On Saturday, July 19th, freshwater ecologist and emeritus professor Dr. Mark Oswood came to share his expertise in the Highland Wonders series. This event aimed to increase our community’s understanding of stream ecology, and how riparian zones and streams interact to support and affect populations of aquatic insects. Connections were made between populations of aquatic insects and what their presence indicates about water quality.
The event was well attended and began with an indoor presentation in the Chesaw Community Building, which offered an explanation of biological classification, some basics of stream ecology, and how streams take their cues from the land. Combining a keen sense of humor with a well-prepared PowerPoint presentation, Mark held the group’s attention and increased the community’s awareness of, as he quoted E.O. Wilson, “the small things that run the world.” He went on to say, “Many of you are bird watchers. But these small things are the nuts and bolts, and the cogs in the machinery, that make life on earth happen. What I want you to get out of this is that you could do this as a hobby, as an avocation, just like bird watching.”
Mark set the group at ease with an open approach based on understanding the function of aquatic insects and the role that they play in highland streams. “Given that these things are so hard to put names on, maybe we don’t need to put names on them right away,” he said. “We can ask what they do. This is the uniquely American thing: when you meet someone you ask them, ‘What do you do?’ Well you can do that with invertebrates too… you can shake a tarsal claw and ask them ‘What do you do?’ and instead of having a name, you get a function. With all the food that comes into streams, we will ask, ‘Do you eat dead leaves? Do you eat green slime? How do you do it?’” The presentation also discussed the role of salmon as a major gift from the sea, and the interconnectedness of the trophic levels. Mark summed it up with the adage, “No bugs, no fish!”
Mark Oswood lives in the Wenatchee area, retired from the department of Biology and Wildlife and the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with a research specialty in freshwater ecology. Mark focused mainly on running waters (streams and rivers), with an emphasis on aquatic entomology (the scientific study of insects) and trophic structure of stream ecosystems. He has taught limnology (freshwater science), ecology of streams and rivers, aquatic entomology, as well as introductory biology. Most of his research was on ecology of stream insects, especially biogeography, and decomposition of organic matter. Mark has applied experience studying the effects of heavy metals from mining on streams, and has a side specialty in statistical analysis.Throughout his career, Mark has taught a wide variety of “introduction to stream ecology” events in classrooms, Elder Hostels, and for government agencies, fly-fishing groups, and conservation organizations. “Seeing the diversity of invertebrates that live in streams can be analogous to a first experience looking at tide pool organisms,” he says. “Plus, aquatic insects are a stream’s way of turning green algae and brown leaves into fish food.”
Thank you, Mark, for your generous contribution of time and energy in preparing for and offering this excellent learning opportunity for our community!