Bugs Below Zero

The goal of this project is to show avid trout fishers, teachers, and K-12 students the importance of winter stream food webs and how they can be involved in community science to contribute to stream conservation and winter ecology research.

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What is a trout stream?

Seems obvious, right? A stream with trout.

But it takes more than just flowing water to make a stream a trout stream. Trout need cold water to survive. Cooler water enables water to hold more oxygen. Forested areas along streams and rivers (known as riparian areas) provide shade and help to cool water. Such vegetated areas also help prevent erosion, filter pollutants, and provide food and shelter for fish and other aquatic organisms.  

Duluth, Minnesota, is home to 16 designated trout streams. Despite their challenges, North Shore streams have two things in their favor. First is their cool, northern, lake-moderated climate. Second is the deep-forest bank cover, which shades the streams and keeps them cool. These influences keep these streams just cool enough to support trout.

Rocky gorge of waterfall with trees along top of gorge
Gooseberry Falls, Minnesota. Image credit: M.Thoms

Project description

The goal of this project is to show avid trout fishers, teachers and K-12 students what species are capable of existing only within a narrow temperature range (called cold stenothermal species or CSS) and how they and other community scientists can be involved in their conservation and related research. Our goal is to improve scientific understanding of cold stenothermal species (CSS) and their impact on Minnesota resources, and increase community opportunities to engage in scientific research. We hope to reach at least 100 participants through our workshops, and by using teachers as a conduit to their classrooms, that initial reach should multiply. At the conclusion of each workshop, we will ask participants to complete an evaluation questionnaire and follow-up by email with individual participants to determine their interest and resource needs to participate as community volunteers.

Related content:

Project activities:

  1. The Trout Streams in Winter project team developed and conducted three hands-on, interactive events intended to help build human capital and demonstrate the importance of CSS (cold stenothermal species) in the winter sport fishing industry and to the health of trout streams. The three events included:
    • A trout and invertebrate workshop held on Feb. 22, 2020, in St. Paul, Minnesota for members of Trout Unlimited Chapters in Minnesota and Wisconsin. 2020-02-22 trout and invertebrate workshop flyer.pdf. Credit: Amy Schrank.
    • A streamside workshop on winter stream macroinvertebrates held on Feb. 27, 2021, at Browns Creek near Stillwater, Minnesota. Workshop attendants included students in the Mounds Park Academy Science Club.
    • A virtual presentation to the University of Minnesota Master Naturalist Program on Feb. 26, 2021. The presentation was titled, “Bugs Below Zero: How citizen volunteers can improve understanding of stream food webs in the winter.”

Why Minnesota Sea Grant?

This project supports Sea Grant's mission to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine, and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment.

What have we done lately?

  1. The Bugs Below Zero project team received funding from the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The funded project began on July 1, 2022, and ends on June 30, 2025. The official title of this project is "Bugs Below Zero: Engaging Citizens in Winter Research."
    • The project is led by University of Minnesota Associate Professor of Agricultural, Food, and Natural Resource Communication Rebecca Swenson. Co-PIs include University of Minnesota Professor of Entomology Leonard (Len) Ferrington, University of Minnesota CHS Digital Media Instructor Troy McKay, and Minnesota Sea Grant Extension Program Leader; Fisheries and Aquaculture Extension Educator Amy Schrank.
  2. The project team hosted their first two community events in December 2022.
    • The first of the two community events occurred at the Bell Museum on Dec. 10, 2022. The event included 1) a demonstration with live aquatic macroinvertebrates and a living stream, 2) a station where families could learn about the importance of winter stream food webs in Minnesota and help construct a food web, and 3) a caddisfly decoration station where kids and families learned about caddisfly life cycles and then could decorate their own caddisfly drawing. Visit the Bugs Below Zero project website for educational resources from this event.
    • The second of the two community events was a webinar, "Macroinvertebrate Mania," that was shared with K-12 teachers and classrooms in schools in Minnesota.

Participants & audience

The target audiences for this project include avid trout fishers, teachers, K-12 students, and anyone else interested in learning more about this topic.

Funding

Support for this project is provided by a grant from the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment. 


Program Staff

Blond woman with mountains in the background
Extension Program Leader (2023); Fisheries and Aquaculture Extension Educator