The NANFA Conservation Research Grant

NANFA Awards at Least $2000 For Conservation Research Each Year

Since 2001 NANFA has funded the Conservation Research Grant, focusing on supporting research relating to the conservation of North America's indigenous fish fauna, particularly those that are threatend or endangered. The Conservation Research Grant could be awarded to someone in academia, a conservation group, or to an independent researcher. The maximum award for any one proposal is budgeted at $1000.

The deadline for submission of an application is January 20th each year. Award decisions will be announced by March 31st.

Recipients are asked to write an article on the results of their research for publication in American Currents and are encouraged to present their findings at NANFA's Annual Convention.

Bluehead chub, Nocomis leptocephalus
© William Roston

Questions about the award may be addressed to

Dr. Bruce Lilyea
NANFA Conservation Research Grant
Grant Committee Chairperson

(Complete applications in MS Word format may be sent to this e-mail address.)

Previous NANFA Conservation Research Grant Recipients

Owen Ridgen, undergraduate student, Conservation Biology program, University of Toronto, “Freshwater Mussel Shells and Noturus Madtoms in Ontario: A Rare Opportunity for the Conservation of Two At-Risk Groups?”

Jessica Diallo, Masters student at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington. The research questions for the selected study are: “(1) Which removal methods are most effective in reducing green sunfish local abundance and spatial extent? (2) How do native fish populations respond to invasive removal in abundance and individual growth? (3) Does food web structure recover to its pre-invasion state after invasive removal?”.

Bryan Maitland, PhD student in Ecology at the University of Wyoming. The research question for the selected study is: “Non-lethal sampling of native North American freshwater fishes for stable isotope analysis-based food web studies”.

This year NANFA is supporting two research projects:

Austin Hannah, Masters student in Biology at Austin Peay State University. The study is entitled: “What is the mechanistic relationship between decreased Blackside Dace (Chrosomus cumberlandensis) occurrence and elevated water conductivity caused by surface mining?”

Pamela Hart, PhD student in Biology at Louisiana State University. The study is entitled: “Environmental DNA detection of the Southern Cavefish species complex: Implications for conservation and aquifer connectivity.”

Amanda Pinion, PhD student from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences at Texas A&M University. The study is entitled: “Long overdue: A modern taxonomic revision of the Sand Shiner Notropis stramineus (Cope, 1865) based on molecular and morphological characters”.

Madison Snider, masters student, Environmental & Conservation Sciences Graduate Program, North Dakota State University, “Anti-Predator Behavior in Amargosa Pupfish and Pahrump Poolfish.”

Joshua Stonecipher, graduate student, Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee, “Conservation status and population genetic structure of the Smallscale Darter (Nothonotus microlepidus).”

Jonathan Davis, a professor at Young Harris College in Young Harris, Georgia. The study addressed the growth patterns under varying temperature and river discharge regimes of the undescribed Sicklefin Redhorse, a vulnerable species probably worthy of federal listing. 

Michael Moore, Virginia Tech, “Occupancy modeling for the Clinch Dace (Chrosomus sp. cf. saylori) in the Upper Clinch River System, Virginia using minnow trapping, backpack electrofishing, and eDNA sampling.” Although the Clinch Dace is not currently listed under the Endangered Species Act, it is classified as “endangered” by Jelks and is considered to be one of the rarest fish species in the United States. In Virginia, Clinch Dace are known from headwater streams in two counties. Populations are small and separated by large distances of unfavorable habitat. The occupancy status of Clinch Dace remains unknown at many sites throughout the proposed range.Our research questions for Clinch Dace are threefold. 1. What is the species’ current distribution? 2. Which sampling gear is best to monitor and survey for populations and are habitat conditions correlated to site occupancy? 3. Is eDNA sampling feasible for Clinch Dace?

Anthony Honick, Duquesne University, “Tracking range expansion and genetic population structure of five Pennsylvania threatened darter species using environmental DNA (eDNA) and molecular genetic techniques.” We have identified five imperiled darter species (bluebreast darter, spotted darter, Tippecanoe darter, gilt darter and river darter) that inhabit large river systems of the upper Ohio River system. In this study we propose to develop and validate environmental DNA sampling (eDNA) for concurrently monitoring range expansion of five imperiled darter species to overcome traditional sampling difficulties in large riverine habitats. eDNA can be defined as DNA that is extracted from environmental samples (e.g. water, soil, sediment) and is isolated before physical/visual detection of the target species. Initially, aquarium experiments will be conducted to optimize eDNA detection and develop polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primers. Once verified, eDNA detection will be used in conjunction with traditional sampling to monitor the expansion of imperiled darter species and identify critical riverine and spawning habitat.

This year, $1000 was awarded to Kenneth J. Oswald, a Visiting Scientist with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and also a Lecturer in the Northern Kentucky University Honors Program. His proposal is titled, "Evolutionary Conservation Genetics and Estimation of Water Quality Parameters for Tonguetied Minnow (Exoglossum laurae)". From his proposal: "This research aims to combine intraspecific evolutionary genetics and water quality data to assist in formulating a comprehensive conservation management plan for the rare and endangered tonguetied minnow. Tonguetied minnow has been a poorly, infrequently studied species, and as a result, little is known concerning its biology. However, survey data that I have been able to obtain from multiple state conservation and management resource agencies indicates that tonguetied minnow is on the decline throughout its range. Using a molecular genetics approach, I intend to identify unique evolutionary lineages within this species, and based upon data summarized from US EPA water quality databases, characterize the various aqueous stressors that threatensurvival of individual populations."

