The NANFA Conservation Research Grant
NANFA Awards at Least $1000 For Conservation Research Each Year
Questions about the award may be addressed to
Dr. Bruce Stallsmith
Previous NANFA Conservation Research Grant Recipients
Richard Harrington, a doctoral candidate at Yale University under the direction of Tom Near, receives $1000 for his proposal, "Analysis of Genetic diversity and Hybridization in the Barrens Darter, Etheostoma forbesi. The Barrens Darter, subgenus Catonotus, currently has no state or federal agency status although it has an extremely restricted range in tributary streams to Barren Fork, part of the Caney Fork River system in middle Tennessee. With only nine known occurrences, the species is highly vulnerable to anthropogenic disturbances and hybridization with other darter species. The two questions Richard wishes to address are: Is the population genetic structure of E. forbesi characteristic of a long-term stable population size, or is there evidence of reduced genetic diversity? Is there hybridization between E. forbesi and a closely related sympatric species?
Jacob Egge, an assistant professor at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, receives $825 for his proposal, "Conservation Genetics of the Least Madtom, Noturus hildebrandi." The Least Madtom, from western Mississippi and Tennessee, demonstrates unusual patterns of cryptic diversity given its distribution that are not consistent with current taxonomy. Species diversity among madtoms is currently underestimated due to their conservative morphology. N. hildebrandi is closely related to the federally endangered Smoky Madtom, N. baileyi. Further knowledge of the population structure of N. hildebrandi will be useful in considering efforts to preserve diversity in both species. One aspect of this proposal the review committee found attractive is the involvement of undergraduates as part of a summer project.
Ben Koch, a doctoral student at the University of Wyoming, receives $675 for his proposal, "Impacts of Non-Native Trout on the Food Base in High-Elevation Cutthroat Trout Refugia in Colorado." This work will take place in the East River watershed where non-native Brook Trout and Brown Trout have been introduced and the native Colorado River Cutthroat Trout has become rare. Ben hopes to answer two questions: Are these alpine streams serving as sink habitats for non-native trouts due to a limited food base? Are these alpine streams capable of supporting minimum viable populations of native cutthroat trout? NANFA¹s grant will specifically support the rental of laboratory space at Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory during field research.
Anna L. George (Tennessee Aquarium Research Institute, Cohutta, GA) and David A. Neely (California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA) will receive $1,000 for their proposal, "Conservation Genetics and Larval Biology of Popeye Shiner, a Rare Fish in a Fragmented Ecosystem." The Popeye Shiner, Notropis ariommus, is an enigmatic minnow that is sporadically distributed across the greater Ohio River drainage. It has been eliminated from much of its historic range, including all populations north of the Ohio River, and persists only as localized and highly fragmented populations in rivers with exceptional water quality. Its decline is thought to be due to habitat degradation, especially increased turbidity and reservoir construction, and its near-absence from collections for the 55-year period between 1894 and 1949. The researchers propose to examine 1) the spatial distribution of genetic variation in populations of the species from across its range; 2) reproduction and larval ecology in captivity; and 3) current status across their range.
Allison Pease (Texas A&M University, College Station, TX) will receive $750 for her study, "Ecological Effects of an Introduced Cichlid in the Rio Panuco Basin." The Convict Cichlid, Archocentrus nigrofasciatus, is a popular species in the aquarium hobby, due largely to its hardiness and ease of breeding in captivity. These traits also increase its chances of establishment outside of its native range; in fact, many established nonindigenous populations have been reported, including a relatively recent introduction from an aquarium breeding facility in the Rio Panuco basin of east-central Mexico. In her study, Pease will investigate how introduced A. nigrofasciatus have affected native Herichthys cichlids, focusing on competition for food and nesting resources.
Mike Sandel (University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa, AL) will receive $500 to study "Inbreeding Depression and Conservation Genetics of Spring Pygmy Sunfish, Elassoma alabamae." Questions to be investigated include: Have reintroduced populations of E. alabamae incurred inbreeding depression? Is scoliosis in the species a defect associated with inbreeding depression (reduced microsatellite heterozygosity) or parasite infestation? And is scoliosis associated with reduced reproductive potential or growth rate?
