Research to focus on redhorse, Pee Dee River

Scientists from N.C. State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences will lead an effort to better understand the impact that changes in habitat and water quality are having on fish, mussels and crayfish in the Pee Dee River in North and South Carolina.

Research will focus on the robust redhorse, a large and rare freshwater fish found in only three river drainages in the southeastern United States. The robust redhorse is a state-listed endangered species and is a priority species designated by the N.C. Wildlife Action Plan.

The effort is being funded with a $460,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant, which will be matched with $225,400 in state funds. The grant was made through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s competitive State Wildlife Grants Program.

Faculty members in the CALS Department of Applied Ecology will lead a collaborative research effort that will include the N.C. Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at N.C. State along with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

Lead investigators on the grant are Dr. Tom Kwak, leader of U.S. Geological Survey and N.C. Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at N.C. State University; Dr. Greg Cope, CALS Department of Applied Ecology; Dr. Ryan Heise, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission; and Forrest Sessions, S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Collaborators on the project include Dr. Tom Augspurger with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Dr. Damian Shea and Dr. Seth Cullman, N.C. State University Department of Biological Sciences; and Dr. Mac Law, N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Kwak explained that “this multidisciplinary research team of aquatic ecologists, environmental toxicologists and resource managers can address complex, contemporary research questions together that none of us could approach individually.”

Researchers will look at the impact of habitat and water quality changes on the redhorse as well as other fish, mussels and crayfish found in the Pee Dee River, which forms at the confluence of the Yadkin and Uwharrie rivers in Montgomery County and flows from North Carolina into South Carolina. The robust redhorse has been negatively affected by habitat modification and fragmentation from hydroelectric dams, introduction of non-native species, sedimentation and water pollution.

Recent research suggests that the impact of emerging contaminants, such as endocrine-disrupting compounds and pharmaceuticals, may be detrimental to fish and other priority species, according to Heise, a fisheries research coordinator with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

“Some of the chemicals that make it into our waters can mimic the effects of hormones in animals and cause adverse effects,” Heise said. “After completing this study, we hope to answer questions about the effects of different types of contaminants on robust redhorse and other aquatic animals, which should help us make better management decisions in the future.”

— Dave Caldwell

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