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Good and Bad News about the Great Lakes

Good and Bad News about the Great Lakes

Clean Wisconsin

Is there any good news about clean water?

Yes. But first, the bad.

Lake Erie is experiencing unprecedentedly intense algae blooms, and Lake Michigan might not be far behind. The worst algae bloom in history severely contaminated the waters of western Lake Erie this summer, prompting concerns about whether the decades-long effort to clean up the lake may be undone by agricultural runoff and the spread of invasive species.

Lake Erie is the first line of attack, ahead of Lake Michigan, for the enormously harmful combination of polluted runoff and invasive species.The National Wildlife Federation released a report Oct. 12 documenting new and massive ecosystem breakdowns in the Great Lakes caused by interactions between excessive agricultural pollution and invasive zebra and quagga mussels. The report details the links between enormous algal blooms in Lake Erie that threaten the health of people and wildlife and a 95 percent decline in fish biomass in Lake Huron

Things are so bad that they’ve garnered the attention of the U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, convened a hearing to discuss the causes and impacts of nutrient pollution in the U.S. and various approaches toward mitigating its effects. Sen. Cardin observed that, “Despite the protections of the Clean Water Act, the problem nationwide continues to grow… From the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and from Long Island Sound to San Francisco Bay, we must address the pollution in America’s waters by dealing with all the pollution … through comprehensive efforts.”

This is a crisis in the Great Lakes system, and soon may be a crisis for Lake Michigan. There are many ways to approach a crisis.

Florida is illustrating the wrong way to do it. Most recently, Rich Budell, director of the office of Agricultural Water Policy at Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, criticized nutrient regulations at the hearing Sen. Cardin convened, despite acknowledging the nutrient pollution problems in Florida. Mr. Budell joins the wrong direction club with his fellow Floridian, Rep. John Mica, who introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to gut the Clean Water Act.

President John F. Kennedy said, “In times of crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.”

Here is the good news—in the face of these horrible threats, Wisconsin is coming together. We aren’t fighting regulations on behalf of some industries at the expense of everyone else. We’re working together to find manageable solutions. Wisconsinites came together last year to pass an innovative set of rules to address phosphorus in our waterways. These rules let permittees avoid expensive technology costs in favor of finding cost-effective ways to restore water quality in the watershed. Throughout Wisconsin, permittees will be able to fund clean-up efforts from our largest source of nutrient pollution—agricultural runoff. Doing so will clean up our waters and allow us to avoid expensive phosphorus-control technology.

By working together to find solutions in these troubling environmental times, we can all look forward to a future of cleaner lakes.

For more information, click here.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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