UpStream Newsletter, Spring 2000

400 154 Stroud Water Research Center

Message from the Director

Public Service

Stroud™ Water Research Center has always been about good science — formulating new hypotheses, describing new paradigms, explaining the previously unexplained details of stream and river ecology. But we also ask how our science can most effectively be put to work to ensure proper conservation and management of our stream ecosystems.

Over the years since our founding, the management of ecosystems has shifted from “reactional” (when ecological knowledge was still relatively primitive) to “sectoral” (when knowledge and its application were focused on specific issues) to the current “integrative, predictive and adaptive” approach. At each stage, we have correspondingly expanded the ways we disseminate our research in response to both the increasing knowledge and the growing challenges. To our initial reliance on technical publications and formal university courses, we added education programs and curriculum materials designed to translate our scientific findings for students, teachers and lay people interested in stream and watershed issues.

Today’s approach to ecosystem management calls us to be actively involved in public service in a new way. Stroud Center scientists have always served on local boards and agencies and participated in pro bono projects, and we will continue to do so. But more and more we are asked to enhance public understanding of water issues and to respond to important ecological challenges at the local, regional, national and even international levels. To do this requires us to invest, often at no charge, our most valuable resource — our people — in areas of significant public concern.

Because we regard our research findings as a public trust, Stroud Center staff has adopted a formal initiative which commits us to put our science to work in the public interest.

Bern Sweeney

Stroud Tackles Job on “Big Muddy”

The Stroud Center, nationally and internationally known for its knowledge of small streams, is now doing a research project on the nation’s largest river, the Mississippi.

The project is for a large international manufacturing company at its plant on the bank of the Mississippi near St. Louis, Missouri.

Stroud Center Director Bern Sweeney said that last fall the plant added a new process that required a much higher volume of water to be discharged into the river than before.

“The Stroud Center was asked to design a monitoring program to understand the potential effect of the effluent on the river,” said Sweeney.

The Stroud Center was awarded the project among stiff competition. Sweeney attributed this to the Stroud Center’s reputation for its research on other large rivers and because of the work it had done on another plant — this one on the Susquehanna River.

Stroud Center scientists Sweeney and John Jackson started monitoring the plant last October. This is traditionally the Mississippi’s lowest-flowing season — the time when any effluent could have its biggest impact. The Mississippi is also much easier to work on during its lowest flowing season.

Sweeney and Jackson hired a river captain to help them navigate the river during their first field sampling. Because such captains know the river intimately, this was the quickest way to find the ideal sampling areas.

Stroud Center scientists used a variety of methods to sample the river. They placed “substrates” — media on which organisms can colonize and grow — at various points upstream and downstream from the effluent discharge zone.

After a month, Sweeney returned to the Mississippi — this time with scientist Dave Lieb — to retrieve the samples, which are now being processed in the Center’s laboratory.

When this is done the Stroud Center will report its findings to the company.

“We’ve taken our understanding of stream and river dynamics from our basic research program and applied it to a real environmental challenge on the Mississippi,” said Sweeney.

Why study such a heavily used and disturbed river?

  • It provides the Stroud Center a new opportunity to work on the nation’s biggest river.
  • The Stroud Center gets to build a database on the largest river that adds perspective to its research findings on small rivers.
  • Not much scientific information is available on the area of the Mississippi under study.
  • The Stroud Center wants to apply research to real-world problems.
  • And the client is better off for it.

Streamhouse Opened with Rousing Speech by Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy Jr. said the work of organizations such as the Stroud Center were key weapons in the struggle to save the nation’s polluted rivers and streams.

In an impassioned speech to a packed audience at the ceremonial naming of the Stroud Center’s $600,000 streamhouse, Kennedy said the kind of research and science done by Stroud Center was essential to the battle against short-sighted environmental policies.

Mr. Kennedy, whose namesake father was assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for president, spoke nostalgically of his boyhood visits to the Stroud family in Chester County.

His return last fall for the streamhouse celebration was “bittersweet,” he said. Many of the landscapes and farms he remembered were paved over and developed.

“Development is destroying the soul of this country,” he said.

He also blamed residential development for degrading the streams and rivers.

“The major impediment to water quality is sprawl,” said Mr. Kennedy, an environmental attorney who helped lead the successful campaign to clean up the Hudson River through the courts.

Sprawl, he said, is also destroying traditional communities and culture. And the popular notion that more development means more taxes is an “illusion.”

In fact, he said, the opposite is true. The more development there is, the more roads, schools and other infrastructure have to be built — and the more taxes that need to be raised.

“We can grow a vital economy without destroying our landscape,” he said.

He pointed to his own involvement in the successful Hudson cleanup. Saving the river had also helped save the Hudson’s towns and communities whose economies had stagnated from the loss of fishing and other river-related occupations.

Mr. Kennedy gave as an example the people of Croton-on-Hudson — mostly working class citizens who depended on the river. Industrial pollution was ruining livelihoods and killing people. The townsfolk organized. These people were not, said Mr. Kennedy, pipe-smoking, long-haired, tree-hugging environmentalists. They were fishermen, electricians, plumbers and gravediggers.

But they were angry enough to become industrial saboteurs. Fortunately, someone discovered a forgotten New York statute that made it illegal to pollute any river.

With this old law under their arms, the people of Croton-on-Hudson went to war through the courts. Mr. Kennedy and the Hudson Riverkeeper, the organization he helped found, led the way.

