Pictured at right is the rostrum, or 'paddle', of a juvenile Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula). A network of sensitive electroreceptors helps Paddlefish to detect plankton in large river systems, and can even detect the individual feeding and swimming movements of zooplankton's microscopic appendages.
As a master’s student in the Alford Lab at the University of Tennessee, I became interested in the ecology and management of freshwater fishes of the American Southeast. I was particularly fascinated with two groups of fishes native to eastern Tennessee: small, colorful non-game fishes known as darters (Percidae), and large, ancient fishes including Lake Sturgeon and Paddlefish (Acipenseridae).
For my own research, I investigated the diet of and prey availability for reintroduced juvenile Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) in the Upper Tennessee River Basin. With Lake Sturgeon having been extirpated in the entire Southeast by 1970, due to compounding anthropogenic influences, these fish are now being reintroduced by state, federal, and non-profit entities. Because these fish disappeared before scientists had a chance to study them, researchers are now investigating aspects of their life history for the first time in the Southeast. Larger, more robust populations in the northern U.S. and eastern Canada are well-studied and benefited from earlier conservation measures, so it’s imperative that aquatic biologists in the Southeast use sound science to advance the reintroduction of this imperiled species to its historic range.
As a graduate student I partnered with the Tennessee Aquarium Conservation Institute (TNACI) to create an online reporting system whereby recreational anglers can inform biologists about when and where they caught their Lake Sturgeon. As this species is threatened or endangered in all but one state in the United States, anglers are requested to immediately release the fish after quickly photographing and estimating the size and weight of the fish. For more information on freshwater fish diversity in the Southeast, where aquatic diversity reaches its peak in the temperate world, please visit TNACI’s website. To learn more about iCaughtOne!, the Southeast’s Lake Sturgeon reporting system, visit icaughtone.org.
Pictured below is a collection of darter species (Percidae) found in the Nolichucky River in Tennessee. No other state has more species of freshwater fish, though Alabama is nipping at its heels.
From top to bottom: Snubnose Darter (Etheostoma simoterum), Sharphead Darter (Etheostoma acuticeps), Redline Darter (Nothonotus rufilineatus), and Banded Darter (Etheostoma zonale)