Author: Heather Fenyk

Luci in the Sky with Diamonds

Article and photo by Joe Mish

Another magic moment revealed itself in a face to face encounter with a deer fawn enjoying the cool water of the South Branch. The pattern and contrast of spots on the fawn is reminiscent of the firefly spectacle and becomes a walking billboard for the upcoming bioluminescence night show.

This year mid to late June showcased a bumper crop of fireflies or lightning bugs as they are often referred. Who hasn’t seen a lightning bug flitting around their yard? Big deal! Well it is a big deal if you see the intense display of luminescence played out in a grassy pasture surrounded by tall trees on a moonless night.

Beginning just before dark, with a growing intensity, the concentrated fireflies put on a dynamic light show guaranteed to hold your attention until the curtain begins to fall at around 11 pm. Strangely enough the moving flashes of bright yellow light contrast against the black darkness to steal away any perception of depth or relative position. Stare long enough and you might lose your balance. The scale, intensity and contrast of this visual phenomenon does much to anesthetize any thoughts of logic and scientific understanding from creeping in to spoil the moment. The experience is heightened by our primal esteem of fire and light to reflect upon our souls as we surrender to the magical display of luminescence.

Fireflies are the stuff of childhood memories. Many a captive luminary flashed a desperate signal through the clear glass of a Skippy peanut butter jar. Our fascination soon ended with puberty to become an unremarkable footnote in our adult lives.

Read on and you might want to salute every time you see a lightning bug.

Fireflies belong to the family Lampyridae, so even without knowing Latin, the assignment makes sense. It was about 1948 that the luminescence was isolated but unusable until years later when sufficient quantities of the material could be produced. The firefly’s light is created by using a combination of luciferin, an enzyme named luciferase and ATP. Lucifer in Latin can be translated as ‘light giver’. Lucid is a word that means clear and derives from the Latin word for ‘light’. To the uninitiated luciferin sounds like something the devil had a hand in. Amazingly when compared to a misnamed “light bulb” almost all of the lightning bug’s light energy goes to creating light while the “light bulb” is said to produce 10% light and 90% heat.

Typically poisonous plants and animals are brightly colored to warn away potential predators. So it is with lightning bugs that they contain a substance similar to digitalis. Veterinary journals report many exotic lizards kept as pets die each year when owners try to vary the pet’s diet by feeding them lightning bugs

Worldwide there are many species of fireflies. Our local bugs display the luminescence as adults and as larvae. In fact the larvae are predatory and eat earthworms by injecting a mix of enzymes and probably anesthetic into the worm and then sucking out the blended juices. Often referred to as glow worms, firefly larvae will intensify their light when stressed not unlike you turning red in anger or embarrassment.

Female fireflies climb onto tall grasses or shrubs as they cannot fly. All the flashers cavorting in the night sky are the males. When a female finds a flash pattern she likes she signals to the male in similar fashion to ‘come on down’.

Recently with the advent of genomic research and the clinical application of gene therapy, bioluminescence has been recruited to make stunning inroads into medical research. Attaching a bioluminescent gene to a cancer cell allows researchers to follow the progression of cancer cells from the moment they are injected into animal models. Up until now, researchers would have to wait months after inoculating animals with cancer cells to see the manifestation of clinical or laboratory effects. The incubation period for tumor production was a blind spot that has now been revealed with the help of the common firefly. Immediately the distribution of cancer cells can be followed as it spreads through the body and does battle with our rather effective immune system. Immediately the effectiveness of cancer therapies can be tracked and adjusted or changed.

These light producing cells can be attached to bacteria as well in the study of anti-infective drugs. Imagine a visual image of bacteria spreading throughout an animal’s body, injecting medication and seeing immediately the effectiveness of the trial drug and dosage.

Last of all consider the myth surrounding the old favorite Beatles tune, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Most Beatle’s fans agree the title of the song came from the Fab Four’s immersion in the psychedelic drug culture. I, however, contend the song was named after watching a mid summer’s spectacle of lightning bugs flashing in the sky like diamonds courtesy of Luci- ferin and Luci-ferase.

Author Joe Mish has been running wild in New Jersey since childhood when he found ways to escape his mother’s watchful eyes. He continues to trek the swamps, rivers and thickets seeking to share, with the residents and visitors, all of the state’s natural beauty hidden within full view. To read more of his writing and view more of his gorgeous photographs visit Winter Bear Rising, his wordpress blog. Joe’s series “Nature on the Raritan, Hidden in Plain View” runs monthly as part of the LRWP “Voices of the Watershed” series. Writing and photos used with permission from the author. Contact jjmish57@msn.com. See more articles and photos at winterbearrising.wordpress.com.

