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Monday, August 26, 2019

HERS Student Studies the Impact Warming Waters of the Blackfoot River has on Westslope Cutthroat Trout

Joseph Zupan
     Although Joseph Zupan grew up in West Point, New York, it was the summer vacations fishing and camping with his family on the Blackfoot River in Montana that led to his interest in the environment, animals, and plants. Joseph is a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe from the Rocky Boys Indian Reservation in Montana, and he participated in the 2019 Haskell Environmental Research Studies (HERS) Institute supported by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas (MAPS) research project. The HERS Institute is an 8-week paid summer internship program where student interns spend six weeks on the Haskell Indian Nations University campus during June and July, learn about climate change and develop individual research projects. Dr. Jay Johnson, Professor and Associate Chair of Geography & Atmospheric Science, Director of The Center for Indigenous Research, Science, and Technology (C-FIRST) at the University of Kansas (KU), and member of the MAPS Workforce Development and Education team, supervises the HERS Institute.
     During his summer vacations to Montana, Joseph said, “We would always catch trout, particularly Westslope Cutthroat Trout (WCT),” and he thought this was “such a beautiful species of fish, it needed to be preserved so that other people are able to enjoy them.” His fishing experiences along with being raised “to respect and love the lands we live in” led to his desire to investigate the WCT for his HERS project. He titled his research project, Trout in Hot Water: Warming Waters Impact on Westslope Cutthroat Trout (WCT) in the Blackfoot River, Montana. Joseph explained his study as follows: “Climate change is negatively impacting trout populations in the Blackfoot River system in Montana. Increasing temperatures are considered to be the most damaging factor impacting a myriad of factors including the hydrological regime, habitat structure, runoff, and snow-pack. An increase in water temperature is of particular concern as it directly impacts nearly all of the WCT physiological functions at each stage of its life cycle. The focus of my research addresses how warming waters of the Blackfoot River are effecting the reproductive cycle of the WCT.” As part of his research process, Joseph analyzed “stream-flow data to compare water and air temperatures during normal and extreme temperatures and studied how warm water impacts the Blackfoot River water regime.” He then compared “dissolved oxygen levels of the river during drought and normal conditions,” and the influence “precipitation during drought versus normal conditions” had on the river. Next, he examined the data that outlined the “WCT needs for survival,” and analyzed the biological and physiological requirements of the WCT reproductive cycle in order to compare" its reproductive needs to those of other trout species. Joseph found that changing temperatures are "a significant factor in the decline of WCT reproduction.” He further concluded that because WCT are “an important species for tribal and state economies, and historically, are a primary food source for Northwestern Native Americans” efforts such as “actively securing cutthroat populations, habitat distributions, and preventing invasive species interactions” need to continue. These recommendations are outlined in more detail as part of the Blackfoot River Restoration project. In addition, Joseph found that after “using existing physiological data on adult WCT temperature tolerance, it became apparent that temperature change may have a detrimental impact on the size of the WCT roe, and if adult WCT populations decrease, there might be no roe.” At the end of his study, Joseph recommended that “future research focus on spawning sites in cold, clear head water streams, and additional WCT physiological roe data should be collected. Specifically, data addressing how temperature effects the viability and gestation needs of the WCT roe.”
Joseph working on weather instruments and presenting his research at UCAR
     When asked about his HERS experience, Joseph said, “the HERS program was amazing!” His favorite part of the institute was “how the mentors and program managers genuinely cared about us (the interns). I felt like I was part of a big family and that was really important to me!” Joseph’s HERS mentor was Kate Ingenloff, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at KU. As for what he learned from his HERS experience, Joseph stated, “I learned so much in such a small amount of time that I feel like I learned more at the HERS institute than I would during a normal school semester. Specifically, I learned how to refine my research and writing skills as well as manage time, organize a research product, and analyze results. He then added, "when we went to the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, I learned about the phenomenon of bomb cyclones and the methods associated with water quality research as well as how to set up weather instruments." Joseph also presented his WCT research during a UCAR poster session.
     Joseph graduated from Haskell Indian Nations University with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Science last spring. While attending Haskell, he “participated in numerous projects for the Haskell Eco-ambassadors, a student-run environmental organization specializing in wetland remediation.” As an Eco-ambassador he was involved with projects such as “butterfly tagging for the Monarch Watch program at KU, trail cultivation and development, compost development, and habitat restoration.” In addition, Joseph coached children’s ice hockey, taught a women's self-defense class, and was the captain of the First City Cavalry, a semi-professional football team out of Leavenworth, Kansas. This fall, he will pursue a Masters Degree in Geography at KU with a plan to continue his education and earn a Ph.D. Once Joseph finishes his graduate work, he wants to “work on tribal lands as a scientist or tribal college instructor.”

Workforce Development, Education and Outreach funding for the HERS Institute is provided by the Kansas NSF EPSCoR RII Track-1 Award OIA-1656006 titled: Microbiomes of Aquatic, Plant, and Soil Systems across Kansas. The grant's workforce development and educational objectives are designed to enhance STEM education in Kansas by supporting activities that will lead to an expanded STEM workforce or prepare a new generation for STEM careers in the areas of aquatic, plant and soil microbiome environments and ecological systems.