An Invasive Species Close Call

    The fall field season has been a busy one. Students and citizen scientists have added valuable found and not found data to the Vital Signs database on invasive and native species across the state, playing an essential role in statewide efforts to document and respond to invasive species.

According to Paul Gregory of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) most of the 34 cases of invasive freshwater aquatic organisms have been documented by individuals and not professional scientists! Paul finds Vital Signs data especially useful, because participants have worked hard to peer review and quality check their data.

Fishermen, boaters and now students can make the difference between discovering an infestation early when it’s most manageable and letting a plant problem go unnoticed until it’s too late or impossible to control.
Paul Gregory, Maine DEP

A recent event reinforced just how important Vital Signs data is while also reminding us that science is like a detective story. It took the hard work of students in Dedham as well as the Maine DEP to solve this invasive species mystery.

On September 8, 2011, the school year had just begun, but the young scientists of Dedham School were already hard at work. Mrs. Tate’s class ventured out to Mill Stream to look for the notorious invasive species, didymo. They knew that the DEP and the health of the local habitat depended on their efforts to monitor for this invasive species.


Mrs. Tate’s students had read all about didymo (though they preferred the common moniker, rock snot) on the Vital Signs field mission page. So they knew that rock snot is an invasive colonial single-celled algae that loves swift moving water, has been tracked around the world on the bottom of fishermen’s felt-soled waders, and has already been found in New Hampshire, Vermont and New Brunswick but not Maine.

They also knew that their efforts were super important because didymo when it invades an ecosystem can form dense mats covering the bottom of rivers and streams. This causes major problems for native plants and animals. Mrs. Tate’s students really like fishing and hunting for crayfish in Mill Stream so they hoped they didn’t find any rock snot.


When Team Smartyplants arrived at Mill Stream they were happy to share what they found or rather did not find.

Paul Gregory sat at his desk in Augusta, 1.5 hours away from Mill Stream. An email arrived from Vital Signs. Paul clicked on the link for team Smartyplants and was happy to confirm their “not findings”.

Team PotatoTree was also busy looking really closely and shared their efforts.

Paul clicked on the link for team PotatoTree and was happy to confirm their “not findings”, too.


Team Demons worked away to hunt down didymo, if it was present, and were happy to report their findings.

And another click, confirm for the Demons' “Not Found” observation, too.

So far so good! But what about Team Equinox? What had they found?

Paul received the email for team Equinox. Paul clicked on the link.

Uh oh!! This specimen needs to be examined more closely!

Back in Dedham, Mrs. Tate’s students read the comment from Paul asking for a sample of what they had found. They rushed right out to collect the sample and send it on its way.

The outcome of the Vital Signs process is this: I receive in the mail a vetted, high-quality specimen that I’m confident to share with DEP scientists. The outcome is better communication of science.
Paul Gregory, Maine DEP

Back in Augusta, Paul received the sample (in perfect condition). He immediately brought it to two DEP algae experts.
Mystery solved. Check it out!.

Nice work teams Smartyplants, PotatoTree, Demons, and Equinox!


Wow, what a great story... kudos to the science research teams from Dedham and to PGregory for being so on the ball. And Smartyplants, you guys chose an awesome name for your team.

I'm so proud to be part of the Vital Signs community!

The students at Dedham School were super excited about the science investigation that they did. Check out the video that they made: