Each January three local watershed advocacy groups — the Clinton River Watershed Council (CRWC), the Huron River Watershed Council (HRWC), and the Friends of the Rouge (FOTR) — brave frigid temperatures to go searching for winter stonefly nymphs, and each is about to embark on another search and could use the assistance of interested volunteers.
Stoneflies are very sensitive to changes in water quality and habitat, and as such tell researchers a lot about the health of a river. The presence of stoneflies indicates good water quality, while their absence points to a potential problem.
“Stoneflies can be used as indicators of stream health. Generally speaking, if there is an abundance of stoneflies in a river, then that typically indicates a healthy ecosystem,” said Jeremy Geist, the watershed programs coordinator with the CRWC.
Winter stonefly nymphs develop in cold, clear running water. When they become adults, they climb out of the water and shed their skins. This normally occurs in late winter, when most fish are too sluggish to eat them, which is why the area watershed groups conduct stonefly searches at this time of year.
“The winter stonefly is a type of stonefly that has adapted to be most active during winter months of the year,” Geist said.
According to Sally Petrella, the FOTR’s volunteer monitoring program manager, the stoneflies are found in small, cold, fast-running stream either crawling on rocks or in decayed leaves.
While the FOTR’s 2010 search had very favorable results, with stoneflies being found at 20 of the 29 sites monitored, the 2011 results were not as favorable. However, Petrella is hoping that will be different this year.
“Very cold weather before and after the search made them difficult to find due to thick ice, and delayed the maturation of the larvae (which is what we look for, not the adult flies),” Petrella said. “We have moved the date of the search a week later in hopes the larvae are more developed and the weather is warmer,” she said.
The CRWC will hold its stonefly search on Saturday, Jan. 21 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. No previous experience is required of those who want to volunteer to help with the search. More information can be obtained by either e-mailing email@example.com, or calling 248-601-0606.
“Make sure to dress warm because the temperature has been in the single digits the past three years,” Geist said.
The HRWC needs volunteers for its 5-hour search on Saturday, Jan. 29. There are two start times to choose from: 10:30 a.m. or noon. Volunteers are asked to register for the search by Friday, Jan. 20 at www.hrwc.org/volunteer/stonefly.
The FOTR will hold its stonefly search on Saturday, Jan. 28. Volunteers are asked to meet at the University of Michigan-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center at 9 a.m. From there they will be venturing out to sites around the metropolitan area. Pre-registration through the FOTR website at www.therouge.org or by calling 313-792-9621 is required before Jan. 20.
“Volunteers need no prior experience, just the ability to withstand cold weather and interest in looking through samples for the bugs. Children 5 and above are welcome when accompanied by a participating adult, and groups of no more than six can sign up together. Each volunteer is assigned to a team and each team travels to two different sites, so transportation from the meeting place is also necessary,” Petrella said.