Notes from the Northwoods: Launching a Study on Shoreline Development

This summer, Anna Krieg, an undergraduate at Arizona State University, will spend a few months in a much wetter habitat as the CFL’s summer outreach intern at our Trout Lake Station. Here’s Anna’s first Note from the Northwoods:

Anna Krieg.
Anna Krieg.

by Anna Krieg – It’s looking like it will be a beautiful day as I walk to the Main Lab at Trout Lake Station. I am meeting with Martin Perales, Amien Paust, and Ellen Albright to follow along on their search to find lakes for the fish habitat study Martin, a new graduate student at the UW-Madison’s Center for Limnology, is launching this summer in the Northwoods. I have been at the CFL’s Trout Lake Station for less than a week and this is my first time going out into the field with a research team so I don’t really know what to expect.
My first five days here at the Station have been eventful to say the least. I have met new people, learned what is expected of me in my position as the Communication and Outreach intern, and experienced more rain in the last week than I have in my entire life. As a Phoenix, Arizona native, the Northwoods of Wisconsin are certainly a break from what I am used to, so I am very excited for today.
Amien Paust taking photos of the shoreline development. while Ellen Albright writes the locations of the pictures on a map of the lake. Photo: A. Krieg
Amien Paust taking photos of the shoreline development. while Ellen Albright writes the locations of the pictures on a map of the lake. Photo: A. Krieg

The sunny weather seems to be holding up well when we arrive at Vandercook Lake, our first of the five lakes we will see today. Martin, Ellen, and Amien unload everything we need from the truck into the boat and we set off around the perimeter of the lake. Amien takes pictures of development along the shoreline and Ellen writes down where each picture is taken on a topographical map of the lake. They fall into easy conversation discussing everything from their project, to the weather, to Trout Lake Station’s notoriously unreliable Internet connection. Every so often Martin will stand up and look into the water, identifying a fish passing near the boat or appraising probable fish habitat.
Graduate student, Martin Perales, writes field notes about each lake. Photo: A. Krieg
Graduate student, Martin Perales, writes field notes about each lake. Photo: A. Krieg

Martin explains to me that their summer will be focused on fish habitats; specifically does lakeshore development lead to a lake losing distinct habitat types and species diversity?  This process is called “biotic homogenization” and it can occur through a myriad of avenues – from human activity accidentally introducing non-native species to the habitat degradation that accompanies development. Along with this, Martin tells me that there are many different ways to measure fish habitat and which data collection methods their team uses may impact the conclusions they draw. Nothing, it seems, is simple.
As Martin is explaining their research project, the potential pitfalls involved and the possible things they could learn, I am struck once more by the creativity and passion required to do scientific research. Good research questions and project designs do not come from people who are unable to think in new ways, nor do they come from people who do not truly care about the work that they are doing. Over the course of the day, we visit four more potential study lakes – Little Spider, Pickerel, Muskellunge, and Big Arbor Vitae. Driving home, quite a bit more covered in lake water than I was this morning, I can’t help but smile at how lucky I am to witness creative, passionate people doing things that they love.
It’s going to be a good summer.

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