56: Nerd out about Mussels

Stuart and Carolyn speak with Dr. Ashley Elgin of NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab about the benthos, mussels, and other dreissenids. And buoys. Re-uploaded with the right title!

This is an automated transcript. If you notice any problems, please email the show at teachmeaboutthegreatlakes@gmail.com. Thank you.

Stuart Carlton 0:00
teach me about the Great Lakes. Teach me about the Great Lakes. John, welcome back to teach me about the Great Lakes a twice monthly podcast basically, in which I agreed lakes novice as people are smarter and harder working than I am to teach me all about the Great Lakes. My name is Stuart Carlton and I know a lot about exactly how much I hate in vivo, especially two weeks before a conference in which I'm trying to use in vivo to finish gathering data that I will present at that conference, hopefully, but I don't know a lot about the Great Lakes. That's the point of this year Podcast. I'm joined today by Carolyn Foley, Illinois, Indiana secrets Research Coordinator. Carolyn, what's up?

Carolyn Foley 0:37
Not much. It is spring. It is shamefully cold, but we'll get warmer.

Stuart Carlton 0:42
Yeah, no, it's one of those springs where you're still wearing your winter clothes. You're like, Huh, okay, spring it is. I agree. But speaking of being cold, so we got a little bit of feedback. So we got some feedback to teach me about the great lakes@gmail.com And this is from if I can find it to 230. There it is the great dusty, and he says Hello from the other side of the Wabash. And yet we asked for stories we did about Lake ice. And so he has a fond memory of ice racing a few years ago, I did not know this was a thing. He thinks it was on Lake on Turk lake in Greenville, Michigan, not Greenville, South Carolina. If you ice race on that lake, you're hosed. And there's a car club local to Grand Rapids called the fern group that hosted the event. So that's fu R R I N for in group, not the furry group. That's a different car club in Grand Rapids. Oh, it

Carolyn Foley 1:29
is not okay for

Stuart Carlton 1:35
Anyway, look at this. So far. It is apparently I you know, I've never been to Grand Rapids. I'm going for the first time. So more of that in a minute. But apparently that comes from Fern, Fern car. So you take out your Ferny cards, and he has a 1985 Saab 900 which is nine times better than the SOB 100 And I had a blast, they plot a path in the ice and set up what an autocross course he says it's really interesting to relearn to drive my car on the ice. And for those who haven't driven on a frozen lake, there's more grip than you would expect, especially for using store snow and winter tires. So the great dusty is encouraging you to find ice and drive on it, as long as the ice is thick enough, I suppose. And then he attached a photo which we will put we'll put in the show notes. Maybe this is time to open up the show Instagram account, I don't know but we'll put a link to it in the show notes. And look at the snow, the photo this 1985 So that is older than not me. I don't know Not you but many of the CO hosts on teach me about the Great Lakes. And it's a fun car or fun photo of the car way out there. And he also recommends the snowdrift rally race. I will link to that too every January. And this is dusty says it is 100% The best event for spectating that he's ever been to. So, of course, he lives in West Lafayette. So he's probably been a lot of Purdue things, which means you know, there are better.

Carolyn Foley 2:49
There's no i I totally believe that in Gaylord Michigan. That would be a really, really, really cool thing. So thank you great dusty for sharing that with us because it's great.

Stuart Carlton 3:00
So have you ice race? Have you driven your car on the ice? Carolyn?

Carolyn Foley 3:04
Not on the ice, but I have been known to do some fun donuts.

Stuart Carlton 3:10
You have been known to do some? Yes. No, were they powdered donuts? Anyway?

Carolyn Foley 3:25
Oh, right. So yeah, so thanks for the feedback. That was really cool. If anybody else wants to give us feedback in the future. Yeah. Give

Stuart Carlton 3:31
us your like ice stories, do it. Teach them about the great lakes@gmail.com

Carolyn Foley 3:35
or since we're heading into spring, if you want to give us your fun cold springs on the Great Lakes stories and you're like, Oh, I'm wearing shorts one day and then winter coat the next.

Stuart Carlton 3:45
Yeah, tell us what flavor tea you're having to celebrate. Onset of spring. That's great. Okay, a couple of bits of announcements. Big announcement here. So um, if if we don't screw this up too badly. Oh, waving at the announcement wave. That was the drumroll. Drumroll

Carolyn Foley 4:03
then I was making my own drumroll, not your fancy one. And then I started laughing because you said if we don't screw this up too badly, and I feel like there's a 99.9% chance that we will screw it up somehow. But big announcement go sounds to

Stuart Carlton 4:16
me like we already screwed it up. This should be on May 2. So if you're listening to this on May 2 or sometime before May 16. We are having at the joint aquatic sciences meeting jasm and Grand Rapids, Michigan we're going to have a meet up an informal teach me about the Great Lakes meet up that'll be at the Grand Rapids brewing company but a PM, see Purdue is having an Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, we're having a reception, you may or may not be invited if you are, you know, but after that reception, we're just going to hang out at the brewery for a while at the Grand Rapids Brewing Company and we'll put a link to where that is in the show notes about 8pm On Monday, May 16 as part of the part of the jam so come and say hey, we'll probably hopefully have stickers there too. If you want a sticker and maybe we will try to work through Trying to get together a last minute, this just occurred to me yesterday in the bathroom. While I was washing my hands, I was washing my hands in the bathroom. When this occurred to me anyway, we are trying to pull off and the odds of this getting screwed up are extremely high about 98% We're trying to pull off a teach me about the Great Lakes live at nine o'clock at night at the Grand Rapids Brewing Company. I have no idea if that's going to happen or not. Stay tuned to social media. And maybe I see grant.org Because if we do it, we'll throw out a newsroom article last second. So it probably won't happen. But it could happen. And so stay tuned for that. But I'll let I'll pre announce it now in case you're at jasm. And if it doesn't happen, then well, let's be honest, it's probably my fault.

