Micah Silver has served as our Aquatic Field Fellow in 2018. As part of his work, he brought some of his skills into the Natural Resource classroom at Greenville High School. Read more below about his experience.
We are all familiar with fresh bodies of water such as rivers, creeks, lakes and ponds. Here in the Sierra Nevada, these sources of freshwater are abundant, dotting and crisscrossing our wrinkled landscape, and providing important habitat for many local creatures. Unless you’re an entomologist, biologist, naturalist or avid fly-fisherman, you may not be so familiar with the wide variety of invertebrate organisms to be discovered within these freshwater systems. A selected group of students at Greenville High school might as well be added to that list of specialists after completing a freshwater benthic macro-invertebrate lab during their natural resource class this spring.
Rachel Bauer and I had the opportunity to create and teach this benthic macro invertebrate (BMI) lab to the group of tenth grade students in March. With about a week to prepare, we worked quickly to create a three-day lab that would be informative yet enjoyable for these high schoolers. Luckily, Rachel and I had been studying and identifying these aquatic invertebrates beneath dissecting scopes for a couple months prior, so we were already quite well acquainted with the little critters.
On our first day, we introduced ourselves and the BMI community to the class, highlighting the diversity of organisms found beneath the surface of our freshwater streams. We began with a card game that gave students a preview of the different invertebrates and their association to poor or healthy stream qualities. I considered the game a success when I heard a student ask, “Can we play it again?”
Appreciating the student’s excitement, we moved on to a PowerPoint presentation to reinforce some of the concepts of the game and our work. We spoke about what we do and the reasoning behind why we are studying the BMI on our National Forest lands.
In Plumas County, and much of the United States, the invasive crayfish (signal crayfish) has invaded our streams, resulting in negative effects on native flora and fauna communities. I have been working with the Plumas National Forest, as one of Sierra Institute’s Field Fellow, and with Rachel, assisting with identifying BMIs found in invaded and uninvaded streams. BMIs, as the students learned, are great indicators of watershed health. The identification Rachel and I have been working on will therefore help us better understand the effect that the crayfish are having on the health of our watershed.
Day two was an opportunity for students to step into an etymologist’s shoes by meeting our native BMIs up close. Rachel and I set up six stations with everything students needed to identify BMI samples. Even under a dissecting scope, the body parts of these invertebrates are small and hard to distinguish. However, these students did a great job at paying close attention to the details and correctly identifying their samples.
One of the dichotomous keys identified Diptera (midges/ blackflies) down to family level, a tricky task for many. Rachel and I were both thoroughly impressed as a few students in the group were able to work their way down to correctly identify these families!
At the end of the class we awarded the top two students who identified the most invertebrates correctly with some highly desirable Forest Service swag and the rest with participatory paper fish shaped hats! Over all, the lab was successful; the high schoolers came away with a new skill and became more aware of the natural world, too.
Our sessions with the students wrapped up on the third day. We brought samples of benthic macro invertebrates that had been collected from Wolf creek, which is just a five-minute walk from Greenville High School. Students were tasked with sorting through and identifying the invertebrates in each sample. With this information and important facts gathered in previous days, students then calculated the water quality index of their local stream based on the BMIs in their sample. In the end they determined that Wolf Creek is very healthy!
Rachel and I were very pleased after the three-day unit and grateful that we had the opportunity to introduce to the natural resource class to the secret life of invertebrates that make our ecosystem function. Each individual from that class will likely continue to explore the vast array of freshwater sources found in our forests, and now the invertebrate life found within with a bit more respect and fascination. Perhaps we may have even inspired a future entomologist!