Newswise — MACOMB, IL – A group of Western Illinois University biologists and biology graduate and undergraduate students are working with the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center (UMESC) to conduct ecological studies on Asian carp in the Upper Illinois and Mississippi rivers.
The study is part of a grant received by Western to study a variety of factors surrounding Asian carp, including their vulnerability to native predators and the patterns that influence their passage through navigation dams. The research includes testing the application of experimental GPS tags to study the habitat and movement of the carp.
The WIU students, advised by Kibbe Feld Station Manager Jim Lamer in the Lamer aquatic ecology lab, are working with Brent Knights of the USGS to help combat the invasion of Asian carp.
The team includes 12 Western students, several who were already performing their own Asian carp research.
"Collectively, these research endeavors contribute to a better understanding of Asian carp invasion biology, which allows us to make more informed decisions related to their management and control," said Lamer. "All members of the lab contribute to this understanding and help their fellow lab mates with aspects of each project."
The team includes WIU biology graduate students Allie Lenaerts, of Wolcott, IN; Cortney Cox, of Palmyra, MO; Boone La Hood, of Spring Bay, IL; Andrew Mathis, of Ottawa, IL; Eli Lampo, of Crystal Lake, IL; Jesse Williams, of Rochester, IL; Chelsea Center, of Normal, IL; Sabina Berry, of Macomb; Dylan Snyder, of Enola, PA; Will Rechkemmer, of West Burlington, IA; Charmayne Anderson, of Melrose, WI, and Ollie Mendenhall, of Havana, IL; undergraduate student Thomas Plate, of Astoria, IL; and technicians Colton Loehrer and WIU alumna Amber Ruskell-Lamer, of Warsaw, IL.
"The lab works as a team, which results in better science and concurrently builds good morale in the lab, exposes the students to a range of skills and a mastery of aquatic ecology techniques across a wide discipline and ultimately makes them adaptable and prepares them for future careers in the aquatic sciences," said Lamer. "We are extremely fortunate to work collaboratively with the USGS; they are great scientists and stewards of our aquatic resources."
The independent research by students on the team includes:
• Anderson is a second year WIU graduate student responsible for several Asian carp-related research projects. She is assessing the diets of native piscivorous fishes for the presence of young of year Asian carp in Pool 19 of the Mississippi River.
This research will help determine what native species consume Asian carp, how frequently, and at what sizes the juvenile Asian carp are most vulnerable.
Anderson is also using stable isotope microchemistry signatures in one of three sets of fish ear bones in Asian carp, collected in Pools 17, 18 and 19 (above Lock and Dam 19) on the Upper Mississippi River, and matching those signatures with those from water samples from different geographic and geomorphic river reaches and tributaries throughout the Mississippi River Basin.
The research helps determine where the fish were born, and this is important in the Upper Mississippi River to determine the amount of Asian carp passage at lock and dams and identifying key spawning habitats.
• Williams is investigating the growth and natal origins of young of year Asian carp in Pools 16-19 on the Upper Mississippi River. Williams polishes the lapillus otoliths to count and measure distance between daily growth increments in young of year Asian carp.
The daily growth will be compared to geographic location and environmental variables, such as water temperature and hydrology. To obtain a more comprehensive understanding the spawning of Asian carp and young of year growth in the Upper Mississippi River, Williams will also attempt to determine where the 2016 Asian carp cohort were spawned.
Williams will be able to determine where and when they were spawned, where they drifted and settled post spawn and the degree that environmental variables and where they were spawned influence their growth.
• In working with the larger Upper Mississippi River partnership, data from Iowa State University egg collections, La Hood's larval light trapping and USGS/USFWS-LAX spawning migration information based on telemetry, WIU students Lenaerts and Cox identifying spent females and fresh spawning patches during contracted harvest, we will be able to paint a much more comprehensive picture of Asian carp spawning and recruitment in the Upper Mississippi River.
• Lampo is finishing up his master's degree through WIU's biology program and is also employed as a full-time research assistant to help understand the movement, approach, and passage of Asian carp through lock and dams.
Lampo is working with fellow biology graduate student Mathis to manually track and follow the movement of acoustically transmittered Asian carp in the Upper Mississippi River. Lampo plans on finishing his master's defense this fall on predation of juvenile Asian carp by largemouth bass and young of year Asian carp size estimation using pharyngeal teeth and tooth pads.
• Mathis and Center are using experimental GPS telemetry to track the movement of Asian carp in the Upper Illinois River Waterway. They are operating in the Dresden Reach, which is the upstream invasion front on the Illinois River, south of the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal and electric barrier that connects the Illinois River waterway to Lake Michigan.
"This is the first time this type of technology has been attempted in freshwater, riverine fishes," said Lamer. "Preliminary results using data logging GPS tags have been very promising and we are now in the next phase of the research using real-time satellite linked tags to acquire GPS locations over our phones and computers in real time. With the successful demonstration of this technology, we are hoping that this will be a very useful tool to inform contracted fishermen of vulnerable aggregations, identify precise spawning and feeding areas and reveal times when Asian carp are most vulnerable to large scale harvest using seines and pound nets."
For more information on the WIU Department of Biology, visit wiu.edu/biology. Additional information about the research is available at facebook.com/AliceKibbeScienceResearchStation/ or jt-lamer.wixsite.com/lamerlabwiu.