Wading back into Sunnylands’ lakes, streams for a wetlands check-up

Monday, March 23, 2015

Michaeleen Gallahger, education and environmental director, and Danielle Sombati, education programs coordinator, collect data from the lakes on the historic estate.

The lakes and streams on the historic estate got a check-up March 6 as part of the ongoing exploration of the ecological health of the estate’s wetlands. Michaeleen Gallahger, education and environmental director, and Danielle Sombati, education programs coordinator, waded into the waters to collect data on the lakes’ local wildlife, especially migratory dragonflies and damselflies, which are important to local and national ecosystems.

Sunnylands is monitoring the water quality and life-cycles of the wetlands inhabitants in collaboration with the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP), an organization of experts, academic institutions, and agencies from the United States, Mexico, and Canada.

Last summer Celeste Mazzacano, aquatic conservation director and staff scientist at the Xerces Society and project coordinator for MDP, visited Sunnylands and conducted research on the lakes and streams with Gallagher. Mazzacano noted high a diversity of invertebrates and other aquatic wildlife — a sign of a healthy and flourishing ecosystem. Based on the initial findings, the education department designed a method to continue research on Sunnylands’ wetlands.

Gallagher and Sombati selected ten lake and stream sites on the historic grounds to revisit once a month for data collection. The process consists of general observation of water surfaces and shorelines, net sweeps through wetland foliage, and scraping the bottom of shallow water ways. Fast and slow moving water sites will be researched to gather an understanding of Sunnylands’ aquatic dwellers, including dragonflies, damselflies, midges, snails, and mayflies.

“This is only the second time collecting samples,” Gallahger said. “We found a high level of biodiversity and clearly the odonatas — dragonflies and damselflies — are populating our water systems.”

The education department will monitor the estate’s lakes and streams month to month and add the information they collect to Xerces’ and MDP’s databases. In upcoming seasons, Sunnylands will invite students from local high schools to the estate’s water sites to participate in hands-on field research and data collection. The program is expected to be available for school participation in the 2015-16 school year.