June 05, 2013

Public can help with endangered species research

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Researchers at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are using an innovative funding mechanism in their efforts to identify the spawning habitat of a federally endangered fish in the Mississippi River basin.

Professor James E. Garvey and a team of researchers at the University are raising money over the next month to develop a sensor that will detect when sturgeon are spawning.  Identifying its habitat in the river is key to re-building the federally endangered pallid sturgeon species, said Garvey, director of the University’s Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Aquatic Sciences.

The goal with this initial and unique “crowd sourcing” launch is to raise $100,000 by 3:30 p.m., July 3.

“Research at SIU addresses many significant issues, but when it comes to funding, these are challenging times,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said. “Professor Garvey and his team have come up with a wonderful grass-roots way for the public to become involved in our critical conservation research.”

Media Advisory

For more information on the project or SIU’s ongoing sturgeon research along the Mississippi River, contact Professor James E. Garvey, director of the director of the University’s Center for Fisheries, Aquaculture, & Aquatic Sciences, at 618/453-6013, or by email at jgarvey@siu.edu.

Project donors will be able to track the ongoing research involving spawning sturgeon near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis.

Garvey has been conducting research on sturgeon in the Middle Mississippi River basin, which runs from St. Louis south to Cairo, Ill., for more than 15 years.

“One of the big mysteries for most any fish species is its spawning habitat,” Garvey said.  “In rivers like the Mississippi, it is impossible to actually see spawning occurring.  Knowing the spawning site is critical because this is where the next cohort in the population will be produced. Spawners need the right habitat and proper protection during the spawn.”

Other research team members include Brian C. Small, an associate physiology professor with the Fisheries and Aquaculture Center; Ian I Suni, director of the Materials Technology Center, and Haibo Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The primary area Garvey will start with is a location near the Gateway Arch along a five- to six-mile stretch of the riverfront.  While the tools have been unavailable to pinpoint the exact locations, Garvey said he believes the area is a potential sturgeon spawning location due to dark and murky fast-running water conditions.

A wireless sensor attached to a transmitter and implanted in female shovelnose sturgeons will activate when spawning occurs, and send both the time and location information back to researchers, Garvey said.  The female shovelnose sturgeon is a close relation to the pallid sturgeon.  Shovelnose sturgeons mature early and are relatively abundant in the river. Implanting these devices in sturgeon that will spawn in about a month will ensure researchers can track them to their spawning location.

The sensor is not harmful to the fish and will allow researchers to actively track the sturgeon’s movement.  In addition to protecting those spawning areas, it will allow for the creation of additional spawning areas by replicating conditions elsewhere along the river, Garvey said.

"All the technology for developing a working biosensor that detects the spikes in reproductive hormones that occur during spawning are available,” he said.  “The key is to develop a working model for the field affixed to commercially available animal transmitters.  We hope we can raise sufficient funds from Kickstarter to interest both government agencies and industry in partnering with us on more research.”

If funded, the prototype sensor should be in the fish and running in the water by fall, Garvey said.  Sturgeon do not typically spawn until the spring.

Garvey said he’s aware of other universities utilizing crowd sourcing to increase research funding for their respective projects.  This will also give the Center a list of donors who can receive updates on the project and keep them “involved in the process.”

More information on the project is available at kickstarter.com/projects/358503718/detect-the-spawn-biosensor-for-fish-conservation.

Donors will see a credit card charge for their pledge only if the campaign reaches its goal in the next month, Garvey said.  Otherwise, the group will continue to work with donors to try and achieve funding by tweaking the campaign, and letting them know if more funds become available.