Carolyn Foley 5:40
Or Yeah. So speaking about the jasm conference, that's a huge, huge, huge, huge conference, there's going to be tons and tons of people there. But one of the topics that I'm sure there will be many talks about are benzos.

Stuart Carlton 5:53
Which right? Mentos lots of people getting deep on benzos. And so we thought we would talk about it, but are we gonna bring on anybody who has any old job to talk about that? Carolyn? Are we going to bring on someone who is I don't know a professional researcher.

Carolyn Foley 6:07
We're going to bring on like one of the best people and most knowledgeable people about this particular topic for the Great Lakes that I have met.

Stuart Carlton 6:15
There we go and I agree, and no way to introduce the guests than by embarrassing ourselves. So let's go ahead and do that.

Research. A feature. A researcher teaches about third grade. Our guest today is Dr. Ashley Elgin. She's a research ecologist at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab and she's a Muskegon beautiful research area on the lake there. Ashley, how are you today?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 6:49
I'm doing well. How are you?

Stuart Carlton 6:51
I'm doing great too. I'm we're planting dig deep today. Dig deep, I think and the reason why the Dig deep is because you study the pentose and benthic ecology and bentos is one of the coolest words in our lexicon, I think but what what is the benthos? Exactly?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 7:06
Yeah, I'm glad we're digging deep. Because I do work deep. I work in the deep bottom areas of the Great Lakes. benthos is what we affectionately call you know, benthic organisms that live on the bottom. They are very important because they have several key jobs in aquatic systems. One is they break down material, and they help promote decomposition. They're part of nutrient cycling. And they themselves, they eat each other. And they're really good food for other organisms like fish and birds.

Stuart Carlton 7:37
So let's just see where I was actually just talking about this. So we're working on a project with AOC is areas of concern. A postdoc, and I are and she's doing brilliant work, and I'm just along for the ride, which is great. But I was reading about and I saw I always thought the Mentos was the whole deal, including like the dirt and everything, but it's just the organisms, right? Yes, I did not realize that that was a new thing I learned when I learned about the different DUIs, or beneficiary's impairments. Okay, so it's so this literally, I guess, literally the base of the foodweb right down at the bottom there is

Dr. Ashley Elgin 8:02
in a spatial sense, yes. But it is a big component, an important component of the lower foodweb. But I will mention there also benthic dwelling fish that's is Round Goby, is Dr. Foley here knows well about Round Goby. And there are other fish that spend a lot of time on the bottom. But what I focus on are the benthic invertebrates that live in the bottom sediments.

Carolyn Foley 8:24
How do you study them? Exactly? What type of data do you collect? Or what type of equipment do you use? Or things like that?

Stuart Carlton 8:32
We love equipment questions. Yeah.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 8:33
Okay, well, then what we'll use is a poner. Grab, that's the standard equipment we use. And imagine it's a steel claw that you deploy down to the bottom, and it grabs up a clump of sediment, you haul it up back on the boat, and then we preserve those sediments on the boat and then look at them in excruciating detail back in the lab. And that's where you sift through them, you're looking under a scope, you're picking out every organism you can find and then that that's the primary way that we study event those but there are some new technological advances as well.

Stuart Carlton 9:06
Or we hear about those but first, let me get an idea of what this stuff is like. So you pull up is it like a big slop of mud? Is it kind of like wet and stinky? Or what's it like in the I Love Lab? Smells? Lab smell kind of guy? Yeah,

Dr. Ashley Elgin 9:15
let's see, not we're not usually not so stinky. It depends. So if you're more, I'll be like Mid Michigan centric here. If you're starting in the shallows, you probably have pull up a lot of sand. And that's gonna be more kind of Sandy sediment. As you get deeper, you're going to have this fine layer of dark silt on the top. So you lift that when that comes up. So it's really really smooth kind of creamy sediment as you get deeper

Stuart Carlton 9:46
so the substrate changes depending on the depth and so then I'm just tell me if I'm wrong here because I might be I'm never afraid to be wrong. Well, anyway. So so the different lakes then because they have different depths and different I don't know shapes what does it but imagery. I don't know if the right word is like so they'll have you can sort of tell by what the substrate is what Lake you're in. Is that true? Could you so here we go. If I took you in blindfolded you dropped on the bottom of a lake and you could grab like a fistful of benthic organisms and substrate, would you be able to tell what Lake you're in?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 10:16
No, but I be more likely be able to tell you what, what depth Okay, I am. But it would be difficult to distinguish from one leg to another. There may be there's certain areas of the legs because of circulation patterns, my deposition zones, and that'll influence with the sediments like on the bottom. But it's more depth specific than like specific for my, if you're blindfolded and just feeling it with your head. I

Stuart Carlton 10:42
don't know if you've been kidnapped and brought to the bentos for whatever reason,

Dr. Ashley Elgin 10:45
if you could touch it and just know what species of organisms you're finding, that could maybe indicate what area you're in. But you're only given me the power of touch. So yeah,

Stuart Carlton 10:55
that's, that's rough. Yeah. And your fingers are probably wet. And I mean, very little time because you're drowning. You know what, let's just not do this activity.

