By Christina Weatherford
On May 26th and 27th, Trout Lake Station made waves – literally and figuratively – with the first-ever LimnoLaunch. This all-hands-on-deck, two day training covered everything from driving a boat to using specialized sensors to detect chlorophyll in the water column. The event was attended by researchers at all levels – from undergraduates to postdocs, everybody learned new skills or refreshed their memory with nine stations covering nearly 30 different skills essential to limnology research.
LimnoLaunch is a first-of-its-kind program for Trout Lake Station, and an example of how important training like this is for all research stations. In previous years, researchers were taught only the skills necessary for their specific project. Doing this created barriers to gaining more experience with other crews or pursuing research in a different area. According to Gretchen Gerrish, the director of Trout Lake Station, LimnoLaunch “ allows for students to bounce from project to project.. so that they feel educated and able to step in where needed.”
With LimnoLaunch, everyone on station is now prepared to help with other projects and gain experience in a wider array of research. Being knowledgeable with many skills means that if a crew is short on people, they can find someone from a different project to help out, and this allows undergrads to gain experience with different types of research. Broadening their horizon like this means they have a base level of limnological knowledge and are more prepared for future positions.
“Many [summer students] come from all over the nation – cities and places where they haven’t had access to boating and trailering.nderstanding how those things work can be a big barrier. LimnoLaunch is intended to break that barrier.”, Gerrish says.
The first day of LimnoLaunch was focused on vehicle safety and driving, chemical and biological sampling techniques, plant identification and studies, and microscope use. The second day was when researchers were able to get into the field and gain hands-on experience with larger organisms. Everyone on station took a field trip down the road to Sparkling Lake, where they were trained on traps used to study fish and crayfish, how to survey anglers, and how a shock boat works.
A clear example of how useful this training can be was the Macrophyte (aquatic plant) station, where researchers learned how to identify and sample aquatic plants. Eurasian watermilfoil is a highly invasive species of plant in the area, and by learning how to identify it, every researcher on station is now equipped to remove it if they see it and note where it exists and where it is spreading. In the microscope, zooplankton, and algae stations, everyone was able to learn about another invasive species called the spiny water flea. This zooplankton and the invasive watermilfoil can be spread to previously unaffected lakes when boats are not cleaned. Luckily, researchers learned how to avoid this at the power washing station that covered how to efficiently and thoroughly clean their boats to prevent the spread of these harmful species.
Gerrish hopes that LimnoLaunch can be an example for other field stations interested in forming similar programs. Trout Lake Station’s training was attended by researchers and students both on station and from the Hasler Lab in Madison, Wisconsin. These training events are great opportunities to increase the skill set of students and also enable them to be useful on station in different areas than their main focus. Additionally, training everyone at once relieved some of the crew leads from having to train their new team members, allowing everyone to learn all the basic skills needed for their work over just two days.
Another indirect benefit of LimnoLaunch was forming a sense of community among all the researchers.The separate crews generally don’t mix very often, so LimnoLaunch provided everyone an opportunity to learn alongside people on station and get to know all the students and scientists they’ll be seeing frequently over the summer. Overall, the event was a huge success, with all participants managing to attend nearly every session. The days were long but extremely productive, and now the station is up and running for summer – and everyone here is well prepared for the work ahead of them.