. The glochidia from a black sandshell were used to inoculate 10 yellow perch. They were maintained in our aquarium system for two weeks while we counted the live and dead mussels that dropped off. In the end we recovered 160 live juvenile mussels. This equals 16 per fish and less than 2% transformation of all the glochidia that attached to the fish. Walleye and sauger will transform over 70% of attached glochidia and usually yield over 700 juveniles per fish. A moderate host for this species would be expected to transform at least 30%. While our results didn’t provide a host to be used for hatchery mussel production we did find that the larvae could transform at some level on the yellow perch. This trial won’t change future work at the hatchery, but we wouldn’t know if we didn’t take the time to try.
By: Aaron Von Eschen
Yellow perch gills with mussel glochidia
In response to declining monarch butterfly habitat the Genoa National Fish Hatchery has made it a priority to participate in a Monarch Joint Venture to conserve monarch butterfly habitat along their 3,000 mile migration route. Last fall, staff at Genoa collected hundreds of pods from two different types of milkweed containing thousands of seeds. Those seeds were planted around the hatchery grounds including the native prairie and notable increases in common milkweed and swamp milkweed plants were seen. Throughout this past summer adult monarchs and monarch caterpillars were seen all over the hatchery on the milkweed ensuring that the efforts taken were successful. Milkweed plants are an essential diet for monarch caterpillars and adults feed on the nectar of the flowers. Providing an area rich in milkweed will attract adults continuously to lay their eggs on the plants. This fall staff was at it again collecting even more seed pods than the previous year in hopes of providing even more essential habitat next summer for the migrating monarch butterflies. Genoa has also taken additional steps in monarch conservation in the form of information about monarchs available to the public, milkweed and monarchs in the classroom, as well as including information and trips around the wetland to explain monarch life history and habitat on guided tours. The staff at Genoa is looking forward to informing the public about the importance of monarchs and steps that can be taken to assist in recovery of these butterflies. Information can also be found on the internet for anyone who is interested in the status of monarch butterflies and steps that can be taken assist maintaining butterfly habitat as well as information on flower gardens to help attract them on their migration routes. By: Aaron Von Eschen