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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Erie, Pennsylvania (creeks and streams + Lake Erie)

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Erie, Pennsylvania (creeks and streams + Lake Erie)
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xaurip



Registered: February 2022
City/Town/Province: Erie
Posts: 1
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A Measure of Biodiversity in Lake Erie and its Local Streams
In July 2022, I moved from the outskirts of Hershey to Erie. I was always so fond of the wildlife in my hometown. The deer, songbirds, foxes, raccoons, skunks, opossums, and more roamed in the rural area right across the street from me. Now I live in the busy suburbs.
I moved in order to complete the last two years of my environmental science major at Penn State Erie. I have always loved aquatic creatures. As such, it seemed obvious to take an aquatic ecology class this semester. Exploring the creek and seeing its biodiversity during the lab was more exciting than anything I could have ever expected. It sparked my passion for learning more about Erie’s aquatic creatures. When I was searching for scholarships to apply to and discovered the Nicodemus Wildlife Project, it was the perfect opportunity to begin my project. The chance to win the Apprentice Ecologist Award means a lot to me because I do not receive enough financial aid and my family cannot support me. I am a working student. Winning one of the prizes would be tremendously helpful.
The project I designed was simple. Accompanied by a classmate from the aquatic ecology class, I traveled to different locations and observed the wildlife living there. I took notes of the different species and the type of habitat they lived in. As I made my observations, I also picked up litter to properly dispose of it. The locations I visited were Wintergreen Gorge, Shades Beach Park, and Presque Isle.
Wintergreen Gorge, a place I had visited once before during my aquatic ecology lab, never gets old. It is within walking distance from Penn State Behrend. You descend down a steep hill into the gorge and climb down a muddy, slippery slope before emerging out at the creek. The ground surrounding the creek is formed of shale and clay. Erosion has carved layers out of the rock, leaving flat shelves you can walk across. There are many inverts in this creek. Hellgrammites, water striders, flatworms, mayfly larvae, crayfish, water pennies, and other creatures were all present in large amounts. When turning over a stone, it was easy to find at least 3-4 inverts upon its surface. Many small fish swam around, mostly headed upstream. A classmate and I managed to catch one, temporarily putting it into one of our specimen vials to identify it. Tan and brown scales, along with a long face, marked it as a longnose dace. We released the fish back into the creek moments later.
We walked further upstream after that. As you make your way along the creek, the water deepens and the size of the fish increases from ~3cm to ~7cm. Other species were present as well, though they were far too skittish to observe. The moment they sensed our presence, they darted between the cracks of rocks that were too heavy to lift. Crayfish were also very common. I counted at least six within a ten-foot radius of the creek. They were very active, with sizes ranging from that of around ~5cm to ~8cm. The most telling sign of the creek’s health, though, was the large quantity of mayfly larvae. As the larvae are intolerant of pollution and poor water conditions, I can assume that the creek of Wintergreen Gorge is in good health.
Shades Beach Park was perhaps the most fascinating location out of the three. To reach the waterway leading out into the lake, you must climb down a steep, rocky slope. The stream itself is tiered, with many levels of eroded slate. It is reminiscent of the Wintergreen Gorge creek in appearance, though the forest along both sides was much denser and darker, casting the majority of the water in cold shade.
At first, it was hard to notice any signs of life. There were gnats flying about, but nothing more. The water was too shallow to support much life. But as I climbed upstream, navigating mud and slippery rock alike, the creatures present began to show themselves. I spotted water striders on the surface. Tiny fish swam about as well. They were too fast to catch, but they were a noticeably different species than the longnose dace my classmate and I had previously found. Turning over a rock revealed a small black salamander no longer than the tip of my finger. Still, I continued upstream. The water deepened while I progressed. The border of muddy ground between the water and forest opened up to a wide, flat place. There, I found deer and raccoon tracks.
I had found a connection between the water and terrestrial animals. The terrestrial animals see fit to drink from it. Salamanders, which respire through their skin, are also at home in this place. I believe that the clear, cold water must be clean enough to support the local wildlife. There was also no litter or visible pollution present at this site, further supporting my idea.
