Our goal is to develop innovative approaches to marine and freshwater ecosystem management. We integrate quantitative science + ecology + socioeconomic research to advance solutions to natural resource management problems spanning from local case studies to oceanscape spatial scales. Research in our group spans four core themes:
Ecology and demography to support ecosystem management
Information on food webs, the interaction between individuals and their environment, and population demography is central to informing natural resource and conservation planning decisions.
Fisheries restoration: Population re-introduction of Cisco in the Finger Lakes
Coregonines such as Cisco (C. artedi) used to range throughout cold water lakes in the Northeast, serving an important role as both predator and prey. Decades of water quality degradation, overfishing, and invasive species introductions have constricted the range of these native species and led to extirpations in many waterbodies. In this project, we are working with State and Federal collaborators to reintroduce Cisco to Keuka lake in an effort to re-establish native forage fish resources and improve lake resiliency. Utilizing state of the art small acoustic tags, our group is monitoring the movement and survival of stocked Cisco, providing key information needed to guide Cisco population restoration practices in the Great Lakes basin.
Fisheries: Spatial ecology of juvenile Coregonines in the Great Lakes (MS/PhD project: Taylor Brown)
Taylor will explore early life stage ecology of Coregonines in Lake Ontario. In a joint collaboration with Brian Weidel at the USGS Great Lakes Science Center and Lars Rudstam at Cornell, we seek to advance understanding about the spatiotemporal habitat use of Coregonines at lake-wide scales. This work will support long term monitoring and restoration management options for this important native fish complex across the Great Lakes.
Fisheries: Stock assessment and predator prey modeling to develop control rules for Pacific Salmon management in Lake Ontario (PhD project: K. Fitzpatrick)
In this collaboration with the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, we’ll be developing a portfolio of projects to assess Chinook and alewife population dynamics in Lake Ontario. We seek to develop tools to assist managers in coping with shocks to the predator-prey system and develop guidance for appropriate stocking or harvest strategies. The project will incorporate structured conceptual modeling with stakeholders, empirical work to assess predator and/or prey abundances or demographic rates, and population dynamics simulations, building from a legacy of strong predator-prey work in the Great Lakes science community.
Fisheries: Cisco spawning ecology in the Great Lakes (MS project: M. Paufve)
Cisco, Coregonus artedi, a native coregonine in the Great Lakes was once highly abundant and supported large commercial fisheries. Combinations of overfishing, changing lake productivity, pollution, and invasive species led to wide-scale stock collapses of Cisco and other coregonines. With support from the Great Lakes Research Institute, we are working with Brian Lantry at the USGS Lake Ontario Biological Field Station to assess habitat use by Cisco in upper Great Lakes with remnant spawning populations. Ultimately, information gained in the upper Lakes will be used to inform restoration efforts in Lake Ontario.
Recently completed projects:
Apex carnivore ecology: Novel use of satellite-collar fix success to infer canid parturition.
Marine mammal ecology: Spatial ecology of Beluga whales inferred from novel use of industry-lea aerial survey data.
Fisheries ecology: Do radio tags affect swimming performance of Chum salmon?
Fisheries ecology: Dynamic occupancy to learn about habitat use and foraging behavior of marine fish species.
Response of ecosystems to anthropogenic x natural disturbance
Understanding the response of ecosystems to human and natural disturbances is needed to design solutions to address stressors as well as set expectations about the range of future variability with which managers must cope.
Fisheries: Modeling tradeoffs between marine reserves versus fishing gear modification to manage seafloor impacts for Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea fisheries (PhD project: S. Smeltz)
In this project, we’re implementing recovery-decay models for seascape-scale simulations to explore potential benthic impacts from commercial fishing gear. Ultimately, we seek to develop tools for policy makers to compare commercial fishing gear modification (‘gear conservation’) tools with spatial closures (‘marine reserves’) in managing habitat impacts from fishing. This work is highly relevant to the U.S. Federal fishery management councils as they develop tools to assess and manage Essential Fish Habitat. Project supported by a grant from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.
Invasive fish ecology: defining the ecological niche of Round goby on the inland temperate lake invasion front
A relatively recent arrival to the NE region, round goby are now found throughout the Great Lakes basin. This benthic fish may negatively impact native species in the Great Lakes via habitat and food competition, and by predation on native fish eggs and larvae. Conversely, gobies prey on invasive Dreissenid mussels and themselves may be viable prey for adult native Great Lakes fish. Information on the distribution and ecology of goby is a top priority for understanding ecosystem-level impacts from this rapidly expanding invader. In this collaboration between Cornell, NY Sea Grant, and the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, we are using benthic videography and sound recording to assess the distribution and biomass of round goby in heavily infested Cayuga Lake as a mesocosm relevant for Great Lakes waters.
Invasive aquatic vegetation: Eldoea spp. impacts on high-latitude salmonid ecology
In collaboration with Mike Carey at the USGS Alaska Science Center, we’re investigating potential impacts of established Elodea spp. beds on the ecology of resident salmonids in high latitude systems. The project will take an experimental approach using limnocorrals deployed in SE Alaska lakes.
Recently completed projects:
Intertidal community ecology: Assessment of press versus pulse disturbances on rocky shore communities.
Invasive aquatic plants: Rapid response for invasive waterweeds at the arctic invasion front — assessment of collateral impacts from herbicide treatments.
