Unseasonal Weather Triggers Unseasonal Activities in Ohio

For those of you reading in Ohio and a good portion of the Midwest, you know that this has been one strange winter. While the average temperature this time of year (historically) is 40.8⁰F, we've recently traded our winter coats and gloves for light layers and even short-sleeved shirts, with temperatures in the mid-high 60's! This stretch of warm weather has many of us feeling like spring has sprung in February instead of April. And we're not the only ones confused by this warm spell. Several spring ephemeral species, such as Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), False Mermaid Weed (Floerkea proserpinacoides), and Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa), have started pushing through the leaf litter. These plants typically don't emerge until late-March and begin blooming in April, when ambient temperatures exceed 50⁰F. This is timed so that native pollinators will be out looking for pollen and nectar when the blooms appear. The potential temporal disconnect between pollen-producers and their pollinators is one concern that ecologists have regarding our changing climate.

Harbinger-of-Spring and Spring Beauty starts photographed in Hamilton County by Daniel Boone on February 11, 2017. Daniel reported seeing Spring Beauty in bloom February 23, 2017.

Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) in bloom. Photographed by Jenny Adkins in a Crawford County vernal pool on February 22, 2017.

In addition to early-sprouting plants, many amphibian species have been spotted on their annual migrations towards vernal pools and wetlands throughout the state and region. MAD Scientist Associates field teams have observed Jefferson Salamanders (Ambystoma jeffersonianum), Northern Dusky Salamanders (Desmognathus fuscus), Redback Salamanders (Plethodon cinereus), Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvatica), Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer crucifer), and Western Chorus Frogs (Pseuadcris triseriata). Many of these species have been known to emerge from their subterranean burrows and begin their journey to a breeding pool by late-February, however, they're used to much cooler temperatures during this mating trek.

Western Chorus Frog (likely a male), retrieved from a Crawford County vernal pool by Mark Dilley, February 22, 2017. These frogs often call in tandem with Spring Peepers and even look similar. They can be distinguished by the dark band extending from their nose to their abdomen.

Red eft, the terrestrial juvenile form of the Red-Spotted Newt, photographed by Aaron Laver in Vinton County, February 23, 2017.

Two varieties of the lungless Redback Salamander. On the left is the red-striped phase, and the right, the leadback phase. Both found near a Crawford County vernal pool by Daniel DeBruler, February 22, 2017.

One of many Jefferson Salamanders (this one is a male), photographed by Aaron Laver near a Vinton County vernal pool on January 19, 2017.

Year to date weather records for Columbus, Ohio, from NOAA.

Research is unclear on the effects of mild winters regarding reproductive success and mortality of adult and larval amphibians. One study found that mild winters had positive effects on hibernating adults, such as limited change in body mass (Üveges et. al., 2016). Other studies suggest that adequate precipitation is a more important factor in survivorship than temperatures (Ficetola and Maiorano, 2016). Based on the year to date information collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for Columbus, Ohio, we are unseasonably warm, but right on point with expected precipitation. Hopefully we continue to see rain accompanying these temperatures for the sake of our native amphibians venturing out for early spring activities!

 

References:

Ficetola, G.F. & Maiorano, L. (2016) Contrasting effects of temperature and precipitation change on amphibian phenology, abundance and performance. Oecologia. 181: 683. doi:10.1007/s00442-016-3610-9

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2017, February 24, 2017) Year to date graph for Columbus, Ohio. Retrieved from: http://www.weather.gov/iln/climate_info

Üveges, B., Mahr, K., Szederkényi, M., Bókony, V., Hoi, H., & Hettyey, A. (2016). Experimental evidence for beneficial effects of projected climate change on hibernating amphibians. Scientific Reports6, 26754. http://doi.org/10.1038/srep26754

-- Jenny Adkins, Botany Specialist

Work with environmental students rewarding for all involved

We, at MAD Scientist Associates, are always delighted when we’re asked to participate in or provide expert knowledge on student projects. It’s a great way to stay connected to the community, hear different and fresh perspectives on ecological issues, and provides a great platform for us to show students ecological problems and solutions from a real-world perspective. This week, the MAD team participated in two education events: one at New Albany High School and the other with the Wetland Ecology class at The Ohio State University

At New Albany HS, we were asked to listen to student presentations regarding the harmful algal blooms at Grand Lake Saint Marys and provide expert advice to catalyze meaningful discussion regarding the subject.  After nearly three weeks of research, student groups each presented the solution that they thought would be most suitable to alleviate the problem.  Solutions ranged from expanding riparian buffer zones, changing the components in fertilizer applications and applying chemicals like alum to the water.  They quickly discovered that each solution came with its own set of financial, social, environmental, and political problems and that there is no one “silver bullet” to fix the issue. The MAD team was impressed by the complex ideas presented by these young scientists/students and know that they will do great things for the environment in the future.