Carolyn Foley 11:02
Right. But I am pretty impressed that you're like, Yeah, but if you gave me some of the organisms that could probably tell you where we were

Stuart Carlton 11:10
MacGyver your way into

Carolyn Foley 11:13
how long have these surveys? So do they happen on all you said, Lake Michigan centric there for a second, but do these happen on all five of the Great Lakes and do any happening Lake St. Clair or anything do

Dr. Ashley Elgin 11:25
so I'll focus on the Great Lakes there. There are systematic and it's every five years on a five year cycle with what's called the cooperative science and monitoring initiative that the the lakes are visited. And there are a whole lake benthic surveys every five years with that cycle. And so that and that cycle has been in more, more recent years, actually, you could probably tell me exactly what year they started up, it kind of, you know, is a slow start to that program or not a slow start. But you know, the the lake sites, it's now a regular cycle. Now that it's up and running, predating that initiative, we do have a good amount of historic benthic data. And so I looked back and we have I think the Lake Erie has some the oldest, because whole lake or large scale benthic surveys going back to the 20s and 1930s. I believe that's where Lake Michigan had some surveys where they started benthic surveys. And then Lake Ontario is in the 60s, to start more widespread surveys of the bent those that aren't just, you know, not just focused on one small area here or there. That's crazy. The 20s people are going and you know that they were wearing suits when they collected the samples, they were

Stuart Carlton 12:50
the steam powered whatever wearing a suit. Oh, geez. So are those old data? So that's actually another theme we come across a lot is the power of old datasets, right? Was that stuff government collected typically, like 100 years ago? Or was that oh, wait, or was that the time you get these row dudes, right? Like, there's one guy out who's obsessed with, you know, whatever. And he's out there sampling a bentos in every lake in the world or whatever. Was it that kind of stuff? Or was it? Was it government stuff? Or do you have no idea?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 13:15
It was quite piecemeal, I think some of our epic academic groups leading it and I would I know that because you didn't have the established government agencies during widespread so this is pre the same, you have this pre Noah.

Stuart Carlton 13:29
So that's interesting at the school serves me do this stuff or whatever. So so we've got just decades of data for some of these lakes. Right. And so that's powerful. A lot of big government collected some collected by the rogue theologists or what are the ones I was getting the less important ones, right, the rogue entomologist, and

Carolyn Foley 13:49
number today, right.

Stuart Carlton 13:52
Anyway, so what can we learn from this? We ever in fact, I, you know, we've like, one could say we have six decades of Lake Ontario history with them. And I think, um, what what, what does this data tell us,

Dr. Ashley Elgin 14:02
you can go back to the, you know, the species that are present, you can look at the community composition of the species that are there, and that can indicate tell you something about the ecosystem, aquatic worms, or we call lady Keats, they're, they're in in particular used to indicate levels of nutrient enrichment or pollution in an area because you have some species that are more tolerant than others of pollution or have high productivity or eutrophic conditions.

Carolyn Foley 14:32
So I have an extra question to add in here is like, how do you determine this species of a worm?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 14:41
With a microscope? It's what it is coming. You're looking at bristle patterns, you're looking at the shape of bristles, the way it's hooked, is it's fascinating and then also interesting, like aquatic insect larvae, you have the Karana adds that you're mounting the head capsule and you're looking at your exact shapes of mouthparts. It's It's fascinating, but it's very exacting work that requires a mounted specimen, you're looking under the microscope. Oh, my goodness, the most part,

Carolyn Foley 15:14
cutting off heads and yeah, like pretty big. Yeah,

Stuart Carlton 15:18
you've cut off some more minutes. I bet. So, alright, let's let me reorient Romax I've Okay, so so so you get all the gunk that may or may not be sticky, stinky may or may not be sandy or monkey in the lab, and you're having to look at all of these individual organisms, right? In this case, I mean, you are looking at 60 years, but people have been doing this for 60 7080 years. And so you're comparing those and you know that different organisms thrive under different kinds of conditions? Is that what you're saying? And from that you infer what the conditions what the conditions are?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 15:46
That's right. And, and you can see there, there are periods of both like Michigan and like Ontario, we can speak to these because of these long term benthic records. They both went through periods of eutrophication, where there was increasing productivity, more nutrient input into the lake. And then areas after phosphorus abatement programs where we were being more careful about what we're dumping into the lakes. And with that declining phosphorus input, you then that's a different stage for what the, you know, the benzos. That's it that marks a major change in reducing that stressor to the benzos. And then, and I'm sure we'll be getting to talk to in a bit about then when species enter the system that weren't there before. And in that way, you can see the the major changes that occur when you have a new addition into an ecosystem.

Stuart Carlton 16:40
Yeah, I've got a pro level segue coming up for that. But yeah, but before we get there, and so then so then when you see those changes that coincides, then it ripples up there are ripples throughout the food web in the ecosystem, right? And you can infer that hmm, yeah. And so with the reduction in nutrients, you find that I assume the water is getting a little bit clearer over time, especially like Michigan. But then another thing that's making the water clear, is the introduction of mussels, isn't that right?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 17:06
That's correct. Yes, in the, in the 1980s. The zebra and then quagga mussels were discovered in the Great Lakes. And we find them in well, they're in all five of the Great Lakes. And they are present in high numbers and all lakes except for Lake Superior. So I'll I'll start with Lake Superior. First, because that is the exception here. mussels have been present there for decades. However, their populations are very low density, they're sparsely distributed. And even though they've been present for decades, they haven't their populations haven't exploded and follow the same paths that we've seen the muscles do and all the lower lakes,

Carolyn Foley 17:47
is that because Lake Superior is just not a nice place to live for a muscle? Well, it's

Dr. Ashley Elgin 17:52
a it's too cool for muscles I love. I love Lake Superior. But

Stuart Carlton 17:57
what superior loves itself, though, so let's not actually say that out loud.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 18:03
With the muscles can handle cold, especially quagga mussels. So zebra and quagga mussels, they are either two mussels in the same genus, the dry Sina genus, that's why we call them dry seeded mussels. And they're very similar in a lot of ways, but they have a lot of differences. One thing that quagga mussels can handle cold, deep environments. But what limiter for both species and mussels isn't Lake Superior is the low calcium levels, calcium, and that interferes with their, you know, their recruitment of how you know, able to spread and establish popular populations in new areas.

Carolyn Foley 18:39
And that has to do with like them incorporating it into their shell

Dr. Ashley Elgin 18:42
is that yes, yeah, I think thanks for making that connection that has to do with their Yeah, they're built there. They're not able to build show material they did, they can't make it. And so in these low calcium environments, the muscles, some will survive, we still find some that can make it but there's much higher attrition throughout their lifecycle in low calcium.

