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Exploring the Wetlands

Megan Bos, a Conservation Biology Master’s student, researches the influence muskrats have on wetland environments. Muskrats are medium-sized, semi-aquatic rodents that reside in wetlands, rivers, ponds, and lakes and are considered ecosystem engineers. Ecosystem engineers are organisms that affect other species by modifying, or maintaining, the availability of resources within an area. Muskrats do so by clearing nearby vegetation, primarily cattails, for either consumption or for building lodges. Curious to learn more about the impact muskrats have on water quality and vegetation, Bos looked to the Great Lakes.

During the summer, Bos used a small drone to identify and seek out muskrat lodges in the coastal wetlands of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. She collected water and vegetation samples from 50 disturbed sites (where muskrat lodges were present) and 50 undisturbed sites (where muskrat lodges were absent). These samples will show if any differences in water quality and plant diversity exist between the two types of sites. To better understand how muskrats impact the water and vegetation in coastal wetlands, Bos will also be collecting samples from the same sites during the upcoming winter season.

She expects to find a significant difference in the water quality and vegetation diversity among the surveyed sites. Bos believes that the movement of open water surrounding the muskrat lodges may lead to a decrease in water clarity, and an increase in chemical compounds, such as phosphorus, nitrite, and nitrogen. As for vegetation, Bos expects the disturbed areas to show more diversity since the muskrats cut down vegetation and create open spaces allowing new species to grow. 

Bos will complete her data collection by the end of winter 2021 and is excited to see if her predictions hold. Bos’ passion for wildlife and biology grew from a young age; however, it wasn’t until her graduate studies in the Conservation Biology program that she developed a passion for wetland research. She shares “I never thought I would end up working with wetlands [and muskrats], but the more time I've spent in them, the more I've come to appreciate how cool and important they are.” Upon graduation, Bos is hopeful that she can apply her passion and knowledge to a career benefiting wildlife conservation.

At CMU, we do research and real-world results.

Story by ORGS intern Hailey Nelson

September 2021