At Presque Isle, standing upon the shores of Lake Erie itself, you truly gain an understanding of how great the Great Lakes are. It feels like standing by the ocean, with sand between your toes and the waves pounding against the shoreline. Here, I visited three specific points of interest in the Waterworks area: the Ferry Dock to the southeast, the middle of the isle near the bike shop (indicated by a bicycle symbol), and No. 7 Waterworks to the northwest.
At the ferry, the areas near the shore are host to small fish and many thickly-growing plants. Though the fish were too quick to photograph or catch, I was able to observe their behavior. They darted between the thick leaves and stems, hiding whenever they caught sight of me. I believe this location may be home to juvenile fish or smaller adult species, which seek refuge from larger predators that would otherwise eat them. I noticed at least three different species of fish, distinguishable by their differing body types and colors. Once the fish fully retreated into the plants and refused to venture out again, I left for my next site of interest: the bike shop. Placed in the middle of the isle, connecting both sides with a sidewalk, it is the easiest way to cross over. There are two man-made ponds on each side. I did not have time to stop and observe the fish that day, as it was already close to sunset, but I did notice a great blue heron. I was within twenty feet of it when I spotted the heron standing at the water’s edge. Being a top predator, the great blue heron’s presence indicates that Presque Isle is home to sufficient wildlife to meet its needs. It was a good sign to have seen it there.
Deciding not to bother the blue-gray bird, I continued along the path and made my way towards No. 7 Waterworks. After a quick walk the land opened up to a sandy beach, and then the lake itself. Barriers of rocks about thirty to forty feet from the shore help minimize erosion. I did not find inverts in the water, but terrestrial bugs were present in large amounts. The majority of these bugs were green spotted cucumber beetles. They seemed to enjoy landing on me only after I had gone wading in the water, possibly drinking off of my wet swim shorts and legs. After I had spent some time in the water (unable to find any fish, unfortunately), I meandered up along the sandy shoreline. There, I stumbled upon a curious object that had washed up. It was a triangular hunk of bone, studded with a mass of circular, dull teeth. I would include a photo of it here, but it is so unsettling to look at that I would rather not. After searching the internet and comparing it to other photos, I identified the object. It was the pharyngeal teeth of a freshwater drum, one of the fish that lives within Lake Erie. Judging by the width of the bone plate and the common proportions of freshwater drum, the specimen I discovered had grown anywhere between one to two feet in length before it passed. Freshwater drum live in the calm areas of deep water. Based on this, I can assume that there are sufficient resources for fish to survive and mature in the depths of Lake Erie.
I think it is important to care for the areas I investigated because all waterways are intrinsically connected, especially with Lake Erie being the main body of water in the region. Whatever pollution goes into these creeks will go into the Lake. Many different organisms depend on the lake for survival. The quality of the water is also important for the people living along Lake Erie. We enjoy the lake by fishing on it, going boating, and sightseeing at its shores. If the quality of the lake declines, people will no longer visit it, and the tourism industry would suffer, leading to an economic slump. For these reasons, it is important to monitor the quality of the lake itself and the waterways that feed into it. Biodiversity and indicator species are an effective way to determine this.
Thanks to exploring the aquatic habitats around Erie, I can conclude from my own observations that the creeks and the lake itself are in good health. Indicators such as salamanders and mayfly larvae are proof of very little pollution. The variety of inverts I found shows that resources are abundant even for species that compete against one another. Non-aquatic animals depend on these habitats for food and water. The great blue heron and the signs of raccoons and deer I observed are evidence towards this. With Lake Erie and the waterways around it being key to the survival of many species in the region, it makes me happy to know that my observations in the field show that there is hope.
This project has inspired me to continue working with aquatic ecology. I’ve discovered that I truly love getting out in the field and doing hands-on research. My life feels enriched. Being out in nature allowed me to get away from life’s usual hectic, fast pace. I’ve also become much more familiar with Erie’s local wildlife. I am so happy that I completed this project. I’m grateful that I have had this opportunity.
Date: September 17, 2022 Views: 38 File size: 15.1kb, 47.3kb : 400 x 400
Hours Volunteered: 14
Volunteers: 1
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 20 & 22
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): 3.4
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