Nearly a quarter million ecological specimens collected from 38 ponds at the E.S. George Reserve between 1996 and 2012 have been donated to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology collections.

The ecological vouchers include aquatic vertebrates (tadpoles, salamander larvae, fish) and invertebrates such as insects, mollusks, and crayfish. The collection was recently moved from the George Reserve, Pinckney, Mich., to the UMMZ’s Biodiversity Research Center at Varsity Drive, Ann Arbor.  

“Earl Werner's specimens represent biodiversity vouchers for his large and influential body of published research on E.S. George Reserve pond ecosystems,” said Professor Diarmaid Ó Foighil, director and curator of the UMMZ. Werner is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and director of the ESGR.

“These studies provide a high resolution understanding of ecological interactions in these ponds during the late 20th and early 21st centuries,” continued Ó Foighil. “Placing the voucher specimens in the UMMZ collection enhances the long-term scientific value of Werner's research by making these specimens available to future generations of scientists.

“We know that the planet's climate is changing rapidly and that most projections envisage profound ecological and biotic turnover by the end of the century. Tracking the scope of that change in natural ecosystems requires high-quality baseline data through time. Thanks to Werner's published body of work, we have that data for the E.S. George Reserve for this point in time. The added value of placing the voucher specimens in the UMMZ collections is that this will enable future scientists to access the latent late 20th and early 21st century ecological and genetic data these specimens embody, using research methodologies that have yet to be invented. In research terms, we have assembled a low-cost, highly accessible time portal.

“One of the advantages that EEB has as a department is having a variety of distinct resources that can be combined to yield value-added outcomes, e.g., the E.S George Reserve and the UMMZ,” Ó Foighil continued. “The former is a marvelous research setting for long-term ecological studies situated within easy commuting distance of central campus. The latter is a world-class research collection that spans almost 200 years of regional and global biodiversity. Their positive interaction is exemplified by the incorporation of Werner's multi-decade samples of E.S. George Reserve freshwater organisms into the UMMZ's formal, databased collections.”

“Typically studies of ecological communities are conducted over short time periods at small spatial scales, or are snapshot descriptions of patterns in these communities,” said Werner. “It is well-recognized among ecologists that long-term data on sets of spatially connected ecological communities likely will reveal important insights concerning community dynamics not evident from smaller scale studies. However, such data are exceedingly rare. The ESGR collections represent the work of a large number of individuals dedicated to building such a data set. The samples from this program originate from 37-38 ponds on the ESGR that now span 17 contiguous years (1996-2012). The ponds are sampled twice annually (in late May and late July) to capture both spring and summer breeding amphibians and macroinvertebrates. The core data set consists of quantitative estimates of densities of 14 species of amphibians, 172 species of macroinvertebrates, and seven species of fish in these ponds. The latter two categories include all major predators of the amphibians as well as major vectors (snails) of many of their parasites.

“The ESGR amphibian and macroinvertebrate survey is unprecedented in its combined breadth, intensity, and duration,” continued Werner. “There are very few comparable data sets that enable ecologists to examine metacommunity dynamics on a landscape over time scales where climatic conditions, ecological succession on the landscape, etc., can be expected to influence these communities. For example, we documented precipitous changes in community composition and dynamics of ESGR ponds associated with an El Niño related drought occurring roughly between 1998 and 2006. These changes revealed how novel interactions of processes across different scales can lead to sharp transitions in ecological systems. Such transitions are of critical importance to conservation biology as climate changes and habitats are fragmented. The collection of the ESGR data has been supported by several Long-term Research in Environmental Biology (LTREB) grants from the National Science Foundation.”  

The data collection was accomplished by a large number of investigators and volunteers over the years. The core group was composed of Werner (University of Michigan) and former graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, whose current affiliations are listed here, specifically David Skelly (Yale University), Rick Relyea (University of Pittsburgh), Kerry Yurewicz (Plymouth State University), Michael Benard (Case Western Reserve University) and Shannon McCauley (University of Toronto) and more recently some of the students of these individuals (e.g., Jason Hoverman, Purdue University).

“This group assembles annually at the ESGR for a week in May and one in July to sample the ponds, and generally has been assisted by a large number of volunteers each year, typically graduate students and undergraduates resident in the labs of the above faculty,” continued Werner. “The lion’s share of the work, however, ultimately fell on Chris Davis, who processed all the samples, identified and measured specimens, and was responsible for all of the data entry and data management for the project. Thus, these critical functions were done in a consistent manner over the period when the samples were collected.”

Greg Schneider, collections manager for the Amphibians and Reptiles Division at UMMZ, supervised the incorporation of the collection into UMMZ holdings.

Featured in Record Update, October 9, 2012