My research is directed toward informing species recovery efforts for freshwater fishes listed under the Species at Risk Act (SARA 2002), particularly in the Great Lakes basin. SARA is federal legislation in Canada designed to protect species at risk of extinction and aid in their recovery. Once a species is listed as Threatened, Endangered, or Extirpated under SARA, a recovery strategy is drafted that provides goals and strategies for recovering that species, which often includes research to better understand the abundance, distribution, biology, ecology, and life-history of the species. My job is to inform future species recovery efforts through the design of species monitoring programs, studies to understand species habitat-associations and distributions, and decisions related to species repatriation.
Species repatriation (*commonly referred to as reintroduction – but see my blog post at RapidEcology about this terminology) describes the release of species into areas from which they have been extirpated with the goal of re-establishing self-sustaining populations. Examples of repatriation for freshwater fishes in Canada are relatively rare despite being identified as a vital approach in several federal Recovery Strategies (Lamothe et al. 2019a). Of the SARA-listed freshwater fish species, repatriation or supplementation efforts have only been directed towards 5 species, including Atlantic Whitefish, Copper Redhorse, Striped Bass, Westslope Cutthroat Trout, and White Sturgeon (Lamothe et al. 2019b). This relatively low number is because performing a successful repatriation is challenging (*see my blog post at FlyFishOntario to learn more about these challenges), as there are several hurdles that delay the implementation of repatriation efforts including knowledge of basic species ecology, historical and present day environmental stressors, stocking considerations, and policy considerations. But when is there enough information?
In addition to broadly investigating questions related to repatriation, I work on applied questions to inform freshwater fish recovery efforts in southern Ontario, particularly for small-bodied taxa (e.g., darters, madtoms, minnows). One species currently listed as Threatened under SARA is Eastern Sand Darter (pictured above). Using existing data from Dr. Alan Dextrase’s PhD, we demonstrated how species co-occurrence patterns could be used to inform species recovery efforts and the importance of investigating the effects of imperfect detection when seeking out these relationships (Lamothe et al. 2019c). Importantly for the management of at-risk freshwater fish species in Canada, we demonstrated a positive co-occurrence relationship between Eastern Sand Darter and Silver Shiner, another Threatened freshwater fish in Canada (Lamothe et al. 2019d). Alternatively, we identified a negative co-occurrence relationship between the invasive Round Goby and the Endangered Northern Madtom (Lamothe et al. 2020). In both cases, the knowledge of species co-occurrence relationships will inform both future decisions on site restoration efforts, but also items like in-stream work proposals. Ultimately, in my research I seek to understand how freshwater fish species interact and maintain populations in a rapidly changing landscape, particularly for rare species at risk of extinction.