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Staff member Austin Happel stands before Shedd's historic bronze doors.

Austin Happel, Ph.D.

Research Biologist

Austin Happel is a research biologist focusing on freshwater ecosystems.


Ph.D., biology, University of Illinois

“Since I could walk I’ve been fascinated by what lies beneath the water’s surface. It’s exciting to be in a position to not only continue my curiosity through research but spark it in others through interactions with guests.”

Austin Happel joined the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research at Shedd Aquarium in 2019. His research focuses on how we can be better conserve, manage and restore freshwater aquatic ecosystems to promote thriving and diverse fish communities.

Happel’s research focuses on several urban freshwater ecology initiatives and draws on his Great Lakes region expertise. He is especially interested in investigating what benefits restoration activities, such as Shedd’s floating island in the Chicago River’s “Wild Mile,” provide below the surface and how these benefits can be amplified in other areas. Happel also has an interest in understanding the role forest preserves have in structuring fish communities.

Happel’s previous research involved figuring out what fishes eat and how their diets affect them or their offspring. He has become an expert in the use of fatty acids in trophic ecology and worked to try to decipher what sea lampreys prey on, how salmon and trout diets differ across the Great Lakes and how formulated diets affect growth and spawning of hatchery-raised trout.

Before coming to Shedd, Happel was an instructor in fish, wildlife and conservation biology at Colorado State University, where he taught courses on fisheries science and fish biology. Happel earned his Ph.D. and M.S. from the University of Illinois, where he focused on feeding ecology of fishes. He received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University in fisheries and aquatic sciences.