Researching on the Mill River

29 Jul

I’m Molly Peek ’18 and I am working with biology lab instructor Marney Pratt and geosciences Professor Bob Newton on the Mill River Monitoring Project this summer. While the majority of the project is geology based, Marney and I look at the ecological effects of the changing hydrology and sedimentation of the river. It’s a great research project that involves a lot of wading (and sometimes swimming) in streams and looking at bugs and mussels!


The majority of this project involves testing the health of the stream to see if there are any drastic changes after a new sluicing method is tried on the Paradise pond dam. We use water quality and Shannon Diversity indexes to measure stream health by the amount and type of macroinvertebrates found living in the stream before and after the sluicing has begun. Because some invertebrates are more tolerant to environmental change and water quality than others, we look to see if there is a good mix of hearty and sensitive macroinvertebrates in a sample to formulate the health of the stream.

This summer, we are using two methods of sampling for these animals. The first is kick net sampling, which is used widely in stream health research and in Smith biology classes. The other method uses Hester-Dendy samplers, which is a longer-term method of sampling.

While this data is being used to assess the impact of a new method of dredging, it is also being used to help the Smith biology department. When the invertebrates are sampled, they are identified as accurately as possible and put into a key that will be used by students to help them do the same sampling and identification in class.

We are also taking surveys on the density and type of freshwater mussels found in the river as another indicator of stream health. Most of the mussel species found in the Mill River are stable and long-lived, so they are good indicators of the history of the stream’s health.

-Molly lives in King House and plays on Smith’s field hockey team. She grew up in New Jersey and now lives in the Green Mountains of Vermont!

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