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  • Writer's pictureBugs Below Zero

Tessa Durnin: Research Team Highlight

By: Kate Meyer

In December 2017, Tessa completed her Bachelor of Science degree in biology and environmental science at Northern State University in Aberdeen, SD. She was interested in becoming a zoologist, so she could have a career working specifically with mammals. However, her first zoology course was invertebrate zoology and little did she know this would be the class that pointed her in the direction of becoming an entomologist. By December 2021, Tessa graduated with her Master of Science degree in entomology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, where she studied genetic populations of winter-emerging chironomids under the late Dr. Len Ferrington, Jr.

Today, Tessa is working as a freshwater macroinvertebrate taxonomist for an environmental consulting group called Normandeau Associates, Inc. Here, she puts forth her taxonomy skills to identify any freshwater animal without a backbone! This includes clams, snails, worms, EPT taxa (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera), chironomids, and many more! By doing so, she helps provide Normandeau’s clients with water quality data on their specific stream of interest to either re-designate a stream’s status as High Quality and/or Exceptional Value or to continue monitoring a location because it is being impacted by mining or is located near a landfill.

Tessa took the time to meet with me to discuss the following questions.

What is your favorite part of the Bugs Below Zero Project?

“My favorite part of working with the Bugs Below Zero project was for sure the field work. Getting to wade through Minnesota trout streams during the winter was absolutely amazing. It felt like I was in a snow globe! Not to mention, watching tiny insects the size of a mosquito walk on snow was super cool and almost unbelievable.”

What is your favorite species to work with?

“My favorite species to work with were definitely Diamesa mendotae and D.nivoriunda. Simply because they could walk on snow! I will never not be surprised by a bug on snow.”

What is your favorite stream you have worked on so far?

Pine Creek, located in Dakota and Goodhue counties. “This stream doesn’t seem like much at first, as its headwaters run through flat farmland, but as you move downstream, this stream eventually runs through rocky bluffs and has very scenic views. Pine creek was also one of the most productive streams I worked in, regarding chironomids. We were able to collect a lot of individuals for my research.”

What are your goals for your research?

“The main goal of my research was to identify cryptic species hiding among Diamesa midges by using their genetics rather than morphology for identification. Chironomids are a great biological monitoring tool for aquatic ecologists. Their presence or absence in a waterbody will tell you so much about that habitat and whether you’re dealing with good or poor water quality. Additionally, each species has a tolerance or intolerance to pollution, even as congeneric species, so it’s very important to identify them at the lowest classification possible. Additionally, they are trout food! So, by identifying cryptic Diamesa we can better implement not only water management practices, but also continue improving trout habitats in a changing climate.”

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