The Influence of Landscape Context on Native Plant Species in Stormwater Detention Basins

By Kate Douthat, third year PhD candidate in the graduate program of Ecology and Evolution at Rutgers. Kate’s research is examining the plant communities that have formed in urban stormwater systems. She is interested in the extensive stormwater infrastructure network in New Jersey and how we can use plants to improve water quality. Kate loves to share her enthusiasm about plants and to teach the public about the stormwater systems in our backyards. She has agreed to develop a series of informative blogs for the LRWP’s readers and will also lead our #booksfortheriver book club starting Fall 2019. You can see more of her writing about plants and water resources at katedouthatecology.com

This map shows the location of each site and the percent native species in each basin. The map shows a trend for lower percentage native species at more northern sites, so location matters!

During the summer of 2018, I surveyed plants in stormwater detention basins throughout an urban and suburban area of central New Jersey. This study is aimed at improving water quality and wetland habitat by choosing the right plants for the job. Selecting appropriate sites for renovations and the choosing the best species to plant depends on many factors. Two important factors are the plants’ ability to survive in basin conditions and the natural tendency for certain plants to colonize basins regardless of what we plant there. One question I am addressing is how survival and colonization change depending on the surrounding landscape. Because catch basins at various locations receive different amounts of pollution and seeds, I expect to see different plants in different settings.

How does the surrounding landscape influence the plant community in a stormwater detention basin?

The adjacent land use and land cover influence wetland properties, including plant communities. Land cover is the type of stuff on the site, such as forest or roads. Land use is the activity that humans do on the site. Both factors affect plant communities. The surrounding landscape influences the plant community by the quantity and type of seeds available and by dispersal routes. One of the basic ways that plant communities are quantified is by the number of different species on a site, termed “species richness.” Paved roads around a wetland affect plant species richness and roads are particularly important dispersal routes for invasive plants. The proportion of native plants increases with forest cover in the surrounding area.

In this analysis, I am using the land use and land cover within 500 meters of each catch basin to explore relationships between adjacent land and the proportion of native species in the basin.  I used a computer program to do exploratory regression. That technique takes each possible explanatory factor and tests the strength of the relationship between that factor and the factor of interest. In this case, the factors are land cover types and the percent native species at a site. I found that more adjacent commercial and service area leads to a lower percentage of native species in a catch basin. Transportation and utility areas, such as power line right-of-ways, also contributes to a lower percentage of native species. On the other hand, the percent of native species increases when a basin is surrounded by recreation area and wooded wetlands.

The following series of maps shows the areas around each catch basin. The maps are arranged from lowest percent native species to highest. In some cases there were two basins next two each other, so there are two numbers shown for the percent native species in each one individually. The land cover types with the strongest relationship to percent native species are colored. The reds and pinks are commercial or transitional areas, the light blues are wetlands, and the green is recreation area. (The names in the legends are the specific technical terms.)

The maps show that the amount of commercial or recreation area that surrounds a catch basin makes a big difference to the plants that live there. This result can help land managers decide which restoration goals are appropriate in different settings. For example, by the roadside, where there are more non-native species, a basin may be redesigned to filter pollution. Non-native species can perform this service as well as native species. However, in a park or recreation setting, where there are relatively more native species, a catch basin may be restored to include rare and sensitive native species. This analysis still needs fine tuning, but shows promise as a way to predict plant community characteristics based on the surrounding landscape.

Summer 2019 water-themed reading list

Happy Summer! Save for on-going water quality monitoring, the LRWP is taking a break from events and meetings through August and the long hot summer days. This will give us plenty of time to dig into our water themed summer reading list inspired by Popular Science and the Strand bookstore. Happy reading – see you in September!

CHANGING WATERS

WATER TRAVEL, ADVENTURE and SPORT

KIDS BOOKS

WATER SCIENCE

Popular Science and The Strand Bookstore teamed up to develop a great water-themed Summer reading list.

Raritan River Pathogen Results for June 27, 2019

Water quality results are in for Thursday June 27, and with the recent dry spell we’ve had the news looks pretty good for a change! Hooray!

Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. 
Suitable levels should not exceed 104 cfu/100mL. We are reporting on enterococci at six non-swimming beach public access sites along the Raritan River. See here for more information on our Summer 2019 monitoring program.