Stuart Carlton 19:04
So and this is probably way outside of your purview. So feel free to tell me I don't know. But but so you're one of the concerns is like muscles just getting everywhere, even outside of the legs, right. You know, I might be thinking more of carp and things like that, but spreading into various rivers to rivers. Can calcium be a limiting factor within rivers and stuff too? And maybe that would prevent mussels spread or the mussels just everywhere? I don't really know.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 19:25
Well, you you're you're thinking along the right lines and that, you know, calcium is important and there is a threshold level where you you need to have a threshold level of calcium to have muscles established. You know, we have muscles throughout the Great Lakes region there throughout North America, you know, their, their Lake Winnipeg, they're over throughout Ontario and they're over. Now in the West. There was a time when they're trying to prevent the muscles from getting beyond the 100th meridian, but muscles have made it out west. You know, one one Vexor been on recreational boats from the Great Lakes traveling, you know, to Lake Mead. And now we have quagga mussels and Lake Mead. But part of what scientists at West are doing is they're looking at doing kind of a risk assessment of which body water bodies are likely to be able to house mussels. And Calcium is a big part of that. And that could say, well, this lake, this watershed is low calcium, and therefore at lower risk of introduction, let's focus our efforts on lakes that would be more likely to support the muscles, I believe work in Wisconsin that looked at this as well.

Carolyn Foley 20:35
And so they can sort of make those determinations based on data and information gathered through studying the Great Lakes populations that are,

Dr. Ashley Elgin 20:44
yeah, great lakes, and then a lot of the inland lakes because, you know, mussels, particular zebra mussels are found very widespread throughout inland lakes and rivers, in throughout our entire region. And the great lakes were the beachhead for that invasion, and I spread out from there.

Stuart Carlton 21:02
But so you can think about the differences of the lakes and things like that you actually have hot off the presses write an article out in the Journal of Great Lakes research, or as Carolyn calls it, jiggler. And it wasn't until recently, back at the same postdoc, got a paper impressive juggler. And so now it's my new favorite Journal

Carolyn Foley 21:25
of jello a little bit.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 21:28
Every time I say,

Stuart Carlton 21:31
me and my buddy, John downing with the jello shots, and so anyway, but so you analyzed, you analyze some depths and muscle distributions and things like that. What can you tell us about that paper?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 21:43
Yeah, so the study that we recently published in Chandler, was, that sounds very different. Oh, yeah. What we publish, we did a field based growth experiment for quagga mussels in Lake Ontario. And we collaborated with US Geological Survey, they have a field station there. And also, I go to New York. And we put out Cape moorings that can keep contained caged muscles, at 15 meters, 45 meters and 90 meters depth fall just catching from a near shorter, it's a deeper offshore transect in that area. And what we found is that muscles in the near shore, where they have higher temperature, higher kelp, um, we mentioned the food but using them, measuring their chlorophyll levels, that they had higher growth. And in fact, their their growth was 10 times higher in at 15 meters, then what we found that 90 meters. So it's just it's wildly opened up the cages and we saw how much they grew. Like, where did this muscle come, we put in 10 millimeter muscle and now you're 20 millimeters, it was beyond our expectation of how much they would grow in a year. And we just saw that in the shallows when you go further offshore is intermediate growth at the 45 meters. And like I mentioned very low growth at 90 meters. And this connects to other work that did with collaborators. This this study led by doctors karyotype and Birla Cova. there with a Buffalo State College, they were leading the whole lake surveys of muscles. And this feeds into a long term record of muscles that we have for benthic surveys in Lake Ontario. And what we have is at each depth you see the little different population trajectory at each of the depths. And in the near shore. The populations were kind of came on fast, they were high. And then they we sense seen reductions. Now they're still quite high and they're still high enough to be causing impacts. But the mussel populations aren't as as it's not as dense populations as it used to be when they peaked. Why is that? Well, it's a big it's overshoot, and you see this boom and bust dynamic where they could have overshot with the with ecosystems able to support and now they're more at a level of okay, there's the food that's available. This is what this was where they're at.

Stuart Carlton 24:17
So it's a carrying capacity issue potentially, or something like that.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 24:20
Yes, yeah, it indicates that and then as you go deeper, the population has just been on the stove, slow and steady increase over time. And numbers have not him. So numbers and biomass. So it's, it's both of the muscles are present. But then the muscles that are they're getting bigger, but they're taking an extremely long time to get bigger. And that is congruent with what we found with the growth rates. It's slow, steady growth on an individual level that promotes the slow and steady growth at the population level. That is, there's no boom and bust there. It's just been like a slow, steady crawl.

Stuart Carlton 25:00
I'll pour disinherit like literally, that sorry.

Carolyn Foley 25:03
Okay, so to cycle back a little bit and bring the dry synods into what we were talking about at the beginning, what does like if we were to go out into the deep parts of Lake Michigan? What would it look like on the bottom? Would it be just tons of muscles would there be like old shells from old organisms, who else is still living down there, what type of stuff is going on?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 25:29
Take on a journey here. So I think if we, if we start more shallow, you know, it's Sandy, you don't have as much muscles, it's a high energy environment, you have shifting sediments. But what will you we will find in the shallows is you can get really high densities of muscles, but it'll be patchy. And that you might, I've dropped an area in an area, we've dropped down three pomares, and two of them will have almost no muscles, and then the third poner will have 1000 muscles in it. And it's just shows how patchy it is in that area. But high energy shifting sediments, but very warm, higher food, the muscles that can be there, they'll they'll grow and they'll do great, but there's a lot of turnover because of the energy. So then you go further offshore. And this is where you get the depths where muscles are a little more stable environment, the temperature is more stable through the year, the food levels are going to be intermediate. And you get you still it's patchy but on a very small scale. So this is where because of and I'd love to talk about this more later that new methods we're using to to actually see the muscles in the bottom and introduce video. As you can see that it's essentially at this depth of solid carpet with with some kind of the gaps in there, but very solid carpet. And this is where you have extremely high densities of muscles,

Stuart Carlton 26:50
just a solid carpet of muscles.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 26:53
Yes, it's a little it's a little horrifying. There are videos where we put a draw a GoPro GoPro camera, yeah, on the on the poster. So you get a poner as I view of, of the drop going down, and you collect the sediment, and as it's zooming up, you just see the carpet and it zooms out and out and out until you can no longer see the bottom anymore. It just it expands in a way that you can't believe how solid that carpet is.

