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Where’s the food? Study’s aim is amphipods

By MWA, 10/26/17, 12:30PM CDT

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Minnesota’s voters have passed a couple of constitutional amendments that dedicate money to natural resources. Most recently, it was the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. In the late 1980s, they approved creation of the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which directs some of the proceeds from the state lottery to natural resources and conservation projects and research.

A 17-member panel of citizens and legislators called the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources recommends how more than $40 million per year from the trust fund should be spent, with the Legislature having final say over allocations.

The LCCMR last week made its initial recommendations for consideration during the 2018 legislative session, and there’s at least one project that should be of particular interest to duck hunters. It’s called: “Restoring wetland invertebrates to revive wildlife habitat.” The DNR study’s aim is to assess why amphipods are missing from prairie pothole wetlands and figure out ways to restore them.

“Amphipods are 3-inch wetland invertebrates that are key food resources for salamanders, fish, water birds, ducks, and geese,” according to the project proposal. “Within the past 30 years, amphipods have substantially declined across the Prairie Pothole Region, and particularly in Minnesota, for reasons unknown. We will document the habitat characteristics that allow amphipods to thrive and assess the stocking of amphipods to help them successfully re-establish. Amphipods (also called ‘scuds’) are critical wildlife food, biological indicators of water quality and ecosystem health, and cherished by duck hunters and anglers. Amphipod decline has been noted in Minnesota, and the loss of amphipods has been blamed as a primary reason for decline in scaup and duck harvests.”

The three goals of the project, according to the proposal, are to:

• Identify the habitat characteristics of super-wetlands (those that still have extremely high amphipod abundance) that make them of great wildlife value. This information will outline why amphipods are in decline and determine how to restore and manage wetlands towards high-quality habitats that promote amphipod and duck use.

• Understand the perceptions and values of stakeholders who engage in amphipod stocking in wetlands. Questioning people with stocking experience will allow us a special opportunity to understand the efficacy of the stocking practice.

• Document the effects of amphipod stocking to improve understanding of the habitat requirements and the utility of stocking. Experimental stockings will enable some control over factors that might influence success, such as size of wetland and fish presence, and further aid in understanding the habitat requirements.