Together, they helped turn the Hudson from one of the most polluted rivers in the nation to the cleanest — so clean that it is the only North Atlantic river that has attracted back all its traditional spawning fish.

“If you really want to stop [polluters], you can,” said Kennedy. “If there’s a polluter in your backyard, anyone in this room can prosecute and get money back from the defendant – even if it’s a government agency.”

While the Stroud Center was doing its part in the battle to clean up the streams, Mr. Kennedy said, “We also need advocates participating on the local level — on town boards, etc., and also at the national level.”

“We’re not protecting [the forests], as Rush Limbaugh likes to say, for the sake of the spotted owl. . . . We’re doing it for our future and our children and our communities.”

Destroying the things of nature, he said, is like tearing the pages out of the last copies of the Bible or the Torah or the Talmud.

Philanthropist of the Year

W.B. Dixon Stroud Sr. received the 1999 Philanthropy Award last fall from the Brandywine chapter of the National Society of Fund Raising Executives.

The award was presented Nov. 9 at the chapter’s annual Philanthropy Day lunch.

Mr. Stroud and his late wife, Joan M. Stroud, provided the initial grant that created the Stroud Water Research Center in 1966. Subsequently, he and his family were instrumental in building the Center that has become known internationally for its stream and river research.

His quiet and purposeful leadership has supported the scientific and educational mission of the Stroud Center. He has been the catalyst for attracting funding for more than 30 years.

Mr. Stroud and the Stroud Foundation were responsible for construction of the Center’s first building in 1968, and he supported 33 percent of the operating budget for its first three years.

Education: Leaf Packs and Beyond

As mentioned in previous issues of UpStream, a significant portion of the education initiatives at the Stroud Center is designed to connect students and teachers with our research. This effort resulted in the Leaf Pack Experiment, a kit of materials and supplies that allows groups to investigate the biodiversity and food webs found in local streams. In collaboration with the LaMotte Company of Chestertown, Md., the kit was marketed to teachers across the nation. LaMotte has reported sales of over 1,000 units over the past three years.

The company was so pleased that it asked us to work on another interactive science resource kit. The goal is to develop a new addition to the already successful “Tour” series produced by LaMotte. The Tapwater Tour, Pondwater Tour and Topsoil Tour have provided teachers with many days of hands-on activities for investigating drinking water, pond biology and soil.

The education staff is busy developing a new “Tour” that will allow students to investigate the nature of local watersheds, the biology of stream ecosystems, and how people help and harm rivers and streams. As with past activities, we want students to be excited about science and to understand how important stream ecosystems are in the landscape. By providing teachers and students with the right tools, science education can be fun and stimulating. Allowing student to focus on local environments has been shown to improve overall student performance and interest in school for many disciplines — not just for science. To help us get things right, we have recruited input from local and regional teachers in the development process. This cadre of education officials will be instrumental in developing activities that will interest students and be designed to work well in a classroom. After testing these new activities and materials in local classrooms this past winter, we will provide LaMotte with a finished product ready for unveiling to teachers across the country this spring.

To learn more about the Leaf Pack Experiment kit and other LaMotte products, visit the Leaf Pack Network® website. You can learn more about our education programs by visiting our website’s education pages.

Stroud Center Scientist in Prestigious Journal

Animal Behavior Journal: Female Flies Boost Abdomens for Males

The current issue of prestigious British natural science journal Nature published a review of a paper by Stroud Center entomologist David Funk and a colleague from the University of Delaware, Douglas Tallamy. Their paper appeared in February’s Animal Behavior journal. This is what Nature had to say about the paper:

“When it comes to picking a mating partner, the females of most species usually get to do the choosing. Sometimes, as in the case of the long-tailed dance fly Rhamphonyia longicauda (pictured right), the roles are reversed. David Funk and Douglas Tallamy show in Animal Behaviour (February 2000), that even here the females seem to be holding all the cards.

Female dance flies cannot hunt for prey for themselves, and instead rely on nuptial gifts presented to them by the males in exchange for mating. This trade-off takes place in female leks, where females gather together and wait for the males to bring them food. In contrast to many species, this means that it is the males that get to do the picking. But Funk and Tallamy reveal that the females have evolved a clever way to increase their odds of being chosen.

The males prefer to mate with females with swollen abdomens. The likely reason is that abdomen size is perceived to be a good indicator of egg maturity — for related species, R. sociabilis, multiple regression analysis revealed a significant relationship between these two variables. Funk and Tallamy propose that, given that males want their sperm to be the ones that fertilize the egg, waiting until the eggs are mature is a good way to ensure that this happens.

But female R. longicauda cheat. The females puff up their abdomens — probably by ‘swallowing’ air — so creating the impression that their eggs are more mature than they really are. (Multiple regression analysis showed no significant relationship between egg maturity, as judged by egg size, and the size of the inflated abdomen.) It seems that the males of this species are fooled.

The leks take place for a short time between dusk and dark. Together with the fact that the leks occur under a clear patch of sky in an otherwise dense canopy of trees, this allows the females to maximize their strategy. The males hover beneath the females, which appear as dark silhouettes against a bright background of sky. All the males see is the expanded shaped of the abdomen, and they have no further clues to the actual state of the females’ eggs.

All of this means that females whose eggs are not yet mature can gain the sustenance needed to complete egg development at least once. It seems that, contrary to appearances, it is the females who still retain the upper hand in this mating game. ”