Invasive aquatic plants: Review of invasive aquatic plants in high latitude systems and identification of a novel “remote area invasion ratchet” process.
Fisheries management: Identification of the top knowledge needs to inform best practices for trawl-based fisheries.
Social-ecological systems management
We manage people, not fish and wildlife. Natural resource management problems involve a combination of social and ecological processes, and thus effective management need address both systems.
Fisheries: Advancing conservation finance opportunities for fisheries
While many commercial fisheries are sustainably managed, overfishing, bycatch, gear-related habitat damage, and profit dissipation remain a problem in some regions. The pace of reform is slow, and some countries do not have adequate regulatory resources to implement sustainable fisheries management. Private investment capital presents a potentially large opportunity to fund the transition to sustainable fisheries management, aligning investor return opportunities with environmental and social performance goals. In this joint collaboration between the Environmental Defense Fund and Atkinson Center at Cornell, we seek to help accelerate the pace of conservation investments in fisheries by addressing key information gaps. We are exploring more mature conservation finance sectors to develop understanding about the necessary conditions for viable fishery investment opportunities which can satisfy investor risk-return expectations while improving fisheries socioecological performance.
Recently completed projects:
Fisheries socioecological systems: Development of quantitative metrics to monitor fishing communities.
Fisheries socioecological systems: Examination of the relationship between Alaskan fishing community fishing portfolios and community revenue risk.
Quantitative tool development
A core of our research group centers on quantitative ecological methodology development. We work across applied statistics, ecological modeling, and genetics to advance the set of tools available to observe and manage ecosystems.
Computational sustainability: Minimizing ecosystem impacts from planned hydropower expansion in the Amazon
Over 350 large hydropower dams have been proposed for construction in the Andean Amazon region. Hydropower dams can produce energy benefits, however, they also impact ecosystem services. In this international project led by Alex Flecker and Carla Gomes at Cornell with support from the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, we are collaborating across ecology, computer science, economics, hydrology, and geology to develop a computational sustainability framework for siting hydropower dams on large river systems while minimizing negative ecosystem service impacts. Additional information can be found at the project website.
Genetics: DNA mixtures for ecology
Mixtures of DNA from multiple individuals are commonly found in the environment and may provide information useful to inform population ecology. We are developing a likelihood based model to infer the number of contributors to a DNA mixture for ecological applications. Initial simulation and laboratory results look promising, with mixtures of up to 10 or more individuals successfully resolved with reasonable sized marker panels. Looking forward, we hope to be able to apply this model to a range of field settings including diet analysis and environmental DNA sampling.
Genetics: Genetic mark recapture population assessment of Pacific Walrus
Pacific Walrus are a culturally important marine mammal in the arctic seas. In a project lead by the Alaska US Fish and Wildlife Service, we’re conducting a multi-year genetic mark recapture project using crossbow dart biopsied sample collection in the Bering and Chukchi seas to assess survival and abundance of Pacific Walrus.
Fisheries: Acoustic surveys of Pacific Sardine in the Philippines
The Philippine sardine fishery constitutes over 200k mt of harvest annually, providing a major source of employment and seafood production for the country. In 2016, the Philippines enacted policies requiring science-based control rules for commercial fisheries in order to achieve optimal sustainable harvest. This commitment to sustainable fisheries management will require information streams on stock status not presently widely available for Philippines fishery resources. In this collaborative project between the Environmental Defense Fund and the Atkinson Center at Cornell, we are assessing the feasibility of active and passive acoustic technology for biomass assessments of Pacific Sardine in the Visayan Sea.
Stream ecology: Are remotely sensed thermal products useful for stream fisheries ecology? (MS project at Alaska Pacific University: R. Murphy, J. Hagan)
Remotely sensed thermal information provides large scale and relatively easy to collect information on surface temperatures. In this project, the accuracy and precision of remotely sensed Landsat thermal data is being compared to instream water temperature measurements along the Kenai Peninsula in southcentral Alaska. While at the forefront of climate change, subarctic and arctic systems are typically remote and difficult to access. In this project supported by NASA, the Western AK Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and Pollock Conservation Cooperative funding, we hope to assess whether remotely sensed data might provide information useful for assessing temporal or spatial changes in stream temperatures.
Fisheries: Assessing the efficacy of early release efforts to reduce impacts to bycaught Pacific halibut in the Bering Sea trawl fisheries using PSATs
In this project led by Dr. Craig Rose at FishNext research, we’re assessing the utility of popup satellite archival tags deployed into halibut to assess mortality events as inferred by fish movement data. Ultimately, we seek to utilize PSAT methods to investigate the efficacy of early release efforts, such as deck sorting, to reduce impacts to bycatch. For example, with information on mortality events, we can conduct time-to-event survival modeling for fish under different release treatments. This is a big project involving collaboration from fisheries participants, management agencies, and universities including AK Seafood Cooperative operators, the U of AK, Alaska Pacific University, the International Pacific Halibut Commission, FishNext Research, Kingfisher Marine Research, and Spearfish Research.
Recently completed projects:
Computation sustainability: High value of ecological information for river connectivity restoration.
Quantitative fisheries ecology: New statistical approach to handle missing data at fish weirs.
Quantitative fisheries ecology: Novel use of finite mixture models to age juvenile fish with length measurements.