Students from the Station’s 2012 Algae in Freshwater Ecosystems class will soon have a scientific publication to their credit. The next issue of The Michigan Botanist will feature a summary of their algae survey of Lake of the Clouds and descriptions of three new diatom species they found.

"This place is magnificent"

During an off-season scouting trip through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Algae instructors Rex Lowe and Pat Kociolek visited the Porcupine Mountains State Park. When they saw the park’s Lake of the Clouds for the first time, it was a no brainer. “We looked at each other and said, ‘We have to bring a class here. This place is magnificent,’” says Lowe.

Lake of the Clouds had never been sampled for algae before. “When do students have an opportunity to explore something that nobody else in history has explored,” asks Lowe.

“It’s been a hallmark of this class for a long time – when I took it as a student and through today – that there’s a research experience with it,” says Kociolek. “It’s not teaching just about algae, but how to use these organisms to ask and answer questions.”

A marathon day of collecting

Working a 650-mile field trip into a 4-week class was a challenge. The class had only a day to do the sampling, and that included the hike down to the lake and back up. Mark Fate, a student in the class, said the students had a high degree of ownership over the project. They worked together to create the sampling plan. “We each had a zone within the lake. Each of us was responsible for sampling that part of the ecosystem.” Student Kevin Anderson even used a snorkel in deeper water to dive down and get samples off submerged logs.

After a marathon day of collecting, the class had hundreds of samples: green algae, blue-green algae, brown algae and diatoms. Back at the Station, students settled down at microscopes to identify the plant-like green and blue-green algae. Kociolek took the diatoms – microscopic organisms that encase their living parts in a delicate silica shell – to his home lab at the University of Colorado, where they were specially cleaned and prepared.  In the end, the survey yielded over 225 algal taxa, including 3 new species of diatoms.

Species named for former director

“What was really important for us was not only that they were new – three new species – but the characteristics of the species that we found at Lake of the Clouds were different than anything people had seen in the two genera in which these three species were placed,” says Kociolek. The group named one of the newly described organisms Brachysira gatesii, after former UMBS Director and current Douglas Lake resident, Dr. David Gates.

The class wrote up their discoveries in an article that was accepted for publication by The Michigan Botanist. Though Lowe and Kociolek are the senior contributors to the article, its authors will be listed alphabetically. This means Kevin Anderson is the first author.  “The opportunity for students to do something that no one else has ever done, to see things and describe things that no one has ever seen before, and write a scientific paper on it? It was a wonderful opportunity for us and for them,” says Lowe.