Enterococcus results for June 27, 2019:

Site Name Time sampled Enterococcus
(CFU)
Fecal Coliform
(CFU)
Riverside Park,
Piscataway
8:47 610 710
Rutgers Boathouse,
New Brunswick
9:28 120 690
Edison Boat Basin 10:17 60 630
Ken Buchannan
Waterfront Park,
Sayreville
11:11 80 510
South Amboy
Waterfront Park
11:48 <10 200
2nd Street Park,
Perth Amboy
12:27 41 360

Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Huge thanks to our the EARTH Center of Middlesex County, to Jesse Stratowski and his team at the Rutgers Boathouse, and to our wonderful volunteers.

**Please note: these results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.**
Next week we will report monitoring results on Wednesday July 3 to help you make plans for water sports and activities.

Raritan River Pathogen Results for June 20, 2019

Many thanks to volunteers who dedicate their Thursdays to sampling for fecal coliform and enterococci at six non-swimming beach public access sites along the Raritan River. See here for more information on our Summer 2019 monitoring program.

Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs.  Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. 
Suitable levels should not exceed 104 cfu/100mL.
Enterococcus results, times  and coordinates for June 20, 2019:

Site Name Enterococcus
(CFU)
Fecal Coliform
(CFU)
Riverside Park,
Piscataway
4600 4400
Rutgers Boathouse,
New Brunswick
2500 2400
Edison Boathouse 2800 2000
Ken Buchannan
Waterfront Park,
Sayreville
5200 3100
South Amboy
Waterfront Park
900 5500
2nd Street Park,
Perth Amboy
2000 7000

“TNTC” is an abbreviation for “Too Numerous To Count.” These results are preliminary and awaiting Quality Control.

Raritan River Pathogen Results from 6.13.2019 sampling

Happy Father’s Day Weekend!

For those of you making plans to be on the water, see below for Enterococcus results for monitoring conducted on June 13, 2019. Results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Please note that while we follow quality control measures, the real-time nature of data delivery means that EPA has not reviewed, and these are not technically quality controlled.

Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas.

Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. 
Suitable levels should not exceed 104 cfu/100mL.

Site NameTime sampled Enterococcus (CFU)
Riverside Park, Piscataway8:45TNTC
Rutgers Boathouse,
New Brunswick
9:452,600
Edison Boathouse10:22150
Ken Buchannan Waterfront Park,
Sayreville
11:03250
South Amboy Waterfront Park 11:4451
2nd Street Park, Perth Amboy12:12TNTC

TNTC stands for Too Numerous To Count, or >60,000.  Please note that these results are in colony forming units (CFU). These results are preliminary and pending Quality Control.

Huge thanks to our partners EARTH Center of Middlesex County and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. We are working to develop a platform for data reporting and sharing, but for now see our program overview for more information on the sites and our monitoring efforts.

Elmwood Cemetery’s 1st Annual BioBlitz

Article by Howard Swerdloff, New Brunswick Environmental Commission

On Saturday June 8, 2019, the Elmwood Cemetery hosted their first annual “BioBlitz.” (A“BioBlitz” is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area over a short period of time.) The event was sponsored by the Lower Raritan Watershed Partnership (LRWP), the Americorps Watershed Ambassadors Program, New Brunswick Environmental Commission, North Brunswick Environmental Commission, and the Elmwood Cemetery.

Photo credit: Roger Dreyling

Over 4 dozen area “citizen scientists” and experts scoured the 50 acre site identifying and cataloging the fish, mammals, insects, aquatic invertebrates, fungi, plants, and birds. They identified 8 species of fish; 8 species of mammals; 47 species of insects; 15 species of aquatic invertebrates; 20 species of fungi; 37 species of plants; and 42 species of birds (the latter are catalogued on E-bird: https://ebird.org/nj/view/checklist/S57201308 ) — a total of 177 different species.

Photo credit: Johnny Malpica
Photo Credit: Johnny Malpica
Photo credit: Johnny Malpica

The event inspired many two-way conversations between our community participants and the volunteer scientists. Instead of a didactic “top down” learning experience, both groups shared their knowledge and understanding of the local environment in a way that enhanced the specialized knowledge of the expert scientists, and, in turn, the expert scientists helped community volunteers develop a deeper knowledge and appreciation for the natural world and local environment. The experts’ final reports will be ready in a month; their findings will be shared with the volunteers. Elmwood Cemetery plans to make a Bioblitz an annual event.

