Understanding the response of listed fishes to environmental stressors, with an emphasis on turbidity, in streams and wetlands in the Canadian Great Lakes basin
(Geoffrey Marselli, M.Sc. student; co-supervisors: M.A. Rodríguez, N.E. Mandrak)

This project aims at understanding the response of listed fishes to environmental stressors, with an emphasis on turbidity, in streams and wetlands in the Canadian Great Lakes basin. We will combine existing DFO data on species abundance and environmental features with literature data on species vital rates (“functional traits”: growth, mortality, fecundity, mobility) into a single database, and use state-of-the-art modelling techniques (latent variable joint species models, LVJSM) to quantify the magnitude and shape (linear or nonlinear) of relationships between species vital rates and turbidity. The research focuses on 11 listed species of freshwater fish, of which two are endangered (E), five threatened (T), and four special concern (S): Black Redhorse (T), Blackstripe Topminnow (S), Eastern Sand Darter (E), Grass Pickerel (S), Lake Chubsucker (T), Pugnose Minnow (T), Pugnose Shiner (T), Redside Dace (E), Silver Lamprey (S), Spotted Gar (T), and Spotted Sucker (S).

A biodiversity science database containing fish occupancy and environmental descriptors for stream and wetland sites sampled over a period of 12 years in southern Ontario will be combined with species functional traits compiled from the literature. The LVJSM will be used to connect the species abundances to turbidity, vital rates, and the interactions between turbidity and the vital rates. Close contact will be maintained with DFO Science to integrate results into the SARA recovery planning process. The results will address Theme 1 of the SAR network by helping us understand how the impacts of turbidity on site occupancy may be context-dependent, varying across habitats and species as a function of habitat characteristics and species traits.

Propagation of Wavy-rayed and Kidneyshell mussels
(Nichelle Van Tassel, M.Sc. student; supervisor: D. Zanatta)


In the decade since the publication of two “white papers” (Hoftyzer et al. 2008, Jones et al. 2006) outlining genetic considerations for captive propagation for SAR freshwater mussels, our knowledge of the genetic structure and diversity of mussels has advanced considerably.  Despite the increased knowledge of genetic variation within and among wild mussel populations, there has yet to be a study published that compares the genetic diversity of a wild population to animals bred in captivity.  Such a study would finally provide empirical data that are critical to guiding propagation efforts.  To attain these data and test a null hypothesis that wild and captively bred mussel populations have equivalent genetic diversity.  This project focusing on two SARA-listed species: Wavy-rayed Lampmussel (Lampsilis fasciola) and Kidneyshell (Ptychobranchus fasciolaris). This partnership project is a collaboration between Central Michigan University, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (White Lake Fish Culture Station), and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Are captive breeding programs for imperiled freshwater fishes and mussels effective at achieving conservation targets in the wild?: A systematic review
(S.J. Cooke, L.A. Donaldson, T. Rytwinski, J.J. Taylor, J.R. Bennett, A.R. Drake, A. Martel)


The objective of this evidence synthesis activity is to evaluate the effectiveness of captive breeding programs for imperiled freshwater fishes and mussels at achieving conservation targets. The project is relevant to imperiled freshwater fishes and mussels for which captive breeding is being considered as part of a recovery plan.

The highest standard of evidence synthesis and evaluation occurs via systematic review and meta-analysis. Systematic reviews have only recently been applied to conservation (including fish: Cooke et al. 2017. Fisheries 42:143) but have a long history in human health and medicine. Systematic reviews are repeatable, transparent, and conducted following rigid protocols. We are conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis (where data supports) to support evidence-based decision-making related to the potential development and use of captive breeding programs for imperilled fish and mussel species in Canada. Specifically, our evidence synthesis will aim to answer the following questions:

(A) Are captive breeding programs imperiled freshwater fishes and mussels effective at either re-establishing, maintaining, or increasing target populations?

(B) What are the factors that influence the effectiveness of captive breeding programs?

In addition to the systematic review outcomes, the activity is also useful for identifying knowledge gaps (for future research) and characterizing the ways in which studies evaluating effectiveness of captive breeding programs are conducted (to improve science quality). We are following the guidelines for evidence synthesis from the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence (CEE) and this is being led by individuals with formal CEE training.

Assessing competition between benthic fish species-at-risk with trophically overlapping invasive species of current and expanding significance in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin
(S. Avlijas, PhD student; co-supervisors: , A. Ricciardi, N. E. Mandrak)


Her project is assessing competition between benthic fish species-at-risk with trophically overlapping invasive species of current and expanding significance in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River basin, under current and future climate scenarios. An emerging analytical approach (developed by the Ricciardi Lab and an international collaborator at Queens University Belfast) assesses the risk and impact of invasive species using comparative functional responses, whereby the relationship between prey availability and prey consumption rate is derived experimentally and compared among species. A key component of functional response is the maximum feeding rate, a physiologically dependent parameter that measures the time required for the predator to handle, consume and digest its prey. To date, comparative functional responses have consistently revealed that high-impact invaders (those causing community-level and ecosystem-level impacts) have higher maximum feeding rates than trophically analogous natives and less disruptive invaders. Here, this approach will be applied by coupling it with growth experiments to compare the potential resource competitiveness of SAR (using Shorthead Redhorse (Moxostoma macrolepidotum) as a proxy species) and invasive species (Tench (Tinca tinca), Round Goby (Neogobius melanostomus)) under different temperature conditions representing current and future climate scenarios. Experiments are being conducted in outdoor mesocosms (Fig 2). Preliminary observations indicate a marked difference between Shorthead Redhorse and Tench in survivorship of short-term (<5 days) exposure to extreme high surface temperatures (>30oC), with redhorse suffering 100% mortality and Tench exhibiting 100% survival.

Identifying the impact of altered flow regimes on Milk River populations of Mountain Sucker
(Taylor MacLeod, MSc student; supervisor: Mark Poesch)

Mark and students

The Milk River is a medium sized prairie river that flows through southern Alberta, Canada before joining the Missouri River in Montana. It is part of an inter-basin water transfer program that annually diverts flow from the neighbouring St. Mary River in the United States into the Milk River for enhanced irrigation throughout the mid-western Prairies. Natural flow in the Milk River typically ranges from 1 – 5 m3/s. During flow augmentation (April to October), flow more than triples to a range between 15 – 20 m3/s. The Milk River is also home to a discrete and significant population of Mountain Sucker (Catostomus platyrhynchus), which was assessed by COSEWIC as Threatened (COSEWIC 2010). Stream augmentation and water use have been determined to be a major threat to this species. This project will use a combination of field sampling, laboratory analysis (e.g. swim performance) and existing data to:

1: Identify and determine the impact of altered flow regime (e.g. low flows, augmentation) on swimming performance (using in situ swim test) and habitat suitability of Mountain Sucker.

2: Determine how flow augmentation impacts vital rates (i.e. age/growth relationships).

Identifying instream flow needs for Salish Sucker 
(Katie Zinn, MSc student; supervisor: Jordan Rosenfeld)


Low oxygen in critical habitat for Salish sucker is a major habitat/conservation concern.  The purpose of this project is to identify instream flow needs for Salish Sucker, and the impacts of low flows, temperature, and excess nutrients on the occurrence of hypoxia in critical habitat.  Salish sucker critical habitat is characterized by deep slow water (large pool, ponds, or off-channel habitat) and hypoxia in these habitats is exacerbated by low flows, elevated temperatures, and excess nutrients which increase biological oxygen demand (BOD).  While these relationships are qualitatively understood, the quantitative flow requirements (actual discharge thresholds) required to prevent hypoxia in Salish sucker streams are poorly understood, as is their vulnerability to future climate change impacts (drier summers, longer low flow periods).

Field work in this project will focus on i) sublethal effects of hypoxia on sucker growth and habitat use, and ii) understanding how oxygen changes with decreasing discharge along the declining summer hydrograph in representative Salish sucker streams that differ in temperature, nutrient levels, and other land use correlates.  The effects of flow on oxygen concentration (hypoxia) will be modelled using these new observations and an existing database of measured oxygen concentrations in Salish sucker streams.  This project is being delivered as a 2.5 year M.Sc. thesis based out of UBC from Sept 2018 – July 2021 (see below).  Field work during the first project year (2018) focused on manipulative experiments of flow in slow water habitats and the response of sucker (growth and movement) as well as changes in dissolved oxygen and temperature.

Assessing capacity of Redside Dace to persist in warmer waters
(Alexandra Leclair, MSc student; supervisor: Nicholas Mandrak)

Climate change is projected to increase annual thermal averages in freshwater ecosystems, thereby decreasing favourable thermal habitat of coldwater poikilothermic species. My research aims to evaluate potential thermal impacts facing Canadian fish species at risk, namely Redside Dace (Clinostomus elongatus), by assessing their capacity to persist in warmer waters. One measure of this capacity is the species’ critical thermal maxima (CTmax) – the temperature at which a fish loses equilibrium as a function of thermal stress. My team and I examine seasonal variation in CTmax by conducting monthly streamside experimental trails on a northern population of Redside Dace in Two Tree River, St. Joseph Island. Thus far, we have examined this population from June – October 2018 and, given favourable working conditions, intend to continue into spring 2019 (excluding months with ice cover). Additionally, we hope to examine a southern Redside Dace population in Ohio in order to contrast the thermal limits of populations situated in varying thermal regimes.

My study aims to better understand the physiological limits of Redside Dace and assess the species’ viability in the face of current climate change projections. As Redside Dace are currently an endangered minnow in Canada, understanding its ability to persist in warm waters is necessary in the construction and implementation of successful conservation strategies.

Evaluation of whether the inclusion of biotic factors can increase the predictive validity of SDMs at multiple scales
(Jennifer Bontje, MSc student; co-supervisors: Don Jackson, Andrew Drake)

 Most species distribution models focus on abiotic factors (e.g. water temperature, depth), while ignoring biotic information such as the incidence of prey, competitors or predators even though their inclusion could provide substantial insight about the prevalence of antagonistic or synergistic interactions and their effect on species persistence. These limitations are especially prevalent for imperiled species. I evaluate whether the inclusion of biotic factors can increase the predictive validity of SDMs at multiple scales, focusing on whether biotic factors lead to new hypotheses about structuring influences of Lake Chubsucker (Erimyzon sucetta), an endangered warm water fish found in coastal wetlands of the lower Great Lakes.