At OSU, part of the MAD team listened to wetland restoration plans developed and presented by undergraduate students as part of their final project. Students were asked to identify a location best suited for a restoration project by identifying areas with appropriate soils and an adequate buffer. They were then asked to develop a construction plan to help restore the hydrology as well as a planting plan to restore proper vegetation—the same thing we at MAD do every day! We were captivated by their ability to use sophisticated software and the concepts they learned in the classroom to develop such great plans!

We think it’s great for students to be exposed to real-world environmental issues and to be able to try their hand at developing solutions—after all, they are our future. No matter what age or at what level, there is always something that can be learned. It’s a pleasure to interact with these bright minds, and we look forward to doing more in the future!

--Lindsey Korfel, Environmental Technician & Wildlife Specialist

An Overview of Constructed Wetlands

Green infrastructure is becoming more widely used to manage stormwater runoff, providing a natural means of limiting or eliminating combined sewer overflows and improving overall water quality.  Constructed wetlands and systems that mimic wetlands (for example bioswales, bioretention areas, and rain gardens) provide a cost-effective and environmentally conscious option that can result in an efficient and aesthetically pleasing wetland.  Additionally, constructed wetlands can provide valuable habitat for wildlife, including many amphibians, songbirds, and small mammals.  Constructed wetlands are classified according to their designed water flow; three common wetland designs are horizontal subsurface flow (HF), vertical flow (VF), or free surface wetlands (FSW).

Regardless of the type of treatment wetland used, each utilizes a process known as the root zone method (RZM) for removing bacteria, and excess nutrients, that negatively affect water quality.  The RZM can be summarized as follows: Influent (incoming) water passes horizontally or vertically through the soil and percolates the wetland bed.  The roots of wetland plants provide a pathway for the water to flow, and as the wastewater and solids move through the system they are treated by microbes that are contained near the plants’ roots.  The leaves of the plants absorb oxygen and transport it to the roots through their stems, which are hollow, and act as a bio-pump.  In the soil, or filter layer below the roots, anaerobic digestion treats the influent wastewater as well.  The type of substrate and plants included in the wetland design will vary depending on what the wetland has been designed to control.  Depending on the specific use of a treatment wetland, it may be necessary to pre-treat wastewater and remove large solids to prevent clogging of the substrate, which will reduce the effectiveness of the system.

In horizontal subsurface flow wetlands, water passes through emergent plants, and the RZM removes bacteria and excess nutrients at very high rates in a well functioning system.  After construction is complete, HF wetlands do not require significant maintenance, and many can function several years without maintenance.  Vertical flow wetlands utilize the RZM with a planted filter bed to treat wastewater as it flows through the system.  Typically the top layer is planted gravel above a layer of sand.  The deepest portion of the system is another layer of gravel that contains drainage pipes to collect and transport the filtered water as it percolates through the system.  VF wetlands are designed to be most effective when wastewater is applied in discrete intervals at a rate of 4-12 doses per day, and the wastewater is allowed to slowly percolate through the unsaturated layers of soil and sand.  Intermittent dosing is necessary to allow adequate oxygen transfer, which is necessary for aerobic degradation by the resident microbes.

Free surface wetlands are the most natural-looking treatment wetland option.  In these systems, water flows above ground and plants are rooted in the soil layer at the base of the wetland.  Typical design includes a basin lined with an impermeable layer, such as clay.  The substrate consists of rocks, gravel, and soil.  The basin is usually planted with native plants, and floating wetland islands can be used to supplement the plant coverage and increase system efficiency.  FSW wetlands are usually flooded with wastewater to a depth of 3-18 inches above ground level.  As the water slowly flows through the wetland and percolates into the soil, excess nutrients are taken up by the plants and potentially harmful bacteria may be trapped and degraded by microbial communities in biofilms on and near the plant roots.

Each type of treatment wetland has advantages and drawbacks that need to be carefully considered before developing blueprints and planning construction.  MAD Scientist & Associates has a proven track record with wetland design and construction, so if you are considering a constructed wetland for treatment or mitigation, we can help from the initial planning stages through construction and monitoring to make sure your wetland is a success.

Diagrams for Horizontal Flow and Vertical Flow Wetlands credited to:

Morel, A.; Diener, S. (2006): Greywater Management in Low and Middle-Income Countries, Review of different treatment systems for households or neighbourhoods.    Duebendorf: Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science (EAWAG), Department of Water and Sanitation in Developing Countries (SANDEC). [Accessed: 19.02.2013].