Redefining the Classroom

Current Research

Linkages between tributaries and Whitefish Bay and their significance for Lake Whitefish

Paul Ripple, Kristin Arend, Nancy Kirkpatrick, Ashley Moerke, and Geoffrey Steinhart Lake Whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis) is an important cultural and commercial resource for the Bay Mills Indian Community (BMIC) and the broader community of Sault Sainte Marie, MI. Lake Whitefish comprise a large proportion of commercial and subsistence catch by the BMIC in Whitefish Bay. This ongoing project is focused on addressing two questions of critical importance to better understand Lake Whitefish dynamics and stock structure: 1) are Lake Whitefish in Whitefish Bay one stock or multiple stocks; and 2) do tributary inputs to Whitefish Bay support/drive fisheries habitat and biotic production including Lake Whitefish? Previous research suggests Lake Whitefish are philopatric (i.e., return to a discrete location for spawning) in Whitefish Bay, which could lead to the formation of genetically distinct spawning stocks. The development of genetically distinct spawning stocks has not been evaluated. Whether or not discrete genetic stocks exist, understanding what drives Lake Whitefish production is important for Lake Whitefish management. If Lake Whitefish receive the bulk of their nutrition from discrete sources (e.g., nutrient inputs from rivers), these areas may be conserved or managed to benefit Lake Whitefish populations. Terrestrial and aquatic linkages are well established in many ecosystems, yet no research has determined the importance of Whitefish Bay tributaries for supporting fishes at various life stages. The main objectives of this study are: (1) determine the number and discreetness of Lake Whitefish stocks, and their relative contribution to the commercial fishery in Whitefish Bay; and (2) quantify spatial and temporal ecological linkages between Whitefish Bay and its tributaries, with an emphasis on Lake Whitefish spawning and nursery habitat.


Evidence of Natural Reproduction of Lake Sturgeon and Atlantic Salmon in the St. Marys River and its Tributaries

Stefan Tucker, Troy Pine, Roger Greil,and Ashley Moerke Over the past decade, LSSU researchers have studied the sub-adult and adult population of lake sturgeon in the upper reaches of the Lower St. Marys River. LSSU has successfully captured over 230 lake sturgeon, estimating the population to be ~500 individuals, and documented localized movement within the St. Marys River (Bauman et al. 2011, Gerig et al. 2011). The St. Marys River lake sturgeon population is considered vulnerable to catastrophic events due to a relatively small population size, along with unconfirmed spawning locations and a lack of data on juvenile and early life stage presence.


Suspected lake sturgeon spawning sites located on the St. Marys River (A). Study sites located in the Garden River (B) and Soo Locks Power Canal (C).

Parasite-Host Interactions between Sea Lamprey and Lake Whitefish

David Caroffino and Roger Greil Parasite-host interactions between sea lamprey and lake whitefish have not been well studies. Only a single mark-recapture study from the 1960s has assessed survivability of whitefish after lamprey attacks. Laboratory research has not been conducted to support or refute the results of the tagging study, which was completed when ecological conditions greatly differed from the Great Lakes of today. Lake whitefish are inherently difficult to keep alive in captivity, which may be one reason why research on survivability has not yet been conducted. The probability that an individual fish will survive an attack from a sea lamprey is a key component to sea lamprey damage assessments, and therefore justifies further research.


GLIC: Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring for Restoration and Protection: A Basin-wide Effort (2012-2013 Update)

Ashley Moerke The Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring (GLCWM) program is large collaborative effort among 9 universities and 3 US and Canadian agencies, and led by Dr. Don Uzarski at Central Michigan University. The goal of the project is to implement a comprehensive bi-national standardized wetland monitoring program across the entire Great Lakes basin. Data collected will be used to develop and test metrics using fish, macroinvertebrate, vegetation, birds, and amphibian assemblages. Over a 5-year project period, the GLCWM program will sample 100% of Great Lakes coastal wetlands and identify trends across space and through time at a subset of wetlands.


Location of coastal wetlands surveyed by LSSU crew in 2012. Inset show sites in St. Marys River.  

Immune Cells in the Brain of Larval Lake Sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens)

Barbara I. Evans and Jun Li Melanomacrophage aggregate systems or centers (MMC’s) are observed in vertebrates liver, kidney and spleen tissue. They function as a component of the immune system that can be stationary or mobile throughout various organs. They are normally present with infection within the organism, and have been observed to encapsulate the pathogen. However, our aggregates of immune cells are being found in healthy larval lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) from relatively pristine tributaries in the upper Great Lakes. This study centers on identification, and speculates on the purpose of these immune cells. The MMCs were first observed in a 10 day post hatch (dph) living specimen from a Lake Superior tributary (Sturgeon River MI). Using video-microscopy, these small (@75 micron), pigmented structures were observed moving around inside the ventricle of the sturgeon brain. The following year, lake sturgeon eggs from a Lake Huron tributary (Black River MI) were obtained shortly after fertilization, preserved for light microscopy at selected developmental stages, cross-sectioned at 3 microns and stained with cresyl violet. The MMCs were found to be present at hatching, and composed of various immune cells (dendritic cells and macrophages) , as well as melanin granules. Lake sturgeon from a Lake Michigan tributary (Big Manistee River MI) also contained these structures in 80% of the observed larvae. To our knowledge, MMCs within the ventricle of the brain of larval lake sturgeon have not previously been reported. More in-depth studies are required to understand the function of these immune cell clusters within healthy fish.

Ongoing Projects

Superior AquaSystems

A team of Lake Superior State University faculty and students, dubbed Superior AquaSystems, was awarded the Judge's Choice award and a $5,000 prize in the fourth-annual Michigan Clean Energy Venture Challenge in 2012. The Challenge, established by the University of Michigan and DTE Energy, encourages students from Michigan colleges and universities to develop clean-energy solutions into thriving businesses. It requires teams to develop a business plan based on a new technology, product, or service that addresses a specific clean-energy issue. Business ideas range from a sketch on a napkin to a fully formed, pre-revenue company. Proposed ventures must also addresses Michigan's biggest challenges of rural poverty and unemployment and the development of new sustainable, rapid growth industries. The team pulled together expertise in fisheries management, engineering, and marketing to design a sustainable, eco-friendly system to grow fish and organic produce for human consumption. The business is engineering a cost-effective, recirculating aquaculture system by using renewable energy and biologically sound water purification. The venture leverages the research and design capabilities of the engineering, aquaculture, biotech and business resources of Lake Superior State University, one of northern Michigan's leaders in aquatic research and fish health. Superior AquaSystems went head-to-head with 21 teams from other Michigan universities. The $5,000 prize joins an earlier $2,000 micro-grant from Michigan Clean Energy, and another $7,000 equipment grant from a member of the Michigan Aquaculture Association. The plan now heads into further refinement, either as a senior thesis project or as an initiative consolidated through LSSU's Product Development Center. Click here for more information.  

Previous Research