The 2010 NANFA Conservation Research Grant of $1000 has been awarded to Suzanne M. Gray, Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal, Canada, for her study, "Turbidity tolerance in blackline shiners: Implications for conservation and recovery." The primary research goal is to compare turbidity tolerance across members of the blackline shiner complex with reportedly varying turbidity tolerance to determine if turbidity can be directly implicated in the decline of vulnerable species, and to inform action plans for the recovery of these species. In Canada, turbidity is the putative cause for the decline of several species in this complex, including the endangered Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus) and threatened Bridle Shiner (N. bifrenatus). Turbidity can have direct physiological effects such as reduced feeding and respiratory impairment, and can also alter visually-mediated behavior such as foraging and social interactions. The proposed research will compare the responses of four blackline shiner species typically found in clear waters (N. anogenus, N. bifrenatus, N. heterodon and N. heterolepis) and one related minnow found in a range of habitats (N. volucellus) to varying turbidity conditions in aquaria. The behavioral responses of individuals of all five species to increasing turbidity over a 3-week period will be compared. A second experimental treatment of the same five species will examine the physiological and behavioral responses of individuals held under high turbidity levels for two months. The results of this research should have direct and immediate implications for the recovery and management of the endangered Pugnose Shiner, threatened Bridle Shiner and other sympatric species in this group.

This year NANFA is supporting three research projects with grants of $750 each. These projects study different species, asking different questions, in different parts of the country.

Josh Perkin, "Evolutionary response of a relict ironcolor shiner (Notropis chalybaeus) population to a spring environment" The western extent of ironcolor shiner contiguous range is the Red River drainage in Texas, but a disjunct, relict population exists further west in the Guadalupe River drainage. This population is found only in the upper 10 km of the San Marcos River where large spring discharges from the Edwards aquifer provide flows and constant water temperatures year round. This stable spring environment is unique among streams inhabited by ironcolor shiners and therefore provides a unique opportunity to assess various adaptations in fish reproductive within novel environments. Due to stable year-round water temperatures, ironcolor shiners in the San Marcos River might spawn year-round with fewer oocytes per spawning event in the absence of seasonal water temperature fluctuations. Spring-adapted species are at risk because they are specialized for a narrow range of environmental conditions, and these spring environments themselves are extremely sensitive to human activities.

Solomon David, "Ecology, biogeography, and conservation of the spotted gar (Lepiosteus oculatus) in Michigan" The goal of this study is to better understand a very poorly-studied, much-maligned yet important native species at the edge of its range. This will help to develop effective strategies for conserving and managing ecologically sensitive peripheral populations central to the biodiversity of freshwater ecosystems. Specific objectives of this work are to explore differences in life history characteristics between the southern US population and Michigan inland lakes population of spotted gars; determine the primary biotic and abiotic factors influencing the distribution, abundance, and life history of spotted gars in Michigan; and, develop management recommedations for conservation of the spotted gar in Michigan.

Benjamin Keck "Genetic diversity among disjunct populations of the Greenfin darter, Nothonotus chlorobranchius" Is genetic diversity consistent with previously described morphological variation among the disjunct populations of N. chlorobranchius? Greenfin darters occur in isolated tributary river systems of the upper Tennessee River drainage. Existing populations are isolated by many kilometers of uninhabited territory. Previous work has shown morphological variation among populations in different river systems, with that of the Little Tennessee River being the most distinct. A full genetic analysis of Greenfin darters will identify intraspecific relationships that can used for: conservation efforts such as restocking extirpated populations and identifying particularly divergent and unique populations, and provide insight into the geographic scales of diversification in the upper Tennessee River drainage.

In 2008, for the fifth year in a row, NANFA has at least doubled its $1,000 annual commitment to the NANFA Conservation Research Grant program. This year, three grants were awarded, bringing the grant funding total since the program began in 2001 to $13,850. The three Grant awardees are:

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.

In 2007, for the fourth year in a row, NANFA has doubled its $1,000 annual commitment to the NANFA Conservation Research Grant program. This year, three grants were awarded:

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?

In 2006, for the third year in a row, NANFA has doubled its $1,000 annual commitment to the NANFA Conservation Research Grant program. This year, three grants of $700 each were awarded:

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.

For the second year in a row, NANFA doubled its $1,000 allocation to the NANFA Conservation Research Grant. The two $1,000 recipients for 2005 are:

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.

This year, the competitive annual NANFA Conservation Research Grant had a total of $2000 available for awarding to the best proposal(s). We thank the Potomac Valley Aquarium Society and Chesapeake Area Killifish Club for their generous $300 donation to the 2004 grant.

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.

Karen Lawrence of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau, MO, has been awarded the NANFA Conservation Research Grant for 2003 for her proposal, "Water Turbidity and Color Communication in Darters."

"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.

The 2002 grant was awarded to Claire McGrath to study the interactions between native greenback trout and non-native brook trout in the Arkansas and South Platte River systems in Colorado. Claire wrote this article about her research for American Currents.

The 2001 award went to Jean Krejca of the University of Texas for her study of the Mexican blind cave catfish, Prietella phreatophila. Jean wrote an excellent article with photos for American Currents summarizing her research.

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