Our research lab is focused on the study of basic and applied ecology of freshwater and marine fisheries to understand linkages between life history and exploitation of fish populations by human activities. We use manipulative experiments, field studies, and long-term data sets in combination to explore the roles humans play in driving variation in fish populations. Our interests span a variety of species and systems in which we study applied fisheries management problems, as well as investigate the mechanisms of fisheries induced evolutionary change.

Fundamentally, we seek to explore how human activities can impact the genetics, reproductive ecology, and behavior of sport fishes, ultimately translating findings into meaningful and effective conservation actions.

Lab opportunities

Prospective students and interns can see opportunities in our lab here.

Ancient Sport Fish of Illinois

Gars (Lepisosteidae) and bowfin (Amia calva) are among North America’s most primitive native fishes. Often thought of as “trash fish,” these species have had a bad rap for decades — thought to negatively impact more desirable sport fish through predation and competition. Research has shown, however, that these top predators play a very important role in maintaining balance and diversity throughout the ecosystem.

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Natural Reproduction of Lake Michigan Lake Trout

Lake trout supported an important commercial and sport fishery in the Great Lakes until sea lamprey, overfishing, and pollution decimated naturally reproducing populations. By the 1950s, the combination of these factors resulted in the extirpation of lake trout from Lake Michigan. For several decades, management agencies have been working to re-establish self-sustaining, naturally reproducing lake trout populations in Lake Michigan through sea lamprey control programs and hatchery stocking. Recent increases in the proportion of unmarked lake trout adults in fall spawning surveys has revealed the possibility that adults are successfully spawning on deep-water reefs in southern Lake Michigan and that steps are being made toward rehabilitation of lake trout in Lake Michigan. In particular, the proportion of wild to stocked lake trout captured at spawning sites in Illinois has approached 50% in recent years, suggesting that significant natural recruitment is occurring in southern Lake Michigan.

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Science of Angling

Anglers are happiest when they catch many fish, or large trophy fish, or both. Traditionally applied research in fisheries management has focused heavily on populations dynamics and understanding how food availability, habitat, growth rates and fishing mortality affect fishing quality.  At SFEL, we take a different approach, exploring how the act of fishing can alter the physiological,  behavioral and evolutionary characteristics of populations, and thus impacting vulnerability to angling. Essentially, the research questions we tackle boil down to the question, “What drives a fish to strike a lure?”