It may not be the largest research project or the best funded, but when it comes to outcomes, West Virginia University’s efforts to track brook trout populations in 25 streams in the Mountain State has netted some impressive successes.
While providing significant information for managers and landowners, eight graduate students have successfully completed their education and research studies. At least 15 publications have arisen and approximately 30 presentations have been made at national, divisional, and state American Fisheries Society Meetings. Knowledge gained from this long-term project continues to have significant management and recovery implications for brook trout.
The icing in the cake is the recent announcement that the project will be recognized for research achievement at the United States Forest Service’s 2009 Rise to the Future and National Watershed Awards ceremony Dec. 16 in Washington, DC.
The project began in 2003 and was designed to improve understanding of the spatial and temporal variability in brook trout habitat and population dynamics. Research documents the importance of land-based insects as food sources for brook trout populations, preferential use of pool habitats and trout seasonal movements, and interactions between trout populations, land use and environmental conditions.
Kyle Hartman, a professor of wildlife and fisheries resources in the WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design’s Division of Forestry and Natural Resources, says that the long-term nature of the project allows the researchers to spot population trends that might not be evident in shorter studies. The team can examine the impact of factors like sport fishing and nearby timber harvesting on trout populations over time.
One example Hartman noted was the practice of removing timber harvest residue from streams, which was standard best management practice among foresters. In the study, the research team learned that some woody debris left in the waterways actually creates desirable habitat for the trout and the insects that contribute to their diet.
The project is a collaborative effort that includes researchers from WVU, the Fernow Experimental Forest, the Monongahela National Forest, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, and Mead Westvaco.
CONTACT: David Welsh
Photo Caption: Collecting impedance measures from an anesthetized brook trout for use in estimating fish condition.