Campus Life

Student Study Endangered Cave Fish

Visiting Lecturer and Research Associate of Biology Ginny Adams received a $19,870 grant to study the population size and movement of the endangered species grotto sculpin in Perry County, Mo.

Adams says grotto sculpin are unique populations of banded sculpin found in Perry County that are comprised of reproducing individuals exhibiting morphologies similar to other cave-adapted species, which includes a reduction in pigmentation and eye size.

Adams is interested in the grotto sculpin.

“I became specifically interested in the grotto sculpin due to their intermediate morphologies,” Adams said. “They are in the process of adapting to the cave environment, and it is rare that we get the chance to study a species that is in the midst of change.”

The study works by tagging individual sculpin in the field with unique color combinations of rubber that are injected just below the skin.

“Data is collected on size, weight, eye size and reproductive condition of individuals; we then return on a monthly basis to recapture individuals and use these data to determine growth rates, population size, longevity and general health of the population, and we are collecting habitat data to determine what variables are important for their distribution,” Adams said.

“The large numbers of sinkholes in Perry County provide direct pathways for the introduction of contaminants into grotto sculpin habitat, and in addition, much of the recharge area is impacted from cattle, agriculture and runoff from the city of Perryville,” Adams said. “Underground habitats are often threatened by the actions we take above ground, yet they often receive very little attention.”

Adams said one population named Running Bull Cave may already be extinct, possibly due to contamination of the cave stream by agricultural chemicals from a nearby sinkhole.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, the grotto sculpin only live in five cave streams in Perry County. The grotto sculpin live in caves, sinkholes and underground streams that are used to dispose of garbage and trash that contain chemicals and other pollutants from the waste contaminating underground water sources.

It is important to study the population size and movement of the grotto sculpin,” Adams said.

“The quantification of important population/individual parameters population size, longevity, growth rates and habitat use of the grotto sculpin will provide a baseline from which to monitor populations in the future, and understanding movement patterns of grotto sculpin will help determine the likelihood of natural recolonization of caves following extirpation and elucidate connections between caves and resurgent streams,” Adams said.

Adams said that the $19,870 is used to provide a research assistantship for a graduate student, cover travel expenses to the study site and materials for the project.

For their thesis, graduate students Bruce Moyer and Joe Gerken are helping Adams with the study, which will take four years.

“The project started in the summer of 2005, and the grant provides a continuation of support from the Missouri Department of Conservation, and we hope to have funding for an additional three years of data collection,” Adams said.

She received the grant because she has worked with grotto sculpin since 1998 and has contacts with local landowners and agency personnel.

“The caves in Perry County are all located on private property and it is important to maintain good landowner relationships,” she said.

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