By Sarah Bergen
As the months get colder, all of the creatures that have been scurrying around campus will begin to disappear. Soon the ducks, squirrels and rabbits will take off for warmer climates or stay tucked away until the frost passes. But there is one ecosystem at Rider that will be bursting with life this winter.
Centennial Lake is home to various aquatic species including fish, eels and turtles. After spending the semester surveying the lake’s fish population, Dr. Kathleen Browne’s students in Introduction to the Integrated Sciences added 175 new fish to the ecosystem on the morning of Nov. 11.
Browne, an associate professor of Geological, Environmental and Marine Sciences, knew this would be an ideal project for her students, all of whom are undeclared students in the Discovery Program, which allows undergraduates to explore academic areas before choosing a major. The lake was the perfect ecosystem for the students’ study of fisheries in that it was easily accessible and presented the students with an opportunity to do something that had never been done before: evaluate Centennial Lake’s fish population.
Freshman Rachel Pereira felt that the project offered a unique opportunity to make a difference.
“In high school I would always do science projects and we’d come up with results, but we’d never do anything about it,” said Pereira. “For this project, we actually did something. We found a problem, found a solution, and actually did it and made an impact on the environment. It was awesome to actually make a change instead of just finding the problem.”
The project also brought together distant generations of the Rider family, as alumnus Brandon Muffley, ’96, who works for the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, connected Browne with the staff members who assisted the students in the project. Muffley also gave the students a lecture on fisheries management and data collection programs.
“Being a Rider grad and working with a former professor of mine on this was a great experience,” said Muffley. “I hope the students learned a lot and will take the information they gained with them into the future.”
The students drew data from two surveys of the lake’s fish earlier in the semester. One survey used electrofishing, which is a scientific technique that uses an electrical current to temporarily stun the fish, making it easier to gather observations and data about the species.
The staff from Fish and Wildlife carried out the electrofishing, put the fish into a kiddie pool on the lake’s shore, and assisted the students in collecting various measurements of the fish.
The students, who used a large net to capture and observe fish that were swimming close to the lake’s shore, conducted the other fish survey. These two surveys allowed the students to observe and collect data on brown bullheads, largemouth bass, bluegills, pumpkinseeds and American eels.
They evaluated the ages and sizes of the fish in order to determine if the populations were thriving or threatened. The findings of both surveys suggested that the population is limited in the diversity, number and size of the fish, and will remain so unless the newly added fish, all of which are young, grow and reproduce.
“We found that there aren’t enough bluegills to eat the microalgae in the lake,” explained freshman Austin DiLullo, who compared the lake to a field of grass, explaining that if there are too little or too many livestock in that ecosystem, the grass will die or grow out of control. The students hope that the addition of 150 algae-eating bluegills and 25 largemouth bass will bring better balance to the lake.
This project to improve the fish population in the lake is not complete, as another species will be added in the spring. The addition of 250 golden shiners will also help add additional balance to the lake, as these small forage fish will feed on the algae and serve as a food source to the carnivorous fish.
DiLullo became interested in the project after he learned about the various fish species and other creatures that were living in the lake, and is now considering taking on a major in marine science.
“I am most interested in resources and how ecosystems work,” said DiLullo. “What really fascinates me is how [ecosystems like the lake] seem to operate on their own. Nature does the work.”