What is BUGS BELOW Zero?
Impact of the Research
Have you noticed small mosquito-like flies on snowbanks surrounding trout streams in winter? Believe it or not, these flies, known as “non-biting midges,” are vital to the winter diet of trout in our Minnesota streams, and in turn, are important to Minnesota outdoor recreation, our community, and the local economy. The University of Minnesota Bugs Below Zero Team has been discovering the life-cycle dynamics of non-biting midges and their importance to trout for more than a decade. Now, the research group is looking for volunteers to help with monitoring efforts and to expand the scope of this research program.
Research shows that streams in southeast Minnesota are affected by air temperatures and human activities such as farming, fishing, and deforestation. That makes them ideal for studying the effects of global warming on resources valued for their economic, sport and aesthetic contributions. If the climate continues to warm, insects that emerge in winter will disappear, and so will trout. Solutions to protect trout streams from climate change take a long time to develop and deploy, but the research group is working hard to understand how environmental issues are impacting our ecosystems. Our unique Minnesota climate can help researchers understand interactions between weather, water, insects, and food webs across the globe.
About the Bugs below zero Team
This group of talented individuals has a passion for the environment, entomology, and making new discoveries in the scientific and natural resource communities. Check out their stories below, and see what drives them to discover here at the University of Minnesota and in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences!
UMN Associate Professor
Dr. Swenson graduated from the University of Wisconsin - Madison with her B.A. in Journalism, and earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota.
Her research interests include agricultural and environment communication, social and digital media storytelling, engagement, community building, as well as science communication and training. Dr. Swenson is excited to be involved in this research project through developing communication content and communicating this research to the public.
Corrie graduated from the University of Minnesota - Morris in 2016 with a Bachelors in Biology and Environmental Science and received their PhD in Entomology from the University of Minnesota in 2022. Their research interests include cold adaptation in aquatic insects and climate change impacts on streams in the Midwest U.S.A. and Arctic.
"There aren't many researchers working in this area, so it is helpful to have more people interested in the research and providing information on areas that we have not been able to investigate."
"With the help of others, we would be able to gather more data on distant streams, and it's likely that some of the species found could be completely unknown. Citizen scientists would contribute to new discoveries and deeper understanding of winter-active aquatic insects which will be threatened by climate change."
Dr. Schrank’s current work focuses on invasive species effects on fish communities, dam effects on stream fishes, and collaboration with the commercial/recreational fisheries and aquaculture communities in the Great Lakes region.
"The underwater world is mysterious to humans because we can only visit briefly. I never tire of uncovering the secrets of the underwater realm and am passionate about learning and teaching others about the wonder and importance of aquatic ecosystems."
Fisheries and Aquaculture Extension Educator with UMN Sea Grant Program
"Stoneflies are amazing aquatic insects. While the rest of the world is frozen, tiny stonefly nymphs crawl across the stream bottom and out of the stream to emerge as adults and walk about on the stream-side snow or dead vegetation. As adults, stoneflies strut on the snow while making a drumming sound to find a mate."
"Snowy stream banks are where one goes to spot adult winter stoneflies and the females, when they fly to the stream surface to lay their eggs, are an important source of food for trout and other freshwater fishes."
Environmental services professional
Dr. Vondracek received his Ph.D. from the University of California Davis in 1981, and his research interests center around Aquatic Ecology.
"I enjoy this area of research because I grew up in and around water and have maintained a lifelong love for water and aquatic organisms."
"I've loved insects for as long as I can remember, and I would like to get a Master's and Ph.D. in entomology research someday."
"I never realized how many winter-active insects we have in Minnesota, so being able to do research in this lab has deeply broadened my understanding of insects and winter dynamics as a whole. It's great being able to get out and do hands-on fieldwork in the middle of winter, especially knowing there is so much more to discover out here!"
Jennifer cochran Biederman
Dr. Biederman graduated with a PhD in Conservation Biology from the University of Minnesota in 2015 where she studied the seasonal ecology of Brown Trout. Currently, she is an assistant professor of freshwater biology at Saint Mary’s University of MN. Most recently, her research investigates the predation of brown trout by terrestrial and avian fauna, and how bat activity may respond to aquatic insect emergences in local spring-fed streams.
“Since a young age, I’ve been fascinated by freshwater ecosystems and feel so lucky to have landed in a place where I can study spring-fed streams. Winter-emerging aquatic insects are so incredible, with much left to learn. I love being able to share in the study of these organisms while helping to educate others about them.”
St. Mary's University Assistant professor of Freshwater Biology
Dr. Anderson received her PhD In Entomology from the University of Minnesota in 2012. She is an Associate Professor at Southwest Minnesota State University, teaching several ecology and zoology-themed courses. Anderson’s primary research interests revolve learning about the life-history dynamics of winter-active insects, especially Chironomidae as well as the ecological importance of these organisms.
“This is such an exciting area of research because so few people have stepped into the field in winter. There is so much left to learn and discover – almost every trip to snow-flanked stream banks can yield new findings.
