What is hiding in the Chenango River and how can you assist scientists in finding out?

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By Science Intern, Ethan Campbell

The Chenango River is home to a number of macroinvertebrates, in this case: juvenile insect species. These species hatch in the water column and live the early stages of their lives in said aquatic ecosystems. For some of these species, the majority of their existence is spent as juveniles in the water. The Missouri Department of Conservation states that Dobsonflies may live as juveniles in the water column for 2-3 years, while only living as adults for weeks. In our brief sample, we found nymphs of caddisflies, stoneflies, mayflies, and dobsonflies. According to Dr. Julian Shepherd Professor at Binghamton University, these species serve as the basis of many food chains. Towards the bottom of freshwater food webs, many fish species feed off these macroinvertebrates. Fish are clearly vital for ecological cycles as a variety of species rely on them for sustenance such as a myriad of birds and mammals including humans. If these species were to vanish, many food webs would be shaken from their foundations. In addition, the adult forms are frequently consumed by birds and other insects upon their swift demise. Edward O. Wilson, often referred to as the world expert on myrmecology, once said that if all the little creatures on earth vanished, humans would not live longer than a few weeks. 

These species are often used as indicators of water quality, as their abundance or lack thereof relies on the quality of the surrounding habitat. We found a range of species, which would lead us to believe the surrounding waters are not heavily polluted, especially because stoneflies and caddisflies have a lower tolerance to pollution than other species. However, insects are experiencing more rapid rates of decline as compared to other animal species. A study published in Biological Conservation found over 40% of insect species globally are threatened. Insects are vital as not only the basis of food chains, but a myriad of other ecosystem services including the ever important job of pollination. 

iNaturalist is an app and website where citizen scientists can upload their own identifications and observations about virtually any type of species, from fungus and plants to megafauna. These observations can be used in global databases on ecology and used in research to identify habitats and species spatial behavior. Posts with complete identification information are considered research grade observations and are incorporated into said research. The app is also a great way to learn about local ecology and connect more with nature, as well as other local citizen scientists. You can help contribute to global knowledge just by downloading an app, going outside, and having some fun.