Elmwood Cemetery, a Special Forested Habitat Refuge
The cemetery is nestled between the New and North Brunswick communities. It was established in 1868 as a “Victorian Garden Cemetery” during the rural cemetery movement, and to this day all of Elmwood’s lanes and paths are lined with evergreens and flowering native trees. Cemetery managers are building on this legacy of careful planning and land protections to secure Arboretum accreditation, which will allow them to further advance the planting, study, and conservation of woody plants and trees in the area.

Raritan River Pathogens Report June 7, 2019

Many thanks to our great team of volunteers who dedicated their Thursday to sampling for fecal coliform and enterococci at six non-swimming beach public access sites along the Raritan River. See here for more information on our Summer 2019 monitoring program.

Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs.  Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. 
Suitable levels should not exceed 104 cfu/100mL.

Enterococcus results, times  and coordinates:

Site NameTime sampledEnterococcus (CFU)
Riverside Park (40.54067, -74.51219)10:01800
Rutgers Boathouse (40.48826, -74.43384)10:37520
Edison Boathouse (40.48769, -74.38409)11:05250
Ken Buchannan Waterfront Park(40.47483, -74.35586)11:4346
South Amboy Waterfront Park(40.48334, -74.2698)12:1315
2nd Street Park (49.50007, -74.27719)12:41150

TNTC stands for Too Numerous To Count , or >60,000.  Please note that these results are in colony forming units (CFU), not MPN. These results are preliminary and pending Quality Control. 

May 30 Raritan River Pathogen Monitoring Results

Many thanks to our great team of volunteers who dedicated their Thursday to sampling for fecal coliform and enterococci at six non-swimming beach public access sites along the Raritan River.

Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas. Enterococci levels are often high after heavy or consistent rainfall.

Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. 
Suitable levels should not exceed 104 cfu/100mL.

Site NameTime Enterococcus (CFU)
Riverside Park (40.54067, -74.51219)9:51TNTC
Rutgers Boathouse (40.48826, -74.43384)10:32 TNTC
Edison Boathouse (40.48769, -74.38409)11:09TNTC
Ken Buchannan Waterfront Park(40.47483, -74.35586)11:47TNTC
South Amboy Waterfront Park (40.48334, -74.2698)12:3027
2nd Street Park (49.50007, -74.27719)1:03120

Huge thanks to our partners EARTH Center of Middlesex County and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. We are still working to develop a platform for data reporting and sharing, but for now see our program overview for more information on the sites and our monitoring efforts.

Monitoring at Riverside Park in Piscataway 5.30.2019.
Photo by Jim Hearty

Please note that while we follow quality control measures, the real-time nature of data delivery means that EPA has not reviewed, and these are not technically quality controlled.

Raritan River Bacteria Report, 5.24.2019

Happy Memorial Day Weekend!

For those of you making plans to be on the water, see below for enterococci results for our monitoring sites, reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. Please note that while we follow quality control measures, the real-time nature of data delivery means that EPA has not reviewed, and these are not technically quality controlled.

Enterococci levels are used as indicators of the possible presence of disease-causing bacteria in recreational waters. Such pathogens may pose health risks to people fishing and swimming in a water body. Sources of bacteria include Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), improperly functioning wastewater treatment plants, stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, animal carcasses, and runoff from manure storage areas.

Enterococci results are reported in Colony Forming Units or CFUs. 
Suitable levels should not exceed 104 cfu/100mL.

Briefly put, the numbers look good for our New Brunswick, Sayreville and South Amboy sites. Numbers are bad for our Piscatway and Edison sites, and downright horrible for our Perth Amboy site.

Riverside Park (Piscatway, 40.54067, -74.51219): 6300 CFU 
Rutgers Boat House (New Brunswick, 40.48826, -74.43384): 51 CFU
Edison Boat Basin (Edison, 40.48769, -74.38409): 640 CFU
Ken Buchanan Waterfront Park (Sayreville, 40.47483, -74.35586): <10 CFU
South Amboy Waterfront Park (South Amboy 40.48334, -74.2698): <10 CFU
2nd Street Park (Perth Amboy 49.50007, -74.27719): TNTC or Too Numerous to Count. (This number is >60,000.)

Huge thanks to our partners EARTH Center of Middlesex County and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. We are working to develop a platform for data reporting and sharing, but for now see our program overview for more information on the sites and our monitoring efforts.

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