One great way of assessing the health of a tributary is by analyzing the presence of certain bugs. We began by using a method that was put in place by the DEEP, (RBV, or Riffle Bioassesment by Volunteers) and it is a great system for understanding what you’re identifying without needing a degree in morphology.
I’ve spent just under a year now working in the Brady Lab, and I’ve had the opportunity to gain a variety of amazing field experiences. The passion that drives me to study the natural world and all of its mysteries often offers a thrill, some form of excitement and anticipation for the work to be done. For instance, chasing after frogs in the spring to study their responses to roads and kayaking around urban ponds to study road salt pollution dynamics. Each hold certain allure, the combination of the excitement of research with the intrigue of nature. When I was asked to spearhead a project that required me to collect and sort through stream bugs, I must say, I did not particularly feel that same rush of excitement. But of course, I wanted to dig in nonetheless. Afterall, I spent time in high school working with lobsters. They didn’t make me uncomfortable and they’re pretty much just large swimming benthic bugs. Still, there was something about going and pulling bugs off of rocks that left me feeling a bit weary.
Figure 1 Common Netspinner Caddisfly found in Shepard Brook Hamden, CT
An important part of my educational journey has had a similar theme, forcing myself out of my comfort zone. Going out to collect these bugs offered me exactly that. Once I began looking at the different bugs under a scope, I grew a fascination that I did not anticipate. I was able, through this experience, to appreciate the diversity of a system, the entire system. There is something so intriguing about the vast differences in morphology of the bugs that I captured. One bug that I found particularly fascinating was a macroinvertebrate known commonly as a backswimmer, a member of the Notonectidae family. These critters move in the most fascinating of ways, rapidly zipping around and actually swimming upside down and orienting to the light. They clearly have evolved cool adaptation with such decisive movements and paired up with their speckled dermal layer that matches the sandy/rocky substrate in the streams.
The importance of leaving your comfort zone is irreplaceable. It is also important to remember that often fear is associated with a lack of exposure or understanding. Get out there and explore, and you will always be surprised by what you find. That being said, please do so safely! Being out in the field can be beautiful, but proper training and technique is essential. Sometimes the problems that arise are ones you could have never considered, and one way to combat that is to become familiar with some of the stories of other researchers that have had to handle tricky situations. One great blog to familiarize yourself with some of these chaotic moments and how to handle them with grace check out the blog link I’ve posted at the bottom. There’s a horror story in there from my PI back in his grad days! That being said, go out and see this beautiful earth, stay on your toes, and never stop being curious