Notes from the Northwoods: Putting Aquatic Plant IQ to the Test

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. These are her Notes from the Northwoods:

Susan Knight points out the features of an aquatic plant during the small group rotations. Photo: Anna Krieg
Susan Knight points out the features of an aquatic plant during the small group rotations. Photo: Anna Krieg

by Anna Krieg – On June 28th, 25 people climbed into 6 boats and set off to identify plants on Tomahawk Lake in northern Wisconsin. It was a beautiful day, sunny and calm, and it was time to put everything we’d learned that day to the test. How much did we know about aquatic plants?

From June 28th-30th, aquatic plant identification workshops were held at the Kemp Natural Resource Station, part of the UW-Madison’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) and located just outside Minocqua. Employees from Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources mostly populated the classes, but there were also a handful of local residents who just wanted to be able to better identify the plants living in “their” lakes.

Each day started with an introductory PowerPoint session and then everyone was broken up into small groups and began their rotations around the room to learn about all of the aquatic plants. Susan Knight, Interim Direction of UW-Trout Lake Station, spent the week before the plant workshop collecting these samples for the class. Knight is the Center for Limnology’s “plant guru,” and has spent much of her career getting to know the flora of northern Wisconsin lakes. She can stand for hours on end at our annual open houses, just holding court on everything from the invasive Eurasian water milfoil to native carnivorous bladderworts. She has even shared some aquatic plants stories on WXPR public radio.

Freshwater bryozoan
Susan Knight introduces an ambivalent visitor to a freshwater bryzoan during the 2015 open house. Photo: Adam Hinterthuer

For the workshop, Knight had divided the plants across nine tables and over the course of the day, every participant in the workshop stopped to learn about every plant here. It seemed a bit overwhelming, but the instructors broke it up in manageable chunks. Along with Knight, participants learned from Michelle Nault, a water resources management specialist for the WDNR out of Green Bay, and Paul Skawinski, who works for UW-Extension at UW-Stevens Point. Participants rotated from table to table, learning from each of the instructors. Once everyone has made it around the first three tables the instructors moved, this went on until everyone had made it to every table.

Michelle Nault rakes in plants from Tomahawk Lake for the participants to identify. Photo: Anna Krieg
Michelle Nault rakes in plants from Tomahawk Lake for the participants to identify. Photo: Anna Krieg

Then we headed out on the water. Along with the participants, each boat held an aquatic plant expert to help find plants and to make sure each one was identified correctly. Our group was with Michelle Nault, who expertly brought us around the edges of the lake and pulled plants from its depths for us to identify. I was on a boat with several women. Most worked for the WDNR and one was a teacher. Between identifying plants, they discussed their experiences with the lakes they worked on, doing outreach, and informing people about the aquatic plants in their areas. The workshop finished with breakout sessions where participants could choose what they wanted to learn more about. They sessions covered everything from advanced plant ID to algae to invasive and native species to point intercept surveys. I chose to float between all of the breakout sessions, hearing bits and pieces of information from every expert there. As an Arizona native, my knowledge of aquatic plants was basically zero, so spending a day at this workshop was exciting. This workshop, just like all of my other experiences at Trout Lake Station, afforded me the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of ecosystems I had never encountered before.   


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