Stuart Carlton 27:26
So one thing we talked about a lot on the show is the importance of long datasets right and continuing to fund scientists be a government scientist, or academic scientist or you know, through CSV or whatever to keep collecting these valuable data over time. But another theme that we have is like new technology. And so you mentioned one with a GoPro that wasn't possible, I don't know 10 years ago, right? Or well, I don't know, GoPro history. But but let's let's say 1015 years ago, that wasn't really possible. So what what other new technologies are you using to kind of investigate, you know, muscles in the bentos, I

Dr. Ashley Elgin 28:00
suppose? Well in in more recent years, we've been incorporating video data to augment the what we get by poner grabs, because I think upon our graph goes down and it covers a relative pinprick of an area, it's like a blind pinprick of a sample you're getting from the bottom. And, you know, sometimes, like I said, we get, we always do replicate, grab had an area to get nice, that would give us a little better idea, if all three graphs are the same, it's a pretty consistent environment. If it's if it's 1000, muscles zero and zero, then you know, it's patchy. But now with the addition of adding video, we get immediate confirmation that that's the case and getting to see a much bigger area than what a poner can tell us. And so I'll give credit to two colleagues from Buffalo State College and also EPA who've been developing a lot of this, this video approach using different methods to to get eyes on on the bottom of the lakes. And one of the goals there is to actually get overhead video on an area and then immediately be processing that and getting an idea of muscle coverage, percent muscle coverage and trying to translate that into density and biomass of muscles. And then you you'd have that data much sooner after the survey. Otherwise, it can take us a year to process the samples because I mentioned before that's painstaking pick, pick, pick, pick, pick, pick, look, look, look, look and then you know, measure measure measure. So it replaces that or it supplements it. It's not it's no replacement for that work, but it it augments the physical samples.

Stuart Carlton 29:37
So is there something you've learned? So new technology enables new analyses? Right, is there something that we've learned as a result of this that either we didn't know before we were wrong about before maybe or you know, what is this enabled for us? Or is it just mainly getting to you know, truth, these samples and augment them a lot which is in and of itself really a powerful thing? Right?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 29:58
I think it's just gives us more coverage in areas. And it's something that's very important about incorporating these nonpolar technologies is that it allows better sampling of the muscles in the near shore. A poner grab is built for soft sediments, it's not going to work. If it's a rocky base, it's not going to get a good grab, if they're even if it's a gravelly area, any stones in there can keep the claw from getting a good close on the way up and you'll lose all your sample. So it's really it allows the better characterization in the nearshore zone. It's also a group from US Geological Survey, and they're developing multi beam sonar is a way to scan the bottom and they're adding to this video collections on underwater vehicles. And that would be another way to to advance the technology on assessing populations and I'm collaborating with them on a study based in Lake Michigan and we're to help ground truth their findings with physical samples.

Stuart Carlton 31:02
So are you gonna be good to go when one of the vehicles these are

Dr. Ashley Elgin 31:04
remote operated vehicles? Or well or autonomous underwater vehicles? Yes,

Stuart Carlton 31:10
that sounds a little much for me. I wouldn't want to do it but I want someone else to do it and tell me about it. Yeah,

Carolyn Foley 31:15
there are some some of these videos are available like on YouTube and stuff, right? Okay. Yeah,

Dr. Ashley Elgin 31:20
um, one video that I often use in presentations, it's EPA has a video posted that shows upon our graph going down and then you can get that sense of the zooming out and the carpet up muscles.

Stuart Carlton 31:32
Oh, super. Well, we will put a link to that in our show notes which you can find a teach me about the great lakes.com/ 56 That's the number five, six, because Carolyn, this is episode 56. Believe it or not, that's what Pat swilling Pat swilling, great linebacker for the saints number 56.

Carolyn Foley 31:47
Yeah, thank you.

Stuart Carlton 31:49
Well, one other thing I want to talk about with regards to muscle so something we noticed is we put out these buoys every year, right, one of the best things we do is put out the buoys. When we get them back, they're often just covered in these things. Right? They're covered at that. So they're out for what's as long as it's warm, which in this area of the country is, I don't know, a month and a half or two months.

Carolyn Foley 32:06
Approximately April to approximately November. There we go. Yes. Boys are out when it's not worked. Yeah.

Stuart Carlton 32:16
And they're very often have a lot of muscles Carolyn, I've never actually recovered the buoys. Because, you know, you don't want me to refuel work. It's just a bad idea. But so like, what kind of muscle? Are they big? Or what size? Are they when we pull the buoys in?

Carolyn Foley 32:28
So um, much like Ashley was mentioning, your doctor Elgin was mentioning, they grow pretty quickly, because I mean, when we put them in, it's completely clean. Right? And they are, you know, big enough that you can actually pull them off, but not so big that their threads are super strong. But yeah, I mean, I would say, like, some of them can get up to maybe a quarter of an inch or half of an inch. And you think about that in a single year. That's pretty insane. That single year where it didn't even go in for the whole year.

