Barrier Removal for Migratory Fishes of the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes are home to dozens of migratory fishes. Some of these are important game fishes introduced by anglers or fishing companies. Some are unique native species that have played an essential role in the ecology of the Great Lakes for an eon. And a few are invaders who have the potential to wreak havoc on the fishes conservationists and fishers want to maintain.

All migratory fishes of the Great Lakes face a similar problem: when it's time to spawn, their spawning grounds are partially or wholly inaccessible because of barriers created by dams and road culverts. Migratory fishes cannot swim past these barriers because they are too high to jump over or create narrow channels with water speeds too fast to swim through.

In my postdoc I will be contributing to existing research on how to decide which dams should be destructed or road culverts upgraded to fish friendly structures to restore aquatic connectivity for Great Lakes migratory fishes. In addition to expanding an existing optimization model and decision support tool to account for individual fish species, I will be focusing on how to incorporate control of the invasive sea lamprey into the decision framework. Sea lamprey prey on fishes, and the primary means to control them - apart from leaving existing barriers - is to treat streams where they are found with a class of chemicals called lampricide. The interaction of lamprey with other migratory fishes creates an interesting and critical complexity in determining which barriers to remove and which stream reaches to treat. This complexity comes in through both the biological interactions of predator and prey, as well as the cost budget available for treating lamprey and removing barriers.

Conservation Planning of Shale Gas Surface Infrastructure

One especially noteworthy example of a context that can benefit from the integration of conservation and development is shale gas in Appalachia. Shale gas development has been an increasing source of environmental and human health concerns in recent years. In the United States, shale gas production has increased steadily over the past decades and as of 2014 made up ~40% of gas production. Concerns have been raised about the environmental and human health effects of shale energy production, leading to careful consideration of how to protect society and nature from those effects and at times outright bans on development.

In my dissertation, I focused on the relationship between the spatial configuration of shale gas surface infrastructure and the resulting impacts on conservation priorities, e.g. displacement of rare species, forest, freshwater, and wetland fragmentation, and erosion. By rearranging planned infrastructure, we have the potential to avoid these impacts to some degree. Through a novel spatial optimization software I developed, I sought to address these questions:

  • What are the environmental impact tradeoffs between four easy-to-implement natural gas surface infrastructure siting guidelines?
  • What is the cost of reducing environmental impacts from surface infrastructure at the lease-hold scale?
  • How cost-effective are different regulations for reducing environmental impacts from surface infrastructure?

Understanding the Nature of Conservation Practice

New information is continually being added to our conservation planning knowledge. Although this information keeps planners attuned to the changing status of biodiversity and threats to it, the contribution of additional information to planning decisions has not been thoroughly explored. In conservation prioritization, new species surveys update our perception of biodiversity on the landscape and can help identify areas of high protection priority that were previously overlooked. By causing us to change our priorities, those additional species location data have a realized value that is proportional to the amount our priorities changed. The goal of this research is to explore the changing value of additional information in conservation planning through a case study of site prioritization in Tennessee.

Hyner View State Park in North-Central Pennsylvania. This is a typical landscape where natural gas development is booming.

A Lake Sturgeon, one of the many native Great Lakes migratory fishes whose spawning habitat is made partially or totally inaccessible by the presence of dams and fish-unfriendly road culverts.