Informing Species at Risk Recovery Efforts

As an NSERC Visiting Fellow with Fisheries and Oceans Canada at the Great Lakes Laboratory for Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences (GLLFAS) my research is directed towards better informing recovery efforts for freshwater fish listed under the Species at Risk Act. The Species at Risk Act (2002) is federal legislation designed to protect species at risk of extinction and aiding in their recovery. Once a species has been list, a recovery strategy is drafted that provides goals and strategies for aiding in the recovery of that species. Ultimately, the purpose of the any recovery strategy is to stop the decline of the at-risk species and, through protection, hopefully increase their status.

My first project at GLLFAS is directed towards the Eastern Sand Darter, Ammocrypta pellucida, a species currently recognized as Threatened under the Species at Risk Act. Canadian populations of Eastern Sand Darter have experienced severe declines since the 1970s and 1980s due to habitat degradation from urban and agricultural development, stream channelization, and invasive species (COSEWIC Report 2009). In the Ontario population of Eastern Sand Darter Recovery Strategy, 7 short-term (5-10 year) recovery objectives were provided (Fisheries and Oceans Canada 2012). One of those objectives is to investigate the feasibility of population supplementation or repatriation for populations that may be extirpated or reduced.

Population supplementation is the act of releasing individuals of a species to an area where known populations are currently residing with a goal of increasing the size of at-risk populations. Repatriation (*commonly referred to as reintroduction – but see my blog post at RapidEcology about this terminology) describes the act of releasing individuals of a species to an area where the species had historically occupied but are presently extirpated. Both strategies can be extremely challenging in practice and understanding what makes these efforts successful and predicting their success in advance is fundamentally important (*see my blog post at FlyFishOntario to learn more about these challenges). As such, my work is now directed towards using existing data on Eastern Sand Darter (picture below) to better understand the potential of population supplementation and repatriation efforts for this species.


Two Eastern Sand Darter, Ammocrypta pellucida, from the Grand River, Ontario, Canada. These are a Threatened species in Canada