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PhD candidate – Jacqueline Chapman, Larkin runner-up 2015

I am currently a PhD student in the Biology Department at Carleton University. My research focuses on understanding the impacts of disease in wild salmonid species across Canada, and how disease can influence the susceptibility of individuals to fisheries interactions. I hope to use cutting edge high-throughput qPCR on RNA expression to identify microbes (bacteria, viruses, and microparasites) that impact the behaviour of migrating fish (e.g. swimming speed, migratory delay), and identify factors associated with fisheries that interact with diseases.

To address these questions, I am working with stocks that are targeted by recreational, commercial, and subsistence fisheries: coho salmon in British Columbia’s Fraser River, Arctic charr in Nunavut’s Grenier Lake system, and Atlantic salmon in Newfoundland’s Campbellton River. At each field site, I am using biotelemetry paired with biological sampling and fisheries simulations to investigate the interactions among microbial community dynamics, fisheries, and fish movement during annual migrations from marine to freshwater environments. Using only a small gill clip, we are able to isolate and quantify relative loads of microbial RNA, and investigate the expression of genes associated with the immune system and osmoregulation.

Through my research, I hope to answer questions such as – Are fish infected with a large diversity of microbes more impacted by air exposure/strenuous exercise than fish with fewer microbes? Do certain microbes matter more than others? Can fishers and/or managers mitigates these impacts? These questions are important considering that, like in human populations, diseases have natural cycles. Consequently, by catch fish or fish released from catch-and-release fisheries may be more vulnerable in years where certain microbes are more prevalent.

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MSc candidate – Michelle Lavery, Larkin runner-up 2015

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The life of a young Atlantic salmon is fraught with challenges – from predation to starvation, the chances of making it to adulthood are slim. Add to that the pressures of increasing human harvesting and loss of vital habitat, and you have the perfect storm. Atlantic salmon populations are decreasing at alarming rates, and conservation efforts have never been more important. But in order to conserve, we need to know some baselines to make our measurements meaningful.

Very little is known about what causes mortality in natural systems at the earliest life stages of the Atlantic salmon. Salmon deposit their eggs in riverbeds during the fall, and about 50% of those eggs emerge as juveniles in the spring. How come eggs die while overwintering? Is it a result of ice scour, low dissolved oxygen, or sedimentation? Which abiotic variables interact and contribute to this mortality? These are questions that have not yet been answered in situ. We’ve attempted to find the answers by planting eggs from wild-caught broodstock in several areas of natural spawning activity in the Miramichi River system, along with a variety of data loggers to measure temperature, water chemistry, ice formation, and sedimentation. Once we can assess sources of natural mortality and their impact on hatching juveniles in a relatively pristine system, we can begin to assess our impact on the population in a more meaningful way.

I hope that my research can provide a baseline, from which changes and impacts can be more thoroughly assessed. I also hope that it will help identify key habitat characteristics, which may direct conservation priorities. Finally, I’m looking forward to learning more about a wonderful and highly prized species, the beautiful and wild Atlantic salmon.