NGRREC will host its first international intern, Ms. Anindita Chatterjee, under the supervision of Dr. Richard Sparks. The project coincides with NGRREC’s mission to contribute to an understanding of the ecology of large floodplain rivers, by assessing the response of aquatic plant communities to restoration of two floodplain lakes along the Illinois River. The project will also generate natural resource information that will be used in the adaptive management of the Emiquon floodplain restoration project, and possibly other floodplain sites as well.
Ms. Chatterjee’s primary job duties will include assisting in the design of a sampling program to measure growth and production of submergent and emergent aquatic macrophytes during the 2010 growing season at Emiquon.
Emiquon is a 6,000-acre floodplain restoration project in the floodplain of the Illinois River near the town of Havana. The area was leveed and drained for agriculture in the 1920s, becoming the Thompson Lake Drainage and Levee District. The District was purchased in 2000 by the Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. In 2007, the drainage pumps were turned off and the area was allowed to reflood naturally from precipitation and groundwater.
Plans call for installation of gates in the levees so that the lakes can be periodically reconnected to the Illinois River in a pattern that mimics the natural flood pulse. Partners in the Emiquon Restoration include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (design and construction of the gates, with a federal cost share) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (Wetland Reserve Program).
It is important to document the plant communities that have reappeared in the old Thompson and Flag lake basins at Emiquon before the reconnection is undertaken, and to assess their productivity in relation to water levels, nutrient concentrations and soil characteristics. The recent appearance of nitrogen-fixing algae in portions of Thompson and Flag lakes indicates that nitrogen may become limiting during the summer growing season. One of the hypotheses regarding reconnection is that the seasonal influx of river water will replenish nutrients in the floodplain and its associated lakes, thereby shifting the composition of the aquatic microphyte and macrophyte communities.
“What we are currently lacking,” states Sparks “are measurements on plant growth and production that could be correlated with environmental variables and also used in predictive models. Such models would be useful in predicting outcomes of alternative reconnection protocols at Emiquon. Predictive models would also be broadly useful in assessing the potential of floodplains along the Illinois and Mississippi rivers to remove excess nutrients from the river and to sequester carbon.”
Through NGRREC's relationship with Ms. Chatterjee, NGRREC will be able engage her major professor, Dr. Anjana Dewanji (professor-in-charge of the new Biological Sciences Division at the Indian Statistical Institute) and the Director of the Institute, Prof. Bimal Kumar Roy. Ms. Chatterjee and Dr. Anjana Dewanji are interested in learning sampling and analytical techniques (specifically, canonical correspondence analysis, CANOCO) for assessing environmental effects on aquatic plant communities. This intern project will equip Ms. Chatterjee with techniques she could apply to the freshwater sites at the Indian Statistical Institute where she is also studying the invasive emergent plant Alternanthera philoxeroides (Alligator weed). She hopes to make comparative morphometic measurements on a population of the same species in N. America.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) at the University have several on-going exchanges with counterparts in India and are interested in expanding these connections. This internship will provide a modest step in that direction that could lead to larger cooperative projects.