04 August 2021

Wrapping Up My Summer Research on Razorback Sucker and Quagga Mussels

Written by: Elizabeth Renner

This summer I have been working remotely as a DFP with the Southern Nevada Fish & Wildlife Office using Bureau of Reclamation water quality data to study how the quagga mussel invasion in Lake Mead has impacted Razorback Sucker, a critically endangered fish. I spent the first half of my summer compiling a massive database and then analyzing the data to determine 1) whether quagga mussels have changed Lake Mead’s phytoplankton or zooplankton, and 2) whether these changes are influenced by changing environmental factors like lake temperature and water levels, and 3) whether these changes have significantly impacted the population of genetically pure razorback sucker in the reservoir.

As my summer DFP fellowship draws to a close, I’ve been busy writing my final report to summarize my findings and preparing presentations to different groups and stakeholders. We found that quagga mussels did not have meaningful impacts on zooplankton or phytoplankton community composition or biomass over time in Lake Mead. Furthermore, we didn’t detect any correlation between quagga mussel veliger biomass and razorback sucker abundance. However, we did find a weak association between declining reservoir water levels and declining razorback sucker abundance, suggesting that water abstraction for irrigation and municipal use across the Colorado River Basin coupled with lower inflows from reduced precipitation and snowmelt as a result of climate change might have lasting negative effects on razorback sucker spawning and survival in Lake Mead. Last week I had the opportunity to present my work to a group of 100 biologists, DFP fellows and agency supervisors from Legacy Region 8, which includes California, Nevada, and Oregon’s Klamath River Basin.

Altogether, the DFP fellowship has been an incredible opportunity for me to hone my skills as a fisheries researcher. Tackling a massive project on this scale and executing it in less than 11 weeks was challenging, but it allowed me to prove to myself that I am capable of working independently, solving problems, breaking down a major task into manageable components, setting realistic daily and weekly goals, and meeting those deadlines. It has been incredibly rewarding to have the opportunity to step into a project relevant to a pressing conservation challenge. I had the opportunity to put my skills to work to contribute to the understanding of the ecology of an endangered fish and one of the most economically and culturally important reservoirs in the southwestern United States.

I’ve received wonderful mentorship from my supervisor, Michael Schwemm, and my career advisor, Michelle Moorman, who have both passed along sage wisdom and shared their unique perspectives on the agency. I’ve connected with fellow early career researchers interested in public service across the nation. I’ve had an inside look at agency culture and had the opportunity to network with a range of fisheries biologists from across the Service, and it has strengthened my interest in working for the agency after I defend my dissertation and graduate.

I’m grateful to the Hispanic Access Fund for facilitating this formative learning experience. My DFP experience has honed my research skills and validated my desire to work for the agency to conserve America’s fisheries and aquatic natural resources.

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: Southern Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office

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