Robert Hopkins II, Southern Illinois University, IL -- "Investigation of Nesting Biology of the Stone Darter, Etheostoma derivativum." You can read his report here:
Nicholas J. Lang, St. Louis University, MO -- "An Assessment of the Impact of the Invasive Reed Arundo donax on the Rio Salado River Basin, Coahuila, Mexico, with Particular Emphasis on the Rare and Endemic Rio Salado Darter, Etheostoma segrex." The Rio Salado flows through north-central Mexico and historically drained the now-isolated Cuatro Cienegas basin to the Río Grande. Above the mouth of the Rio Sabinas, this stream is known as the Rio Salado de los Nadadores and exists as a small- to medium-sized stream flowing through a fairly narrow valley. Habitat here historically included many gentle riffles that were home to the endemic E. segrex. Although this species was common in the past, especially at the type locality, recent attempts to locate specimens have been disappointing. (A March 2003 trip yielded only a single specimen.) The most obvious potential reason for the darter's rarity is the very dense stands of the invasive giant reed Arundo donax. This reed forms tall thickets that aggressively encroach on the stream. Not only do these thick stands take an enormous amount of water out of the recharge basin, they also funnel flood waters into progressively narrower and deeper channels. This action has caused the destruction of many of the wide, shallow riffles that were required habitat for the Rio Salado darter and may have changed the temperature regime of the stream. Control of A. donax within the Cuatro Cienegas basin is possible and initial steps have been made to draft a control plan. Data are lacking, however, that show the relationship between the distributions of A. donax and E. segrex. Together with Dr. Dean Hendrickson (University of Texas, Austin), Lang proposes to complete a detailed survey of the Rio Salado de los Nadadores that encompasses the known historical range of E. segrex as well as 5-10 km up- and downstream. They will record not only the presence or absence of every species of fish at each site, but also the depth, width, and velocity of the stream, and the extent of A. donax infestation. This data will be used to identify factors that allow the greatest amount of native fish diversity to survive in the presence of A. donax, and to increase the effectiveness of the limited funds available for A. donax eradication.
Brian Zimmerman, Bowling Green State University, OH -- "Microhabitat Use by the Redside Dace (Clinostomus elongatus)." This project is designed to develop a new method for making a model of the critical habitat used by small nongame stream fishes. Although the redside dace was historically found in 11 U.S. states and one Canadian province, it has drastically decreased in abundance. This species is considered endangered in Michigan, Indiana and West Virginia, and has threatened status in Ontario. It has also been extirpated in Iowa and Maryland. In the remainder of its range it is considered vulnerable, with the exception of Pennsylvania where it is "apparently secure." The redside dace prefers the cooler waters typically found in headwater or spring-fed streams. However, these are summer requirements and do not address microhabitat needs during other seasons. To ensure the future of this and other nongame species, their habitats need to be thoroughly understood so restoration projects of formerly suitable habitat can be developed with the intent to reestablish locally extirpated populations. Zimmerman proposes to quantify microhabitat use by redside dace over an annual cycle while developing a method that could be applied to other imperiled species and conduct a laboratory study to determine thermal limits for this species. Not only will this project directly benefit the redside dace by providing information about their specific habitat needs, it also will develop methods that could be used to assess other imperiled nongame small stream species. This project will also provide grounds for starting a reintroduction project of a nongame species that has been largely ignored.
Michael Bessert and Chenhong Li (Nebraska): "Conservation Genetics of the Plains Topminnow (Fundulus sciadicus)." The objectives of this work are to establish conservation strategies and collect genetic and demographic data (i.e., effective population size, population growth and decline rates, and extant genetic variation) within and between F. sciadicus populations in Nebraska and Missouri. Bessert and Li hope to provide a foundation for plans to protect the plains topminnow in Nebraska and Missouri (if warranted), and provide a template for the development of regional conservation plan for species with similar habitat, range, and life history patterns.Jenjit Khudamrongsawat (Alabama) studied the conservation genetics and population structure of the federally endangered Vermilion Darter and the closely related Warrior Darter. She wrote this article about her research for American Currents.
One of this year's awardees is Richard Bush, a graduate student at the University of California in Davis. His research proposal is entitled "Native Trout Conservation to Benefit California's Threatened Steelhead." The California steelhead is a federally listed threatened species and needs all the help it can get. The big question Richard wants to address is whether juvenile steelheads utilize small coastal estuaries in California on their way out to sea. Surprisingly little is known about this utilization, and it's important because many of these estuaries receive little protection and are being degraded by human activities. What really impressed the review committee about Richard's research is his proposal to study the juvenile life history of steelhead by collecting and examining their otoliths ("ear bones"), bony disks in the head. Otoliths grow on a daily cycle in fish and contain information on the fish's age, what it's been eating, where it has lived, and for how long. The specific isotopic composition of different layers of an otolith can be examined to reconstruct the fish's habits. By examining enough otoliths, it should be possible to demonstrate whether or not these juveniles pause and use the estuarine environment in their life cycle.
Our other 2004 awardee is Aaron Schrey, a doctoral student at the Fisheries and Illinois Aquaculture Center of the University of Southern Illinois in Carbondale. Aaron's proposal is entitled "Genetic discrimination of pallid and shovelnose sturgeon." The pallid sturgeon is federally listed as an endangered species. At certain life stages it can be confused with the much more common shovelnose sturgeon, with which it shares habitat in the Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Aaron's work will characterize differences in the DNA sequences in specific reaches of DNA called microsatellite loci in each species' DNA. Once completed, this genetic characterization should allow individual sturgeons to be identified with confidence as one or the other species. Sturgeons to be studied will come from the Missouri River and the middle Mississippi River.
"The ability of darters to use color and contrast communication to attract mates or guard against territorial invasion may be closely tied to water clarity," Ms. Lawrence wrote. "Therefore, reproductive success of brightly colored species is dependent on the transmission of visual cues such as body coloration through water. I propose to investigate whether a correlation exists between the wavelengths of light transmitted through water and body colors in darters."
The work is to be carried out in Stinking Fork, a tributary of the Little Blue River in southern Indiana. Four monochromatic species of darters and three colorful species will be studied, as well as spectral properties of the water.