During a student field study for the general ecology lab course, students worked at catching and identifying the 40 species of fish known to live in the river, but they also discovered a new species to the area — the least darter.
The least darter (Estheostoma microperca) is a rather small brown and orange fish. An adult male will reach 4 centimeters in length. The fish typically lives in sandy headwaters and was at one time abundant in the area, according to Todd Crail, a doctoral student in the Department of Environmental Sciences and lab instructor for the course. However, it now is listed as a species of concern in Ohio as it becomes threatened by human alteration and pollution. It has been absent from the lower Ottawa River since the 1940s.Crail believes the fish moved back downstream toward campus after the dams upstream were removed at Secor Road and Camp Miakonda.
“Removing those dams restored the downstream flow of sand and gravel, which creates new habitat for these fish,” he said.
Some people think the river is polluted beyond use, but the students learned the reality is quite the contrary.
“I was surprised to find that trash and other human products still left room for habitat for all these species of fish,” said Colleen Nagel, a junior majoring in environmental sciences. “I just wish more people would realize that these fish live on campus, too!”
To get a significant contribution to the study of Ohio’s fish in a stretch of river that people walk across daily was “icing on the cake,” Crail said.
The students in the course will continue to monitor the least darter and study its progress in its new habitat.