Research Projects

Brief summaries of research projects partially supported by the GLSF are featured here. For more detailed information on each project, follow the links to PDF files of the complete document.

2012- The 2012 GLSF Coaster Brook Trout Research Unit Grant was awarded to Jonathan Pearce, graduate student at Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI for his thesis project: Genetic Investigation of Coaster Brook Trout in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. Jonathan's faculty advisor is Katherine Teeter, Ph.D. Abstract: Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) found in the Lake Superior basin present significant difficulties for fisheries managers due to the complexity of this species. In the Lake Superior basin brook trout display three major life histories including stream resident, adfluvial and lacustrine coasters, which have been recognized by federal, state, provincial, and tribal agencies as important to management concerns. There is a need to clarify the delineation of populations as well as metapopulations around Lake Superior using genetic techniques that characterize appropriate management units based upon the amount of genetic divergence between recognized populations. Our study being conducted in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (PIRO) is sitting at the nexus of these issues as we intend to determine the genetic interrelationships between assumed populations of brook trout (watershed groups) that are known to be connected by the movement of individuals (i.e. coaster brook trout). Funding from the NPS will allow us to determine the genetic population structure of the PIRO brook trout in 6 watersheds in the park (Sable R., Hurricane R., Sullivan's Cr., Sevenmile Cr., Mosquito R., and Miners R.). We will determine the genetic relationship between downstream (access to Lake Superior) and upstream (restricted headwater) sections as well as between watershed comparisons. Funding from the GLSF will allow the analysis of known coaster brook trout from PIT tag radio telemetry data on three of the watersheds (Hurricane R., Sevenmile Cr., and Mosquito R.). Fish that have out-migrated from the stream into Lake Superior will be considered a coaster. Management decisions will be formulated by PIRO and MI DNR Biologist based on findings from the proposed study. The increased knowledge of the genetic structure found in the park will help further the conservation of brook trout in the Lake Superior basin and insight into the unique ecotype of the coaster brook trout. Publication of the study was completed in the summer of 2013. Link to completed study: Chapter Three: Genetic Investigation of Adfluvial Brook Trout in Pictured Pocks National Lakeshore
2013- The 2013 GLSF Coaster Brook Trout Research Unit Grant was awarded to Tony Matthys, graduate student at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI for his research project: Assessing the Impact of a Sediment Removal Restoration on Juvenile Coaster Brook Trout Habitat Preference. Tony's faculty advisor is Casey Huckins, Ph.D. Abstract: The Salmon Trout River, Marquette County, MI, contains the largest known and verified reproducing remnant population of adfluvial coaster brook trout on the south shore of Lake Superior. However, fine sediment aggradation has increased in this system, potentially reducing the in-stream habitat quality for juvenile coasters. Our previous research suggested that in sandy segments of the Salmon Trout River, even relatively small patches of exposed large substrate (e.g. pebbles, cobbles, boulders) correlate to higher juvenile coaster brook trout preference for a site. This indicates that exposed large substrates may be strong drivers of perceived habitat quality in sandy streams. My current research uses an ongoing spawning site restoration, where sediments are being collected and removed, as an experimental habitat manipulation. This allows us to experimentally test the effect of aggraded (and removed) sand on juvenile coaster brook trout habitat preferences. This study began in 2012, when we measured habitat preferences at the restoration site and two nearby reference sites before the restoration began. In the summer of 2013, we will measure habitat preferences again after the restoration has removed enough sand to expose more large substrates. This work seeks to provide restoration and management groups with information to more efficiently restore or improve habitat for brook trout both within the Salmon Trout River and throughout the Lake Superior basin. For instance, if the relationship between habitat preference and sediments I observed during my previous research is corroborated with this project, then we would have strong evidence that in sandy streams exposed large substrates are the main driver of brook trout habitat preference. This information could then be used to prioritize restoration that exposes large substrates in sandy streams over other habitat improvement strategies.
2014- The 2014 GLSF Coaster Brook Trout Research Unit Grant was awarded to Tony Matthys, graduate student at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI for his research project: Monitoring of a Sediment Removal Restoration and Assessing the Functionality of an Active Sediment Removal Array. Tony's faculty advisor is Casey Huckins, Ph.D. Abstract: With the aid of critical funding provided by the Greater Lake Superior Foundation we continue to study the effects of stream habitat conditions on Brook Trout ecology and behavior, and monitor the response of juvenile coaster brook trout to a sediment removal restoration. Beginning in 2012, we initiated the restoration of a coaster brook trout spawning site that had over the years been increasingly threatened and degraded by sand moving downstream from watershed disturbances. The restoration involved the removal of fine sediments from the site and the deployment of a series of active sediment collectors to prevent new fine sediments from burying the exposed large substrates in the restoration site in an effort to protect the important coaster brook trout spawning habitat. With the help of GLSF funding I was able to use this restoration as an experimental test of the importance of streambed substrates as factors influencing the habitat selection decisions made by juvenile coaster brook trout. We will be continuing this work this summer by conducting a second season of habitat preference surveys to address the longer term pattern of juvenile coaster brook trout habitat use. These surveys measure the rates of immigration and emigration at the restoration site and two nearby reference sites. These movement rates can then be used a proxy for habitat preference. Last summer we observed that preference juveniles showed for the site increased substantially after sand was removed. We look forward to measuring the interannual variability in habitat preference as well as response to the restoration one year later. We predict that the exposed large substrates of the restoration site will continue to be attractive habitat to juvenile coasters. Additionally, we will assess the how well the sediment collectors are protecting the restoration site by conducting detailed habitat surveys of the restoration site and the nearby reference sites. These surveys allow us to map embeddedness, sand depth, water depth and velocity. These surveys will tell show whether the collectors are working in the Salmon Trout River or if other more aggressive sediment control strategies are needed to protect this important coaster brook trout spawning habitat.
2015- The 2015 GLSF Coaster Brook Trout Research Unit Grant was awarded to Brian Danhoff, graduate student at Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI for his research project: Potential Use of Large Woody Debris For the Restoration of Instream Substrates. Brian's faculty advisor is Casey Huckins, Ph.D. Abstract: It has been well documented in scientific literature that heightened aggradation of fine sediments (e.g., sand) in cold-water trout streams can negatively impact instream habitat for fish and other biota. The Salmon Trout River, Marquette County, which currently supports a critical remnant population of Coaster Brook Trout (Salvelinus fontinalis), has been impacted by fine sediments over the past decade, and in particular since at least 2007, when large lobes of sand were observed encroaching on an important Brook Trout spawning location in a lower reach of the river. Logging activities and improper roads and crossings in small tributaries to the Salmon Trout River are believed to have caused the erosion of fine sediments from the upland that were transported downstream into the river. The majority of the lower Salmon Trout River is now aggraded with sand, which has removed much of the instream habitat complexity and embedded larger substrates needed by coldwater fish and much of their prey. In 2013 a successful effort was made to remove much of the sand and expose previously embedded substrates in a primary Coaster Brook Trout spawning location of the Salmon Trout River using a technique developed by Streamside Environmental LLC. We have also installed a sediment collector upstream that was designed to reduce bedload transport of fines downstream thus protecting the restored site. This requires routine maintenance and operation of the gas powered pump and it is likely under matched to deal with the extreme sand bedload so the site occasionally gets overtopped with sand. While successful at this small scale of the spawning site, it is not a solution for greater areas of the river and not transportable to other spawning areas currently embedded with fines. Much of the interstitial spaces previously used by Coaster Brook Trout and several species of invertebrates in the lower river have been filled in by this fine sediment. In these other sites we are proposing to use introduced large wood as a tool to restore some of the substrate heterogeneity (i.e. habitat complexity/patches of exposed large substrates) and spawning locations in the lower Salmon Trout River. Our long-term data set shows this upstream site being an active spawning area prior to the sand aggradation. Added wood will introduce small scale sites of hydraulic scour that will mobilize and aid in the downstream transport of sand. If successful in helping to mitigate some of the negative effects of sand and expose these important substrates in another upstream spawning site, wood in the stream would have the added benefit of acting as refuge and rearing habitat for juvenile Coaster Brook Trout. Prior to adding large woody material to the Salmon Trout river baseline data on the distribution of wood in the channel as well as associations between woody debris and sediment composition in the lower Salmon Trout River must be quantified. A longitudinal survey will be conducted of the physical characteristics of the channel. A crew will walk upstream in the channel measuring key large wood debris ?0.1 m in diameter and ?0.5 meters in length. Additional characteristics for wood will be recorded for each piece or jam including: orientation in the channel, whether or not a root wad is present, and number of pieces or total dimension for log jams. Substrates and channel morphology (e.g. wetted width, channel depth) will be measured at equally spaced transects within the study reach. GPS will be used to record the location of woody material in the river channel and this data will be characterized spatially along with channel and substrate data using Arcmap 10.1 (©ESRI). This data will provide a baseline condition of the current distribution of wood, physical characteristics in the channel and their association, as well as an estimation of substrate heterogeneity prior to wood additions. The associations between instream wood and streambed substrates will be used to guide future project planning and allow for the determination of the efficacy of woody material additions locally removing fine sediments and exposing larger substrates thus restoring old spawning sites and adding complexity to Coaster Brook Trout habitat. If successful, this technique could be an efficient low-maintenance solution to the preponderance of aggraded coldwater streams with limited trout spawning and rearing habitat.