Stuart Carlton 33:04
Well, so the boys are higher up. So alright, I'm gonna ask you to speculate if if the buoys sunk instead of floated, please don't boys? Would they be smaller? Right? Because it would be at a greater depth. So would you theorize that maybe the muscles will be smaller? No,

Carolyn Foley 33:17
I think that would be really cool. Because we have like chains and stuff

Stuart Carlton 33:21
we can we can

Carolyn Foley 33:23
make that happen

Dr. Ashley Elgin 33:24
so that people have done studies. And right now there's a group in a group in Switzerland, and they're measuring in Lake Geneva, which is a was very relatively recently in the last five or so years invaded by quagga mussels. They are looking at growth at different depths in the water column. And basically, this study and other studies have shown, if you're higher up in the water column, there's more growth than if you're at the bottom. So Bucha being on a booing the mean, right up at the top near the water surface. That's the prime spot where muscles will want to be. It's also a work in Lake Mead, I'd mentioned that earlier with quagga mussels that they can have shown different depths in the water, and what their growth is.

Stuart Carlton 34:11
But so then my actual question is this these buoys are only out like Carolyn said, for a mere six ish months, and they get covered in these stinking muscles. And so so is that because I can think of two potential reasons. One, the water column is so stuffed full of muscles that they just have to latch on to the buoys, or to they have like some sort of buoy or structure seeking, you know, system, right within them. Do you know what it is? Like? Like, are they good, but then they would have to be able to swim, and I assume they just sort of get washed around by the currents. And so do they seek out the buoys? Or is it just more of the case that there are so many muscles that the buoys are going to get them and like if I stayed in Lake Michigan for six or eight months, I would get emotionally, which given my body composition is unlikely. Would they all just stick to me? Like, what's the deal there? I guess

Dr. Ashley Elgin 34:59
that's coming in mind, tier one muscles are opportunistic. And then to at certain times of the year and it's raining muscles. So, the muscles have a planktonic stage called a villager. And this is one of the reasons that they are so effective and they just spread so quickly is they have they have external reproduction. So, eggs and sperms are released separately, they meet in the water will develop into a villager, that villager then will spend can spend a good time of lot of time in the water column. And they have some control over where they are because the villagers, we find them more in the epilimnion in the upper levels, upper upper warmer with warmer waters. And so if they weren't able to control they are they would, you know, they they wouldn't be able to orient and stay up in the epilimnion. And then they they're feeding as zooplankton, essentially, in the water column, and as a member of the zooplankton community. And then when they get large enough, then it's it's time to start settling out. And if the villagers have the right size, and it attack finds a hard substrate, that's where muscles want to be. If it encounters that art substrate, it's going to start to attach and that's where it creates a bissel threads. There's a little gluey threads that they'll attach to things. And that makes partial what makes muscles such a bugaboo is they're so good at attaching to things they fellowships they shed, they follow water intakes, they're a problem for hydroelectric dams and water treatment plants, and you name it, they because they can attach the well. But then muscles, sometimes they they don't sign find something to attach to. And then they will fall down to the bottom because they no longer can. They're big enough, now it's time for them to go to the bottom and they can't be swimming around anymore. And because they are capable of moving themselves around in the water column, they sit down to the bottom, and then they will the ones that make it to the bottom. If there's no hard substrate, they will either be attached to other muscles, they will sink into the soft substrates. And quagga mussels in particular, you know, as opposed to zebra mussels are able to establish and persist quite well in soft sediments. That's why when you when I was, you know, taking the journey to envision what they're like it each of the depths, when you get deeper and deeper, they're still present. It's just more kind of like a sparse, they're spread out. And they're kind of sparse, but very consistent, but more sparse. So that's and that's just the villagers that that made it out to that depth and settled out and the ones that survived under those conditions.

Stuart Carlton 37:44
So if they didn't attach to our buoys, then they might not survive, is it

Dr. Ashley Elgin 37:48
most villagers that are produced don't survive anyway, it's one of those parts in the life history that there's just extremely high attrition. It's like how many how many of these dandelion seeds would become a dandelion? Or how many of the maple seeds? Yeah, all of them? Yes. As soon as I was saying that, I'm like, I need a better plan. Yeah, and the number of, you know, Maple seeds that become a full blown tree, for example. And so most villagers are going to perish, but the ones that I'm guessing would stick to a hard surface, we'll probably have better success than the ones that make it down to the bottom and find that environment, which is more challenging.

Stuart Carlton 38:27
So really, though, in more than one ways, our boys are real life savers. So I guess to wrap up this, this part, and oh my gosh, I could just listen, you're talking about this all day. You're so knowledgeable and so on top of your stuff.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 38:38
This is really fun. I don't know just to get to nerd out on benzos is in a safe space is really nice.

Stuart Carlton 38:46
I did not know the extent to which I enjoyed nerding out on Mentos turns out I do. But um, so I think I know the answer to this question. But but you know, so these muscles are everywhere, and like they are kind of bad, right? You're talking about all the things like foul up and they've really forever changed the water quality in Lake Michigan, for example. Like it's so much more clear now. In fact, some key stakeholders within Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant say that the water in Lake Michigan is even too clear. Now, without commenting on Thomas's comment. It's just it's really changed. And so is there anything we can do about these muscle populations? Are they just are they just they're in these as our friend Titus Sondheimer says, and this is now the lake we have, you know, where? Or is there something to do? Yeah.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 39:27
Well, certainly there's, there's the Great Lakes before mussels and the Great Lakes after muscles. And, you know, a lot of processes like physical, chemical, biological processes had been altered by the muscles being there. A lot of that there have been adjustments and adaptations in the ecosystem with the muscles to be there. So we're thinking about removing them. So one, it's, it's of still logistically, an extremely challenging thing to do based on where they're found the pier or mass of muscles individually, they're very small, but it's just add that up. And it's a huge amount of biomass of muscles that's there. But a group of us formed in 2014. A group is a group called invasive muscle collaborative. And the whole point of the collaborative is to advance the the technology and the science of muscle control. And it's still logistically out of reach to be doing widespread removal of muscles. However, there's there are different toxic hence, there are different methods that are being tested in inland lakes and in shallow areas of the great lakes that are showing promise. And I think that where we're moving now that the target right now is to do, you know, focused removal efforts in regions in smaller areas or regions that are of high habitat value. So we're not there yet, but that's what we're working towards. So for example, that would mean doing a targeted removal of mussels in an area that is high quality for fish spawning habitat, and we want to preserve and protect self fish, there we go. We want to protect that habitat. So then could we do a regional removal effort that could improve situations in that one area, and that that's where the collaborative is moving at this point. Another great thing about the collaborative is, and it's something I personally get a lot from from it is it just brings together all the people who want to nerd out about muscles. So you just get that that community together and to help understand, where's the state of the science, not just with control efforts, but studying the populations studying their impacts? And how to better anticipate where their pockets? What are their populations going to look like in 10 years, based on everything that we've been learning so far? How is the ecosystem is in a new state? The with the muscles present? So that those are all the things that we would like to talk about? I'm gonna gather so are

Stuart Carlton 42:10
we keep dreaming? Don't give up hope. Right? Don't give up. Hope. That's right. Yep.

