Sawyer Seminar Graduate Fellowship winner Jane Mazack shares her connections with insects, water and the Water Resources Science program
What experiences in your life drive your studies? Was the path to your current research straight, or winding?
I grew up in western Michigan, but every summer my family would load up the car, pick a destination, and make a road trip across the country. Usually, the main destination was a national park – we traveled to the Grand Canyon, the Smoky Mountains, and Glacier National Park, to name a few. I was always fascinated by the beauty, diversity, and wildlife that surrounded me on those trips. At the same time, science classes were always my favorite in school. So when I began college, I naturally picked biology as my major.
Even though I knew I wanted to study biology, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my major until I took a 3-week stream ecology course in the middle of winter at the Au Sable Institute in northern Michigan. There, and at Calvin College, I had the opportunities to study aquatic insects in both lake and stream habitats, in winter and in summer. Those experiences gave me an interest in and a desire to study stream ecology. When I applied to graduate school, I mentioned that desire – I wanted to study streams, even it was in the middle of winter. It just so happened that Len Ferrington and Bruce Vondracek were looking for a student to study winter stream dynamics, and I was a great fit.
You seem to have begun your college career with the study of insects and later veered into stream ecology; how does water relate to your work with macroinvertebrates?
Macroinvertebrates are found around the world, from Minnesota to Mongolia to the Arctic. Despite the huge differences between these places, aquatic macroinvertebrates have one thing in common – they all require water to complete their life cycles. Macroinvertebrates often compose a key part of aquatic food webs, and can provide significant biomass to higher-level predators such as fish. Additionally, macroinvertebrates are often used as bioindicators of aquatic system health. IBI (index of biotic integrity) scores are often calculated from macroinvertebrate data and used as a surrogate for ecosystem quality. There is also a long history of using macroinvertebrates to measure the influence of pollution. Many species have established tolerance values to stress; low-tolerance species are primarily found in pristine environoments.
My dissertation research focuses on the winter dynamics of macroinvertebrates in trout streams in southeastern Minnesota. In addition to quantifying invertebrate community composition, I specifically look at the emergence dynamics of winter-active invertebrate species. In southeastern Minnesota, groundwater inputs prevent streams from freezing over in the winter, thereby allowing for emergence from the water's surface year-round. I have found that water temperature significantly influences the winter macroinvertebrate dynamics in these streams.
What do you hope to accomplish after you receive your degree?
I hope to work in an agency or consulting position that allows me to continue researching and working with macroinvertebrates or streams. I'd also like to be involved with the water-related dynamics within my community.
What brought you to the WRS program? What advice would you have for new students?
I was attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the WRS program, as well as the specific opportunity of my dissertation research. I would encourage new students to take advantage of the interdisciplinary research and classes within the program – ecology, chemistry, hydrology, and policy all influence aquatic systems. I would also advise that new students take advantage of the program's locations: the Twin Cities and Duluth are surrounded by water, so what better place to study it?