6/15/2012 6:02:00 AM Trout Lake Station researchers study anything 'lake'
Trout Lake Station is a research facility operation of the University of Wisconsin Center for Limnology.
Staff and guest researchers use Trout Lake Station to study any number of things related to water bodies. The health of our lakes and streams is the number one concern.
Limnology is the study of inland waters concerned with not only the life they contain, but the chemistry and physics and all the external factors that affect them - from their entire drainage systems, to weather, geology, and the influence of people.
Though the staff is concerned with all area lakes, there are seven "core lakes" that are the base for their studies. These are Allequash, Big Muskellunge, Crystal, Sparkling, and Trout lakes as well as two unnamed lakes referred to as Crystal Bog and Trout Bog.
Alexandra Branscombe, outreach coordinator for the Trout Lake Station, said the research being done here is long-term ecological research (LTER).
"LTER is a cumulative, across the nation, research program that looks at watersheds and lakes," Branscombe said. "We're able to see long-term changes in things like drought cycles."
Branscombe said the station functions year-round, but activity is much higher in the summer. They also have guests.
"We try to encourage as many outside researchers from different states and different universities to come and use our lab."
The Trout Lake Station has cabins for housing researchers. There are even cabins that are actually original laboratory buildings when the station was set up in 1925. These were originally on the DNR Trout Lake site, and were hauled across the ice to the Trout Lake UW-Extention site.
There is new construction going on at Trout Lake Station. An addition is being constructed to house a larger conference room. With so much in the way of outreach and education going on at the station, the larger area will provide space for those efforts.
Trout Lake Station has numerous boats, many of which are designated for specific lakes. Much of the effort is devoted to aquatic invasive species (AIS) research.
"A boat has a designation for the lake that it coincides with," Branscombe said. "That way we aren't going to spread species from one lake to another.
"We actually have designated boats for each project, and a really rigorous cleaning system if you ever switch lakes. It takes about 20 minutes."
Indoors, an aquatic center has aquariums for study and experiment. The University of Notre Dame is using some of the space here.
Like the boats, some of the equipment is also designated for specific lakes. Ropes that are used during field work are marked with the names of their respective lakes. Like the boats, other equipment is washed thoroughly as necessary.
One lab is equipped with incubator boxes that are about the size of a fridge. These are used to control light and temperature for the purpose of conducting experiments.
The staff and projects
AIS specialist Carol Warden spends time on educating kids and adults, helping people with DNR grants intended for AIS control, and many other things.
"I do all things AIS - a pretty hot topic up north it seems," Warden said. "I do a lot of outreach and research, so during the summer months, especially, I'm on the road ... assessing how much change is happening with invasive species - plants, fish, microscopic critters, whatever."
Research technician Zach Lawson is one of the researchers on the Crystal Lake mixing project, where one particular invasive is being targeted.
"Whole lake thermal manipulation - attempting to eradicate the cold-water invasive species rainbow smelt," Lawson said.
On Crystal Lake, cold water is pushed to the surface using gradual entrainment lake inverters (GELIs), which move up and down to mix cold water from the bottom with warmer surface water. The GELIs resemble large trampolines and are controlled by air. Added air causes them to rise to the surface, then the air is vented, allowing them to sink to the bottom. The goal is to have less than ideal water temps for the rainbow smelt.
"Kind of breaking down the stratification that would normally occur in the summertime," Lawson said. "[Rainbow smelt] need cold water to survive.
"Predictive models say that we should start seeing die-offs ... late summer. But, you know, it's an experiment. We don't know. We don't know how the fish are reacting when their habitat is gone all at once."
The hope is to restore the native fish community in Crystal Lake. Lawson does some outreach work as well.
There are weekly presentations on the status of the Crystal Lake project at the Crystal Lake Nature Center Thursdays from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. These informational sessions are scheduled June 14 through Aug. 23.
John Havel, a biology professor from Missouri State University, is serving as interim director of the Trout Lake Station. He is working with research scientist and aquatic biologist Susan Knight.
Air tolerance studies are one of the areas Havel and Knight are concentrating efforts.
"We'd like to know how long the invasives can stay out of water and still be alive," Havel said.
The experiment involves screen tents, and screened tubs of water. The tents are used to hang and dry AIS for specific periods of time, while the tubs are used to see if the AIS survived the drying period.
"We're doing a range of invertebrate animals, plus invasive plants. For the animals, we have the most data now on snails," Havel said.
They have had three different types of snails in the experiment.
"We basically hang them in little tea bags, which simulates if they were being caught up in some vegetation on a boat.
"The answer so far is that snails seem to be pretty hardy and they can last for a long time out of water."
Havel said that a 42-day experiment from last year had a number of survivors for all three species.
"The invasive plants ... so far the data are indicating that the plants are much more sensitive."
Havel said that more experiments under differing conditions are in the plans. He also noted that great care is taken to make sure the invasives they work with are not inadvertently spread.
"We keep everything contained so that not even a fragment gets out."
Havel said the other experiment he and Knight are working on hopes to shed light on biological control of Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM).
"We're taking a weevil type of beetle, and it's a weevil that's actually widespread in the lakes up here. It's a native species, and we're collaborating with a company that's going to take the weevils and grow them up in large numbers and then use them to augment the number of weevils that are on the milfoil beds."
Havel said they need cooperation from lake associations to try the weevil rather than other methods such as mechanical removal and chemical treatment. Experimenting with the weevils means leaving some milfoil beds as-is, without augmenting the weevil population, to act as a control.
Professor Emily Stanley is the lead principle investigator for the Northern Temperate Lakes Long Term Ecological Research (NTL-LTER). This study has been going on in the Northwoods since 1981, but also uses data from much longer ago.
"Actually, we are also building on our legacy of limnology that dates back to the turn of the 20th century," Stanley said. She noted that Wisconsin is the birthplace of North American Limnology.
The NTL-LTER covers a lot and plays many roles.
"We cover the ground from physical limnology to understanding how humans perceive lakes ... it is definitely the skeleton that holds things together around here," Stanley said.
"LTER is a network of long-term research projects that are scattered across the United States [and around the world]."
Stanley also collaborates with undergrad John Crawford on a project designed to shed light on the role that streams play in releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The project is funded by both the LTER and the U.S. Geological Survey.
Ben Beardmore is a social scientist, and his role is to study the human connection.
"I'm involved in getting information from boaters right now, about their behavior, their habits, and the role that they play in this cascading science of probabilistic events," he said.
Part of Beardmore's project has four undergrad students recruiting boaters to fill out trip logs. The gathered information will help to predict trends which will aid in understanding how vulnerable a given lake is to AIS.
A survey to assess the economic impact of Eurasian watermilfoil on property owners is to be conducted this fall.
Alex Latzka, currently working toward his Ph.D, collaborates with Beardmore. Latzka is developing models to predict the vulnerability of water bodies to AIS.
"We can't go to 5,000 lakes in the Highland Lake District and count how many invasive species are in each," Latzka said. "We want to be able to look at different lake characteristics and be able to predict ... what abundances are somewhat likely."
Latzka said they especially want to learn about lakes that don't have AIS, but have conditions that make them vulnerable, noting that prevention is key.
As part of his work, Latzka, along with John Crawford, is studying the effects of water chemistry on the growth and shell strength of two invasive snails and the rusty crayfish.
Our water bodies are an important part of our landscape, and staff and guest researchers at Trout Lake Station are constantly working to understand them better.
For more information about the UW Center for Limnology, visit limnology.wisc.edu/.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org