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ESF Research Aids Niagara River Restoration Efforts

Study includes spawning habitat of muskellunge

When a power project was relicensed at Niagara Falls, the New York Power Authority set aside funds for habitat restoration, research and monitoring.

However, little is known about the specifics of a healthy river system in the Buffalo Harbor and the Niagara River, information that is necessary to help restoration efforts support native flora and fauna to flourish.

Kevin Kapuscinski, an adjunct assistant professor in the department of environmental and forest biology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, is working to provide this knowledge base, including detailed study of the spawning habitat of the economically important muskellunge. "I do research on fishes and aquatic habitat so we can provide information to guide restoration projects," he says.

One goal of Kapuscinski's work is quantitative descriptions of habitats associated with muskellunge. Another is to understand how nonnative fish, the very abundant rudd, live and compete with native fish for food and habitat.

For example, in one project researchers seine for fish and flush the stomachs of young muskellunge to see what they're eating. It turns out that native prey species that muskellunge eat prefer habitats with a coarse sand and gravel bottoms - as opposed to silt. "They deposit their eggs on the bottom and coarser substrates are better for egg development," Kapuscinski says. Silt suffocates eggs and silt favors fishes that are not good prey for muskellunge. "So reducing the amount of silt entering the river is important," he says.

Buffer zones along riverbanks and storm water management plans, can reduce silt loads, whereas dredging, and retaining walls can negatively affect river bottoms.

In addition to basic ecology research, Kapuscinski is collecting baseline data on fish species present in the Niagara River to help those monitoring the effects of habitat restoration efforts.