Guest Post: Engaging Citizen Scientists in Idaho

by Jim Ekins

Pilose Crayfish from southeast Idaho. Photo: Tom WoolfPilose Crayfish from southeast Idaho. Photo: Tom Woolf University of Idaho Extension Water Outreach is developing two new citizen science modules to add onto the existing IDAH2O water quality monitoring framework, which complements the Project WET Healthy Water, Healthy People Water Monitoring protocol. One of these is a crayfish population study, in partnership with the Columbia River-wide The River Mile, administered by the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area. The other is a cyanobacteria detection study, in partnership with NOAA’s Phytoplankton Monitoring Network.

Crayfish (or crawfish or crawdads or mudbugs) live in waterways ranging from small mountain streams to big rivers to lakes and reservoirs. Crayfish are important species because they can eat a wide variety of foods from varying trophic levels, or feeding positions in a food chain or web. Crayfish population densities can become very high, with strong effects on the local waterway ecology.  They are moderately pollution-tolerant.

Invasive to Idaho Red Swamp crayfish. Source: Crayfishes in the Intermountain RegionInvasive to Idaho Red Swamp crayfish. Source: Crayfishes in the Intermountain Region Considering the ecological, economic, and historical importance of crayfish, population studies of native and invasive species are rare. In general, the ecological function of non-native crayfish is very different from that of native species. Introduction of non-native crayfish regularly results in the transformation of lakes and wetlands from clear to turbid by excessive burrowing and consuming large areas of aquatic plant beds.

Participation in the Crayfish Study is open to anyone wishing to assist. School groups can complete tasks such as collecting species identifications, counting the number of crayfish observed, recording the latitude and longitude of locations observed, measure water quality and more. All levels of participation and observation are contributing very important scientific data. Scientists need to know what species are out there and where.

For more information about crawfish data collection using The River Mile parameters, visit: https://therivermile.org/network-projects/the-river-mile-crayfish-study/crayfish-study-participation/.

Toxic cyanobacteria bloom, Fernan Lake, 2015. Source: Idaho DEQToxic cyanobacteria bloom, Fernan Lake, 2015. Source: Idaho DEQ The cyanobacteria detection study looks at harmful algae (cyanobacteria) blooms (HABs), an increasing global phenomenon usually due to changes in nutrient concentrations in waterways. HABs have resulted in mass losses to livestock, irrigated agricultural productivity, wildlife, house pets and drinking water supplies.

Extension Water Outreach contacted the NOAA National Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) to inquire about providing HAB identification training to Idaho citizen scientists. PMN has been active in monitoring harmful algae in coastal waters for some time. About two years ago, they joined with the EPA to include freshwater HABs monitoring in inland areas. Volunteers identify five target cyanobacteria species, and then submit the info online. For more information about NOAA’s PMN program, visit: https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/research/stressor-impacts-mitigation/pmn/.

Jim Ekins is a Project WET Coordinator in Northern Idaho.

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