Last Wednesday at Willow Creek was a day of exploration for students from Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School. There was no planting, coffee bagging, caging or weeding – we only had one task at hand; to explore all the incredible wildlife utilizing the habitat in and around Willow Creek. Students learned how wildlife we discovered are connected in the foodchain at Willow Creek and each plays a very important role in the delicate balance of the ecosystem.
First off, students learned all about freshwater mussels that are living in Willow Creek. There are eight freshwater mussel species in the Pacific Northwest and Willow Creek is home to two; the Oregon floater and California floater.
Students learned that freshwater mussels have a pretty incredible life cycle. They start off as tiny tiny mussels called glochidia and attach to the gills of several fish species. This part of their life cycle is super important to the mussel’s ability to travel all over the watershed, because as adults they cannot move very far. Once the glochidia grow large enough they fall off of the gills. There presence at Willow Creek is pretty great as they are really sensitive animals and their presence also indicates the presence of fish. The particulars of which fish species that glochidia uses is still being discovered and studied by scientists but we did fish a dead Common Carp next to some live mussels. Students also learned that waste products of the freshwater mussels is an important food source for macroinvertebrates, our next area of study for the day!
Students were led by Ms. Hall and Mr. Gibson in a leaf pack dissection and kick net sampling of macroinvertebrates.
Students learned that the presence or absence of these aquatic insects can be a good indication of the water quality at Willow Creek. Macroinvertebrate surveys can give us a holistic overview of the water quality. If we were to test dissolved oxygen, temp, turbidity and nutrient levels instead, we would only have a snapshot of data telling us of the water quality conditions of that one day and time. Macros however, can live in the water column for several years and they don’t travel far. So they are impacted on a daily basis by all those parameters. Students discovered leeches, worms, snails, mayfly and damselfly nymphs.
Students also learned that the macroinvertebrates are an important food source for another creature that was prevalent throughout the site; Rough Skinned Newts!
Both Ms. Hall and Meghan(SOLVE) have been working extensively at Willow Creek for over seven years and have never seen a newt or this amount of wildlife at the site. We both think that all this new wildlife is a testament to all the incredible hard work that Rachel Carson Environmental Middle School has achieved to enhance the riparian habitat surrounding Willow Creek. Ms. Hall even mentioned it’s hard to even get to the water to sample because all of the native plant life! And that is an excellent problem because when we first started at Willow Creek it was a Reed Canary Grass desert!
Thanks so much to each and every student over the years who worked so hard to help the wildlife at Willow Creek!