2016- The 2016 GLSF Coaster Brook Trout Research Unit Grant was awarded to Spenser Chicoine, graduate student at Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI for his research project: Effects of Summer and Winter Thermal Variability Regimes on Growth and Metabolism of Coaster Brook Trout. Spenser's faculty advisor is Dr. Jill Leonard. Abstract: Spenser's research seeks to address how varying thermal regimes may affect fitness and survival of coaster brook trout through losses in growth. Much of our understanding of how brook trout biology is affected by thermal conditions focuses on the heat of summer. The cold of winter may have its own harmful effect that is essential for conservation workers to understand. It is also important to consider that an organism is subject to the extreme conditions of its environment, not just the mean. It is essential that we account for the effects of thermal variation, and not just compare seasonal averages, when describing the effects of temperature. This will allow for a more accurate understanding of the coaster brook trout's habitat requirements, and better assessment of suitable habitat for restoration efforts. This study is being carried out in the Fish Biology Lab at Northern Michigan University. Spenser is rearing his fish, Tobin Harbor coasters, in tanks in a laboratory setting allowing him to apply experimental treatments to different groups. One group of fish is being held at constant temperature, while the two others are exposed to a daily cycle of temperature fluctuation. These cycling treatments differ in strength. One varies by about 4°C daily to represent current climate conditions. The other varies by about 8°C daily, representative of potential end-of-century conditions according to climate change projections. As the fish are raised under these treatments, they will be monitored for growth, and biological indicators of stress. This project is currently underway, and is on track to be completed early this fall. Spenser is finishing his first year as a graduate student at NMU, and hopes to continue on an academic research career following the completion of this program.
2017- The 2017 GLSF Coaster Brook Trout Research Unit Grant was awarded to Jacob Bowman, graduate student at Northern Michigan University, Marquette, MI for his research project: A Link Between Metabolic Rate and the Life History Strategies of Brook Trout. Jacob's faculty advisor is Dr. Jill Leonard. Abstract: Brook trout are one of many species that exhibit intraspecific life history variation across their range including our locality, Lake Superior. The most notable of these life histories is the coaster brook trout. Coaster brook trout have been ruled out as a subspecies because of a lack of genetic distinction and has failed recognition as a distinct vertebrate population segment from a petition for the endangered species list. In addition, metabolism is related to behaviors like aggression emigration and is a predictor for ecotonal habitat selection in related taxa. Researchers are also providing evidence that the decision to emigrate may be within individual metabolic variation. It is for these reasons that we seek to understand the role metabolism plays in movement patterns of brook trout within a local watershed. The Rock River provides a diverse habitat with different environmental variation within its tributaries. We will place RFID antenna's and track brook trout movement throughout the watershed increasing our coverage as years persist. These brook trout will be tagged and have oxygen consumption measured for metabolism through intermittent flow respirometry. There are many different causes for movement within a population including thermal and flow variation, seasonal movements like reproduction and emigration. We plan to use these movement patterns in conjunction with metabolism in individual brook trout to determine what metabolic traits correlate with timing of movement and more importantly which individuals decide to emigrate from a localized area within the stream.