September 15, 2017 - 1:15pm
Dr. Dan Baker, a VIU Fish Physiologist, is researching how increasing temperatures in North American rivers are affecting sturgeon and salmonids
Just one day of intense hot weather could raise water temperatures enough to devastate an entire population of white sturgeon and salmonid eggs and larvae, says Dr. Dan Baker, a VIU Fish Physiologist.
But how hot is too hot? That is a question Baker is trying to answer with his research, which explores how warmer river temperatures, caused by climate change, affect the early life stages of white sturgeon and salmonids.
Baker was recently awarded a $115,000 Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC). The grant will be distributed over five years.
The Discovery Grant Program provides funding to Canada’s best researchers to pursue promising ideas and breakthroughs in their field of study.
“White sturgeon and salmon are two of the most important fish in British Columbia economically, culturally and ecologically,” said Baker. “The Discovery Grant will allow me to focus on conservation topics in regards to these species.”
One of the reasons Baker can conduct cutting-edge research on the topic is because of VIU’s International Centre for Sturgeon Studies (ICSS), which has the only white sturgeon brood stock anywhere in Canada available for research.
“At VIU we have the resources available to look at the early life history of salmonids and sturgeon to a degree probably unmatched anywhere else in the country,” Baker added.
Baker will train seven undergraduate students, two master’s degree students and one PhD student to work with over the five years on research projects.
“Experiential learning and uncovering novel findings creates an excitement associated with science and discovery and opens doors for students later on,” he said.
Climate change has negatively affected many wild fish stocks in British Columbia, said Don Noakes, VIU’s Dean of Science and Technology.
“The changes predicted over the next 50 to 100 years are beyond anything we have seen in recorded history,” he said. “While white sturgeon have been around for 175 million years and may live more than 100 years, we know very little about their early life history and this grant will help Dr. Baker answer some fundamental questions about this iconic species in the face of significate environmental uncertainty.”
Baker said river temperatures are increasing worldwide and this is putting intense pressures on fish, especially species like white sturgeon and salmonids.
While increased temperatures could prevent these migratory species from returning to their spawning grounds, after the eggs hatch, water temperatures can also slow development of larvae. Even benefits of warmer water such as faster growth could lead to them depleting food sources in their ecosystems before they are ready to head out to sea.
Once the temperature thresholds are understood, prioritizing management strategies aimed at protecting these fish could occur, perhaps even manipulating water temperatures of spawning grounds.
Rachel Stern, Communications Officer, Vancouver Island University