MSc students get ‘hands on’ with freshwater biodiversity at Otmoor

The MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management class recently journeyed to Otmoor, a historic wetland landscape to the northeast of Oxford, to learn about freshwater biodiversity and wetland restoration. Melissa von Mayrhauser reports back.

Students search for invertebrates in pondwater

Students search for invertebrates in pondwater collected at Otmoor.

Armed with wellies, nets and buckets, we collected invertebrates from elongated ponds to conduct a biological survey. Due to their diversity in freshwater, sedentary tendencies and life cycles that often extend for at least six months, invertebrates are ideal candidates to use as an indicator of water quality.

Netting dragonfly nymphs, water spiders and freshwater shrimp was a welcome change of pace from library revisions. We collected sediment in our nets from different pond mesohabitats and emptied the findings into our shallow containers. We then used spoons to search through the vegetation for hidden species, from damselfly nymphs to ramshorn snails.

Analysing these macroinvertebrates in jars over sandwiches at a local pub, we happily found high biodiversity and species that usually live in freshwater with low pollution, meaning that the water quality of elongated ponds was high.

After lunch, we spoke to the wetland’s warden from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds about the ways that they are working to restore the area to a wetland landscape with more robust biodiversity, as it had been prior to the nineteenth century. They are able to manipulate water levels to achieve this goal.

This trip was not only a picturesque excursion to a nearby preserve, but also a hands-on case study, helping us to pin principles from our course to a specific place in our backyard. Several of the students will use similar fieldwork practices for their dissertations to study species richness and biological water quality around the world. And water students in a wetland are as happy as a mayfly nymph in a reed bank!