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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbus, Ohio » Soil Drainage Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #344488

Research Project: Agricultural Water Management in Poorly Drained Midwestern Agroecosystems

Location: Soil Drainage Research

Title: Effects of outdoor education stream classes on substrate movement and macroinvertebrate colonization

item BOSSLEY, JON - Mount Vernon Nazarene University
item Smiley, Peter - Rocky

Submitted to: Journal of Freshwater Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 11/5/2017
Publication Date: 11/30/2017
Publication URL:
Citation: Bossley, J.P., Smiley, P.C. 2017. Effects of outdoor education stream classes on substrate movement and macroinvertebrate colonization. Journal of Freshwater Ecology. 32(1):727-740.

Interpretive Summary: Stakeholders often repeatedly use the same location within agricultural streams for their educational outreach efforts to teach students how to measure water quality and promote a conservation ethic towards the management of agricultural streams. The repeated use of the same site has the potential to cause disturbance that could decrease the diversity and abundance of aquatic macroinvertebrates and subsequently decrease student educational experiences. Yet, the impact of stream classes on aquatic macroinvertebrates and student educational experiences has not been evaluated. Over a four year period we documented the usage of stream classes at resident outdoor educational centers in Ohio, the demographics and behavioral traits of students in stream classes at a selected resident outdoor education center in central Ohio, and the impacts of repeatedly using the same location in an agricultural stream for stream classes on macroinvertebrates and student educational experiences. Our interdisciplinary assessment found that: 1) stream classes are widely offered by residential outdoor education centers in Ohio; 2) a typical class at the focal residential outdoor education center consisted of > 20 students who spent at least 20 minutes disturbing the stream substrate by wading and collecting macroinvertebrates; 3) short term macroinvertebrate responses indicated no effect of stream classes, but long term responses at multiple sites indicated repeatedly using the same site would reduce macroinvertebrate abundance and diversity and subsequently decrease the quality of student educational experiences. Our results indicate that stakeholders who use agricultural streams for educational outreach efforts should avoid repeatedly using the same site, but instead use multiple sites and rotate class usage among them to avoid negatively impacting stream quality and student educational experiences. These results will assist state agencies, federal agencies, non-profit groups, and consulting agencies involved with conservation and management of agricultural watersheds.

Technical Abstract: Environmental education and stream quality monitoring overlap in stream classes conducted at resident outdoor education (ROE) programs. ROE programs frequently use the same stream locations for their stream classes. The repeated use of the same location can potentially degrade aquatic macroinvertebrate communities and subsequently educational experiences provided by stream classes. We evaluated the impacts of environmental education stream classes on stream quality and students’ educational experiences by conducting an interdisciplinary study consisting of three phases: 1) an audit of ROE programs in Ohio; 2) quantification of the characteristics of stream classes at a focal ROE center in Ohio; and 3) short and long term assessments of aquatic macroinvertebrate responses to stream classes within an agricultural stream in central Ohio. We found that 82% of ROE programs in Ohio offer stream classes. A typical stream class at the focal ROE program in central Ohio consisted of 21.1 students who spent 24.4 minutes in the water searching for aquatic macroinvertebrates with nets. Our short term assessment indicated that ROE stream classes did not impact stream macroinvertebrates. In contrast, our long term assessment revealed that macroinvertebrate abundance, variety, and stream quality scores were greater in an undisturbed riffle than one used regularly by ROE stream classes. Our results indicated that ROE centers can improve stream quality and students’ educational experience in ROE stream classes by maintaining multiple sites for stream classes and rotating class usage among them.