What’s the Big Idea? —Using Citizen Science to Help Track Aquatic Food Webs of the Grand Canyon


Hi, my name is Ted Kennedy. I am a research
ecologist with the Grand Canyon Monitoring Research Center in Flagstaff, Arizona. So
my group did some synoptic food web studies from 2006 to 2009. Where we described food
webs throughout Grand Canyon…looking at algae, and detritus, and the invertebrates
that eat those materials and then the fishes too. And what, what fishes are eating, and
what we found was that aquatic insects were key prey items everywhere, just got me thinking.
Are there other ways we can keep track of these animals besides professional scientists
just going and collecting samples ourselves and, and that’s where I got this idea for
the citizen science based project. So, we came up with a simple light trap device that
catches the adult life stages of these insects after they’ve emerged from the river and working
with professional river guides and private boaters and also on our own science trips,
we have these folks deploy these traps each night, while they are in camp. Using standard
protocols, so we are able to keep track of, of the adult like stages, which tells us a
lot about the animals and the scope of the data set we are able to acquire is much, much
greater than we could do ourselves. So, so this image that I’m showing here, all of these
dots are representing collections by these various boaters, so we are getting seven hundred
to a thousand samples per year. The scope of what we could do on our own with river
trips would be one tenth of that. Because again, the Grand Canyon is a national treasure
and you’ve got endemic endangered fishes living here and we need to understand how these food
webs and these ecosystems functions and if we can do that, then we can better manage
them. Well, I grew up in the west. I grew up in California and was always fascinated
by the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River. I grew up in Los Angeles and so water and
the west, you know those…that’s a big issue in the west. And I ended up traveling, going
out to Minnesota for my PhD work, but I ended up doing my dissertation in Nevada in a place
in the Mojave Desert, looking at Salt Cedar and how that non-native tree, it affects,
you know stream food webs. So looking at interactions between terrestrial food linkages basically,
and when I saw this job advertised back in ’02, I jumped at the chance. You know to work
in the Grand Canyon and on these food webs here and, and to do work that was…you know…very
applied. Right? Where we are trying to improve the health of the river and to understand
the factors that are driving fish populations. That was just…really appealing to me. To
get to, to do fundamental, basic science. But then to have an avenue for presenting
those results directly to do the folks that are making decisions about how the dam is
managed. That was a very exciting opportunity for me.

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