RIT student Kristin Berger is part of a multi-university team led by the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve (KBRR) that is seeking to better understand and protect salmon populations and inform overall ecosystem management on the peninsula.
"The Kenai Peninsula has relatively unspoiled habitat compared to other areas of the U.S., but is currently experiencing land use changes from human population growth and development," Berger says. "Through this project we can understand and model salmon habitat use during vulnerable, early life stages. Our work will inform proactive conservation plans that can mitigate negative effects from future development."
Berger, a BS/MS student in environmental science, and her mentor, Christy Tyler, an assistant professor in RIT's Gosnell School of Life Sciences, received a grant from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund to assist in a multi-year salmon study being conducted by KBRR, located in Homer, Alaska.
Berger is spending the summer of 2012 at the Reserve and is focusing on tagging and tracking juvenile salmon, ages zero to two years. She ultimately hopes to enhance knowledge of landscape structure, headwater stream ecology and juvenile fish life history and its impact on overall salmon success.
"Salmon play an incredibly important role in stream ecosystems, but we still know very little about their movement patterns, what types of streams make the best habitat, and how better stream management can improve salmon health," Berger adds.
The research builds on a summer internship Berger conducted at KBRR in 2011 through NOAA's Hollings Scholarship program, which included salmon habitat research in estuaries and headwaters, and its impact on salmon conservation. The current project also includes scientists from Baylor University, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Alaska's Department of Fish and Game.
"Kristin is making significant contributions to an important ecological study that will have major implications for habitat management and our overall understanding of how juvenile salmon use their headwater environments," adds Tyler. "This is also a valuable research experience that will significantly increase her skills and opportunities for either a doctoral degree or work in the field upon graduation."
"I have always been interested in ecological fieldwork and wanted to conduct research that I felt made a difference, while building on my coursework here at RIT." Berger says. "My experience in Homer has allowed me to accomplish all of these goals while really providing an experience of a lifetime."