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Current Research Projects

Status of fishes and mussels of concern in southwestern Louisiana

We completed a 2-year project on the status of several Louisiana fishes of concern in the southeastern portion of the state, and have not begun a 2-year project investigating the population status and distribution of several fishes and mussels of concern in streams located in the southwestern portion of the state. We will use backpack, barge, and boat electrofishing gear supplemented by seining to sample fish communities in streams in the Calcasieu, Mermentau, and Sabine watersheds, and will also be collecting data on habitat and water quality conditions and macroinvertebrate community composition, particularly the abundance and distribution patterns of several rare freshwater mussels. These streams were severely impacted by Hurricane Ike in 2008, and it will be particularly interesting to investigate the status of biotic communities in these streams.

Six Mile Creek

Six Mile Creek in Southwestern Louisiana

Indian Bayou

Indian Bayou in Southwestern Louisiana

Redear sunfish from Indian Bayou

A nice redear sunfish from Indian Bayou

 

Relationships among water quality, habitat, and biotic structure in the Atchafalaya River Basin

We continue to work on assessment of habitat, water quality, and fish community structure in the Atchafalaya River Basin, and several recent graduate students have been addressing research topics in the Basin ranging from aquatic plant community structure and epiphytic invertebrate ecology to the physiology and life history characteristics of red swamp crayfish and floodplain use by Basin larval fishes. The focus of the Atchafalaya Basin Project is to reduce the effects of channelization, canal construction, and other hydrological modifications that have occurred over the last century and restore the natural hydrology across the floodplain. We have a large monitoring project in the Basin, whereby we record water quality, depth, flow, and habitat conditions at over one hundred locations biweekly, and we also electrofish at approximately 30 locations. We have had numerous students who addressed various ecological questions in their theses and dissertations that have focused on habitat associations of larval, juvenile, and adult fishes, macroinvertebrates, and aquatic plant communities. Exotic plants, particularly water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes and hydrilla Hydrilla verticillata, currently dominate aquatic habitats in the Basin, and are significantly affecting water quality, habitat structure, and biotic community dynamics within the littoral zone

Water quality problems

Water quality problems are evident as the Basin drains during the latter stages of the flood pulse.  The black (low dissolved oxygen) water results from prolonged floodplain inundation, lack of flow, and high rates of decomposition in the flooded forest.

Hydrilla stands

You can see the dense hydrilla stands infesting a canal in the lower Basin.  Without boat traffic, this canal would be completely choked with hydrilla, which is often decomposing under surface mats of water hyacinth and common salvinia, reducing dissolved oxygen levels.

Flood pulse

During the flood pulse, bottomland forests dominated by cypress trees are inundated by sediment-laden river water.  Reduced stagnation and improved water movement onto and out of the floodplain would significantly improve aquatic habitat conditions

 

Habitat, water quality and fish and invertebrate community composition in the newly flooded Mollicy Tract on the Ouachita River

The Mollicy Tract on the upper Ouachita River in northeastern Louisiana has historically been separated from the Ouachita River by a levee system. Recent floods have breached the levee, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in conjunction with the Nature Conservancy and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality are planning to permanently remove sections of the levee to allow the Ouachita River to access this historical floodplain. We have project in which we are assessing water quality, habitat structure, larval fish abundance, invertebrate community composition, and fish community structure in the Mollicy Tract as well as a natural floodplain area on the west side of the river. The project is designed to follow the development of more lotic habitat characteristics and aquatic communities as the floodplain matures.

Mollicy Tract slough

One of the deeper sloughs on the Mollicy Tract

Mollicy Tract high water 2009

The same site during the extremely high water event in 2009

One of the levee breaks that has resulted in the extensive 2009 flooding

Light trap

Setting a light trap on the inundated Mollicy floodplain