SMSU associate professor
Paige is a student at the University of Minnesota studying Agricultural Communication and Marketing. Paige loves using creative skills for photography, videography, and graphic design to communicate parts of agriculture to different communities.
university of Minnesota undergraduate
Len was a professor in the Department of Entomology at the University of Minnesota. He graduated with his Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980, and his research interests center around Aquatic Entomology.
"Our work on winter dynamics of aquatic insects is always exciting because with each field excursion we make discoveries. Plus, I love this area of research because I get paid to wear chestwaders and walk in streams in winter!"
Leonard Ferrington, Jr.
Matthew is an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota with a vested interest in entomology as a whole. Matthew loves this area of research into Minnesota insects and winter because he loves being able to get into the field and actively research this area of science.
Michael Munson is an undergraduate student studying Agricultural Communication & marketing in the College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences.
Michael has a passion for communication and enjoys diving into challenges head-on. He is excited to help communicate the mission of the Chironomidae Research group and encourage locals to get involved.
University of Minnesota undergraduate
Grace is an undergraduate student at the UMN. She is a double major in Animal Science and Agricultural Communication and Marketing.
"I have always been interested in research and in communication as separate entities. What I'm starting to understand is that research is not only about discovery but it's about sharing the impact of the discovery. That's why I enjoy working on this project, I have the opportunity to help the research group tell the story of their science."
University of minnesota undergraduate
Gabe is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota majoring in Agricultural Communication and Marketing.
“Before joining the team, I had no idea that there were insects living in the snow along streams. It’s been a blast working with the other team members to create ways of informing the public about these bugs and learning about them at the same time.”
University of minnesota undergraduate
"Thomas is a recent University of Minnesota graduate with an interest in aquatic macroinvertebrates and expertise in entomology. He enjoyed participating in this research project because it granted him experience with aquatic insect monitoring outside of the spring and summer seasons."
University of Minnesota graduate
University of Minnesota Undergraduate
"I am currently a sophomore majoring in Agricultural Communication & Marketing, and I am employed in the Department of Animal Science as a Student Administrative Assistant. My career goal is to serve the agricultural industry as either a communications specialist or an editor of an agricultural publication.
In my career, I would love to write articles about agriculture and its people, create social media content for the company for which I work, develop websites, use technology for photography and videography and work with other industry professionals on collaborative projects. I enjoyed working with the Chironomidae Research Group because I expanded my knowledge about the Department of Entomology and have since shared many fun facts about winter aquatic insects with family and friends!"
In 2020 I received my teaching license in Agricultural Education from CFANS. I hope to teach Agricultural Education in an urban public school. Someday, I want to start my own organization that combines my passion for agriculture and outdoor education.
"I love projects that engage the greater public in science to understand their own backyard. I also love winter and cold water!"
Private Agricultural and Outdoor Educator
" I am fascinated by this area of research because of the complex dynamics found when looking into a world that is unavoidably linked by both aquatic and terrestrial systems. I enjoy exploring different concepts and mechanisms involved in physiological ecology and ecosystem ecology. My unifying goal is to better understand and connect Conservation Biology to Global Health."
University of Minnesota Lab Animal Attendant
Kate is an undergraduate student majoring in Agricultural Communication and Marketing and minoring in Sport Management at the University of Minnesota.
"My interest in this type of research started while taking a Wildlife Studies class in high school. When I heard about the opportunity to join this team, I knew had to take it. Coming from the driftless area and being surrounded by the very insects and ecosystems being studied makes it such a cool experience to be a part of."
University of Minnesota Undergraduate
Hope is an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota. She is majoring in Animal Science and minoring in Insect Science.
"I attended a seminar put on by the Chironomidae Research Group in the spring of 2020 and never would have guessed that I would be working to help this team a year later. My main hope is that my love for insects can add a special touch to my input on this project."
University of Minnesota Undergraduate
Dr. Perry's research interests include decisions that impact the environment. His last 15 years of research have focused on climate change adaptation in World Heritage sites.
"I love this research because I get to iteratively seek creative answers to problems. I work with others to develop some understanding of the science and the management choices, suggest ways we can implement solutions, and assess those results."
Tessa is a Biology and Environmental Science Double Major from the class of 2017, and is graduating with her Master's Degree in Entomology in fall 2020.
"I love this area of research because I enjoy being out in the winter months and because winter research is uncommon among field biologists. It's fun to see people's reactions when I tell them I study insects in the winter."
M.S. Student Researcher
“This research is so important to Minnesota and the surrounding areas because winter is a huge part of this state, and when we think of the health of the ecosystem and water quality, we need to understand what happens in the winter to further help us aim positive conservation efforts towards water and streams in Minnesota. The midges and other aquatic insects are so important to freshwater systems, and this research extends so much further than just Minnesota but to other states in the Midwest, Canada, and even northern Europe.”
- Tessa Durnin, Student Researcher -
Science stories like Bugs Below Zero are created by Agricultural Communication & Marketing (ACM) students at the University of Minnesota.
See UMNAgricast.com for more information and examples.
Funding for this project was also provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund as recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The Trust Fund is a permanent fund constitutionally established by the citizens of Minnesota to assist in the protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.