A bug’s life and what it means for the river

By Brooke Holman

A haze of tiny insects hovers above the Jacks Fork River, swarming the gravel bank as they migrate.

With the dark trees in the background you can see swarms all around. Their buzzing is barely audible over the flowing current, crunching of gravel, the pulse of cicadas singing, and clanking of oars on the sides of canoes passing by. Areas of ripples appear on the surface of the water as the fish jump up to feast among the bug buffet.

“This is a fly fisherman’s dream,” said Dennis Kopp, an entomologist and curator in the National Insect Collection at the Smithsonian Museum.

His eyes remain fixed on one of the insects as it floats closer. With a quick jolt of his wrist, he snatches the insect like a quittage seeker catching a snitch. He opens his hand to reveal a tiny mayfly sitting in his palm.

“These bugs are really happy today. This is the only day that they can fly around having sex,” said Dennis.

These species of mayfly only live for one day, and Sunday September 22 was the one lucky day out of the year that they mate.

“This is an indication of river health and minimal aquatic disturbance,” said Rebecca Landewe, Current River project manager at the Nature Conservancy.

The forested riparian area, which is the area of land alongside the river, benefits the river’s water quality. Deep roots reaching down from the trees help prevent sediment runoff and erosion, and stabilize the soil. Forest management efforts are in place, but some land in the watershed is being converted to agriculture land. Weaker root systems and increase in nutrient and sediment runoff are affecting water quality downstream. Most of the conversion land is owned by private land owners.

“You may not realize how biologically significant the Ozarks is,” said Steve Mahfood, environmental consultant.

Rebecca said there are species here that don’t exist anywhere else. That’s one reason why different organizations and government agencies are working to conserve the area, while keeping it open to the public. Private land owners also play a large role in conservation of the area, and are targets for forestry education by groups such as the Nature Conservancy.

“If all of it is gone, it’s not going to reappear magically,” said Steve.

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