Carolyn Foley 42:14
You mentioned like the targeted removals. They tried to do that at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Is that right?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 42:19
Yes. So that's part of the the testing for this, you know, this is something you have to start and in a small test plots, and in that one, it was putting down benthic barriers and putting the equinox, which is a highly specific toxicant for that target, straight seated muscles. And in putting that under the benthic barrier and killing the muscles that way. They're also testing now just putting down benthic barriers, which the oxygen drops underneath and you can suffocate the muscles. So that's one approach being being considered right now.

Stuart Carlton 42:53
Well, actually, this is really fascinating to nerd out about muscles like it's an enjoyable conversation we could go on for a long time. But actually, that's not why we invited you here on teach me about the Great Lakes this week. The reason that we invited you on teach me about the Great Lakes is to ask two questions. And the first one is this. If you could choose to have a great donut for breakfast or a great sandwich for lunch, which would you choose? Great sandwich, please. Great sandwich, please. All right. And so I'm gonna come to Muskegon and we're gonna we're gonna you know, I'm gonna blindfold you drop your middle napalm. Alright, but before I do that, we're gonna go to lunch. And so if I'm gonna go to lunch and get a great sandwich in Muskegon, Carolina by what what, where should I go to get the sandwich?

Dr. Ashley Elgin 43:35
Oh there to to place those fatty Lumpkins is is known for good sandwiches. And then if you want a burger hamburger, Mikey's hamburger Mike hamburger Mikey's? Yep, those two places in Muskegon if you if you're going for food between bread

Stuart Carlton 43:51
yeah food that's great. The next question is this What is uh, you know, we were trying to help create a community around the Great Lakes help people really appreciate like, what a wonderful resource these five cron locks is Carolyn calls it our is there like a special place in the Great Lakes that you could share with our audience? And if so, what makes it so special

Dr. Ashley Elgin 44:14
for me that that's the key one off peninsula jutting out into Lake Superior. I love it because it has been for two reasons. One, I grew up there so I'm very partial. But I have some wonderful memories of the different places that Cuba not Peninsula, but it has has white sand beaches. It has sandstone cliffs, it has Craigie rocky shores. And so just in that small area, you get many different flavors of what Great Lakes shorelines are like, so I and it's just enchanting. So that's what I

Stuart Carlton 44:48
recommend or go and that's up on the up right so I encourage people

Dr. Ashley Elgin 44:51
That's right. Oh, it's so

Carolyn Foley 44:55
get your pasty up truly is magical though.

Stuart Carlton 45:01
Yeah, no it did really

Dr. Ashley Elgin 45:02
appreciate hearing that. Thank you.

Stuart Carlton 45:03
Yes, fantastic. Well Dr. Ashley Elgin research a column cop Elgin, I screwed up the whole thing. Quit make him stand. That's me. Ashley Elgin, Dr. Ashley Elgin, who's a research a color guest at the NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab in Muskegon, Michigan, home of food between Brett, thank you so much for coming on and teaching us all about the Great Lakes.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 45:31
This has been a lot of fun thanks

Stuart Carlton 45:58
Wow, that, I mean, I'm hate. We shouldn't start designating this right after because then there'll be an implication so I normally don't do this, but that might be an instant Hall of Fame right there.

Carolyn Foley 46:07
Ya know, she's super knowledgeable and just so approachable and just has, yeah, I mean, I really enjoyed the if you were blindfolded, would you be able to tell where you were? Yeah.

Stuart Carlton 46:21
Sounds like she has a better shot than than I do anyway. Yep. No, it's really good. And yeah, I guess the good guys for the one was like, I didn't know that I wanted to nerd out about muscles. But it turns out

Carolyn Foley 46:32
and Benton use in general Yeah. And I guess, you know, one of the things like the you know, at one point we were reading The Death and Life of the Great Lakes but the discussion of moving stuff out to Lake Mead. You've

Stuart Carlton 46:45
never heard of it? No, definitely.

Carolyn Foley 46:49
But yeah, anyway, it's really cool. Um, so yeah, and I mean, there's such a a key component of Great Lakes food webs now. Like the bento was is has always been important. We didn't even talk about di pariah we can bring her back on to talk about diaper i in the future that was like a benthic organisms that was formerly really important and has disappeared and stuff like that. Also

Stuart Carlton 47:15
be interesting to see how that goes through the 60 years or 100 years of samples and potentially,

Carolyn Foley 47:19
right, right, exactly, exactly. And knowing different stuff like that. Just thinking about all the datasets and stuff is really cool. Yeah,

Buoy 47:28
yeah. Oh, again, Stewart.

Stuart Carlton 47:30
Oh, I'm sorry, Karolina missa. What? Why do I what I was saying was, yeah, again, like, it's important to fund the scientists and

Carolyn Foley 47:37
what the heck is that?

Stuart Carlton 47:38
Did you hear something? I don't know. I don't know. Maybe it's, you know, these. I'm not really good at like my software. So I sound like a robot type of voice or whatever, though. Let's see. No, I think we're good. Are we still recording?

Buoy 47:52
We are back.

Stuart Carlton 47:53
Wait a minute. We'll Matt, was that you? Yes. Carolyn? It's the buoys? Oh, well, in Michigan City buoy. How are you guys or girls are sentient, non gendered beings? How are you? How are you doing?

Buoy 48:07
We have no gender Stuart. But we are doing well.

Stuart Carlton 48:11
Well, that's wonderful. We haven't spoken with you in a couple of years. How has how has it been? So it's been a tough year for people? Right. And when we last spoke actually was just during the beginning of COVID. And you missed people out on the lakes. I remember now, how was the last year and change man? Are you lonely? Still? Or what's the deal?

Buoy 2 48:29
No, we're great now.

Carolyn Foley 48:30
Yeah, that's great that you're doing well. I guess you weathered everything. Okay. And things are coming around.

Buoy 48:36
We are actually about to go back into the lake. Is it that time of the year already? Yes. And we have some exciting new.

Stuart Carlton 48:45
Oh, I better know what it is actually. So listeners, as you may remember, currently, you probably remember this Michigan City got struck last year by a boat and our good friends a limo tech worked with us to fix up Michigan City, I think actually gotten like maybe a couple of sensor upgrades. Is that right? I imagine that is the exciting news. And that's that's really great.

Carolyn Foley 49:04
Yeah, and a lot of our stakeholders will be really excited about that, too.

Stuart Carlton 49:07
Yep, all the new stuff all the new data we can get.

Buoy 49:10
I am in much better shape this year. Thank you for asking. But we have even more exciting news.

Stuart Carlton 49:17
Okay, well, I'll tell you what, here's how we're going to do this and this never goes wrong. So don't worry, this always goes right. So we are going to here's what I'll do. You can announce your big news but buoys I'm going to do a drumroll. And then you announce your big news. And then we've I don't have a bump out but I've got the closest thing to a bump on which we recently created. So Alright, great. So we are going to do the drum roll. And then the big news. Here comes the drum roll

Buoy 49:48
it's a new Buoy.

Stuart Carlton 49:49
Buoy. Oh, hold on. What what a new Buoy, tell me what is tell me about this. Buoy. What is the deal here?

Chicago Pier Buoy 49:59
Hello. I am the Chicago pier buoy.

Stuart Carlton 50:01
Chicago pier buoy.

Carolyn Foley 50:03
That's really cool, because you know, for several years, we've been hoping to get some stuff right off of Chicago. So where do you actually hang out? Chicago boy, Chicago Pier which we are you off? Navy Pier? The big one? The big one.

Stuart Carlton 50:18
Whoa. That's amazing. So can you see when you go out? Will you be able to see like maybe here in Chicago? Are you going to be back closer or farther out?

Chicago Pier Buoy 50:27
Yes, I will be right there. Please don't run me over.

Stuart Carlton 50:32
You I'm looking at you. Now you're kind of a short one Chicago Booth. Because you're younger, you're just a different model of buoy.

Chicago Pier Buoy 50:38
Different model, improved tech, all the good stuff.

Stuart Carlton 50:41
That's fantastic. And I've heard so you're the Chicago buoy. A lot of people I've heard increasingly are referring to you as chewy. Is that right? Is that kind of your nickname among cognoscenti.

Chicago Pier Buoy 50:50
I would love to be called chewy.

Stuart Carlton 50:54
It's official. Official, chewy it is let's go back for our Whoo. That's great. Well, one thing you could do if you're worried about your height, and all honestly, I was thinking about this, we were actually just speaking with the brilliant Dr. Ashley Elgin, about muscles and try settings and stuff. So to increase your height, maybe you could let a bunch of muscles attached to you. And then that would sort of extend you up into the air a little bit. Have you considered that?

Chicago Pier Buoy 51:22
No, thank you. The other boys have told me how much they like Dr. Elgin, and I would rather not be covered in muscles.

Carolyn Foley 51:29
Well, that's, that's fair. That's fair. So Michigan City and Wilmot? Are you headed back out sometime soon.

Buoy 51:38
Yes, within the next few weeks, we will be back in our summer home.

Carolyn Foley 51:42
So perhaps by that by the time we are at our meetup in Grand Rapids, we will be able to be looking at buoy data. That would be really cool.

Buoy 51:52
We hope so. Nice to see you again, Stuart.

Stuart Carlton 51:56
Nice to see you too. Hey, then I'm really excited to talk with you all again into can't wait to see you out on the lake. Or at least see the data that you collect and the images and videos you send back while you're out on the lake

Carolyn Foley 52:07
and images because I do think that one of the upgrades that they've all gotten now is they all have images now. So that's really always nice to look at. So and also that was really weird to be interrupted by robotic bullies.

Stuart Carlton 52:21
Yeah, you know, it happens to me every now and again. But for me it's more like weird to be interrupted by celebrities regardless robot boom. Well, let's do the thing that

Carolyn Foley 52:38
teach me about the Great Lakes is brought to you by the fine people of Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant, we encourage you to check out the great work we do and I SCA grant.org and and ILA and secrets on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Teach me about the Great Lakes is produced by charters, Carolyn Foley, Megan Gunn and Randy miles. Ethan Chitty is our associate producer and fixer. Our super fun podcast artwork is by Joel Davenport. And the show was edited by the awesome twin Rose and I encourage you to check your workout and aspiring robot.com If you have a question or comment about the show, please email it to teach me about the great lakes@gmail.com or leave a message on our hotline and 765 Dash 496 IESG You can also follow the show on Twitter at Teach Great Lakes. Thanks for listening and keep reading those links

Dr. Ashley Elgin 53:28
just hearing the sweet rap

Stuart Carlton 53:31
for a second second verse because I was just really into it that day but we'll fade it out there. Now that that's a that's a crowded hole isn't even that song. It's an old like classic in the South.

Dr. Ashley Elgin 53:41
I studied crawdads for my master's research. I have a place my hell for crawdads as well.

Stuart Carlton 53:47
Yeah as you I have a place in my stomach that I think is largely because of crawdads

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