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Scientist Joins Shedd Aquarium Research Team to Study Aquatic Invasive Species in Great Lakes

December 05, 2019

Rocks along the south shoreline of Lake Michigan north of the city

Shedd Aquarium’s Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research welcomed a new scientist, Dr. Scott Colborne, to its conservation research team to contribute to the aquarium’s ongoing efforts to preserve aquatic biodiversity and ensure a balance between humans and nature. As a freshwater research biologist, Colborne will study aquatic invasive species in the Great Lakes region to understand how they are influencing inshore native fish communities at large. As more than 180 non-native species have invaded the Great Lakes, the research will help inform management strategies that benefit the health of the ecosystem.

“Aquatic invasive species are known to tremendously alter the ecosystems they invade,” said Dr. Karen Murchie, director of freshwater research at Shedd Aquarium. “As Shedd Aquarium’s freshwater research team aims to advance our understanding of the species and waterways of the Great Lakes region, studying the interaction of invasive and native species will provide a clearer picture of the overall health of this important freshwater resource. With vast experience in this area of focus, Scott will be an invaluable addition to our freshwater research team.”

Aquatic invasive species pose one of the most significant threats to the health and native biodiversity of the Great Lakes. They can out-compete native species, short-circuit food webs and degrade the habitats they invade. The cascading effect to the ecosystem can also threaten human health via changes in water quality and can disrupt the Great Lakes economy by damaging critical industries such as commercial and recreational fisheries, along with tourism. Great Lakes aquatic wildlife supports a $7 billion fishery, $16 billion tourism industry and over 1.6 million jobs within the region. The current economic cost of invasive species to the Great Lakes region is more than $200 million annually.

When an aquatic invasive species arrives in an ecosystem, there is often a delay in documenting its affects, which can shift over time. The long-term research goals of Colborne will focus on understanding how aquatic invasive species are influencing inshore native fish communities—such as yellow perch, walleye, smallmouth bass, sturgeon, catfish and panfish—as these fishes play an important role in the aquatic food web and sustaining a healthy aquatic ecosystem. His findings will provide useful information to fishery management and conservation authorities in the Great Lakes.

“Understanding changes in ecosystems requires ongoing monitoring and long-term support, especially when it comes to understanding how an ecosystem changes when a new species is introduced to it,” said Dr. Scott Colborne, research biologist at Shedd Aquarium. “Using the resources at Shedd Aquarium, I look forward to partnering with universities and government agencies to advance our scientific understanding of Great Lakes species, inform management strategies and educate the public about this unique region of the world.”

“Aquatic invasive species are known to tremendously alter the ecosystems they invade.”

Dr. Karen Murchie, director of freshwater research at Shedd

Colborne joins the team with an extensive background studying the diet and movement of native and invasive freshwater fish, such as bluegill sunfish, pumpkinseed sunfish, zebra mussels, bowfin, lake sturgeon and more. For example, Colborne published a study documenting the diets of native pumpkinseed sunfish in Ontario, Canada, describing how the species is primarily consuming invasive zebra mussels and thus altering pumpkinseed sunfishes’ dependence on other native food sources—resulting in ecosystem-wide changes to the food web.

Colborne earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Zoology from the University of Guelph and earned his Ph.D. in Biology with a focus on Ecology and Evolution from the University of Western Ontario. He then served as a Post-Doctoral Fellow and Research Associate for the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Windsor, before becoming a Research Associate at Michigan State University and the U.S. Geological Survey Great Lakes Science Center.

Shedd’s portfolio of freshwater and marine field research programs aims to advance understanding of wild populations of animals to inform management strategies to protect them. The team consists of ten research biologists studying white suckers, longnose suckers, mussels, amphibians, mudpuppies and urban aquatic ecosystems in the Great Lakes region, as well as Exuma iguanas, Andros iguanas, queen conch, grouper, spiny lobster, blue crab, snapper, coral, sharks and rays in The Bahamas. The goal is to develop proactive mitigation and applied management strategies to protect those populations into the future.

This fall, Shedd Aquarium officially joined forces with the Great Lakes Business Network to protect the Great Lakes, its fisheries and local economies from the threat of invasive species. As many businesses in the region rely on the Great Lakes for water, seafood, recreation and more, the collaboration aims to unite and amplify the business community’s voice to better advance science-driven conservation policy locally, federally and bi-nationally.

For more information on Shedd’s conservation research programs, visit Shedd Aquarium's website.

VISUAL NOTE: A high resolution photo of Dr. Scott Colborne is available for download:

©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez