Michael Chislock is Awarded a Research Grant

Name: Michael Chislock (MS student, started summer 2008)

Award: Sigma Xi Grants-in-Aid of Research

: $1000

: 1/1/09-12/31/09

Project Title
: Effects of Ultraviolet-B Radiation and Fish Predation on the Ecology of Zooplankton Dormant Egg Pigmentation

Wilson granted NSF Award

Consequences of consumer adaptation for ecosystem responses to fertilization and food-web perturbations

Principal investigators:
Alan Wilson – Auburn University (http://www.wilsonlab.com) – $113,578
Orlando Sarnelle – Michigan State University (http://www.fw.msu.edu/~sarnelle/) – $286,183

National Science Foundation

3/2009 to 3/2013

Project abstract:
Increased nutrient input to aquatic systems (eutrophication) leads to degradation of water quality as a result of increases in suspended algae (phytoplankton), and in particular, phytoplankton species that produce toxins. These toxins are a serious threat to human uses of surface waters in both freshwater and marine environments. Despite much progress in reducing nutrient inputs, eutrophication and associated toxic phytoplankton, remains one of the most important causes of impairment to surface waters in the U. S. One strategy for improving water quality is to manage the food web so as to increase grazing pressure on the phytoplankton by increasing herbivorous zooplankton. Laboratory studies have suggested, however, that food-web manipulation may fail because of the strong negative effects of phytoplankton toxins on zooplankton growth and reproduction. Previous research has demonstrated that individuals of a common species of zooplankton (D. pulicaria) vary greatly in their ability to grow on a diet of toxic phytoplankton depending on toxin levels in their local environment. This project examines the consequences of such adaptation for water quality in lakes. In addition to the obvious potential impact of this research on the management of surface waters, the project also focuses on two little-studied general phenomena in community ecology: the roles of predator adaptation and intraspecific trait variation in species interactions. Consequently, the field experiments to be conducted will advance both basic and applied ecology. The project will also provide hands-on training in experimental ecology to graduate and undergraduate students at Michigan State University and Auburn University. Students interested in participating on this project should contact Alan Wilson (wilson@auburn.edu).

Fishing for a Brighter Future in West Alabama

AG Illustrated
by: Katie Jackson

     West Alabama’s Black Belt region is one of the poorest parts of the state, but it also is an area full of potential economic oppurtunities, thanks in part to the efforts of Auburn University fisheries and allied aquaculture scientists.
     Auburn research and extension experts began working in the Black Belt more than 25 years ago and were primary players in the development of the U.S. catfish industry. In Alabama alone, that industry has grown from a few farm ponds in the 1960s to 25,000 acres of commercially farmed ponds that annually yield some 175 million pounds of fish worth about $150 million at the farm gate. The regional financial impact of the catfish industry at all levels has been estimated at more than $1 billion.
     Needless to say, the catfish industry is an integral and essential part of the local and regional economy, but global competition from imported fish products and ever-increasing production costs threaten its sustainablility.
     For those reasons, Auburn aquaculturists are searching for more cost-effective ways to grow, process and market high-quality catfish and also are exploring options for new fish products and species that can be grown in Black Belt waters.
     Jesse Chappell, assistant professor in the fisheries and allied aquaculture department and an Alabama Cooperative Extension System aquaculture specialist, is helping lead that effort through Auburn University’s Agriculture Initiative, a program designed to help sustain and expand west Alabama’s aquacultural economy. The initiative is funded in part by AU, the Alabama Legislature, private growers, the Alabama Catfish Producers, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
     “The catfish industry has to become more efficient to compete globally, and that requires a paradigm shift,” says Chappell. “Because increased competition has reduced profit margins, it’s no longer just about how many fish you can pull out of a pond, but rather how you can do it more cost effectively and efficiently to compete in a global arena.”

Options for Efficiency

With that in mind, Chappell and other aquaculturists working in the Black Belt are exploring a wide range of freshwater fish production efficiency options – from growing fish in outdoor raceways and indoor production systems in “greenhouses” to better feeding strategies, farm management and marketing systems for catfish to growing marine fish species in Black Belt salty-water ponds.
     “We are trying to use the existing infrastructure to improve production efficiency and ultimately upgrade farm profitablility,” Chappell says.
     Among the ideas they are exploring is the use of in-pond raceways – structures places within outdoor ponds that confine similarly sized fish in groups where they can be managed more intensively and efficiently. This system helps growers get a better handle on fish inventory and on how their fish are performing and offers ways to easily segregate and grow new species, such as striped bass, red drum and tilapia, in the ponds.
     “Farmers can raise an average of 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of fish a year in a typical Alabama production pond,” says Chappell. “Using the raceway production approach, they can raise three times that amount in the same pond with greater feed efficiency, survival and managerial control. Our aim is not to just produce more fish but to do it at less cost per unit.”
     Another option is growing fish indoors in greenhouse-like structures that allow farmers to produce high-value warm-season species, such as tilapia, in a year-round production approach while also reusing nutrients and water routed from fish tanks through a greenhouse plant production system.
     “A simply designed indoor system that is being demonstrated at the E.W. Shell Aquaculture Experiment Station in Auburn has the potential to produce tilapia at 350,000 pounds per acre per year,” says Chappell.
     The greenhouse system offers farmers a double-cropping option. They can grow fish along with ornamental plants such as ferns, lotus and daylilies as well as food plants such as tomatoes, strawberries and other plant crops in an adjoining greenhouse that uses recycled water from the fish production to irrigate and provide some nutrients needed by the plants.

Salinity A Boon

     Another focus of AU’s Black Belt work is the production of new species in the region’s unique waters. Some Black Belt wells yield water higher in salt content than most fresh waters in the state or region. This saltier water can be a major asset for catfish farmers who manage the salinity to keep their fish healthy. But, it can also be a boon to pond owners willing to explore the commercial production of a variety of saltwater seafood species tolerant to low salinities.
     In an effort to tap into that market, researchers are exploring ways to grow shrimp and other marine food fish in Black Belt ponds. Their efforts have already paid off for some farmers who have found shrimp production to be a commercially viable enterprise.
     Currently there are four growers producing about 300,000 pounds of shrimp each year in their ponds. Other species suitable for food production, such as red drum, flounder and hybrid striped bass, are still in research and demonstration stages. Marine bait fish such as bull minnows and croaker, which can be sold to sport fishing markets along the Gulf Coast, are also being evaluated for pond production in the Black Belt ponds.
     In addition to exploring these new aquacultural options, AU researchers are also looking for ways to better market the staple fish of the area-channel catfish. A new marketing effort currently called the Clue Star Program is under way to improve quality, service and value of catfish labeled with the Blue Star brand. Blue Star-labeled catfish must meet stringent production and processing quality standards for taste, food safety and other quality assurance factors in order to earn the label, which means these fish can be sold at a higher price than fish imported from Asia.

Dr. Steve Szedlmayer takes on the Gulf in the Research Vessel (RV) Mary Lou

Dr. Steve Szedlmayer takes on the Gulf in the Research Vessel (RV)
Mary Lou


Dr. Steve Szedlmayer is a rare faculty member at Auburn. He is one of very few who do not have an office on campus. Steve is a professor focusing his research on marine fish ecology. He also has an extension responsibility in marine fisheries working with fish identification, regulations and stock assessment. Steve is located at the Gulf Coast Research and Extension Center in Fairhope where he occupies an old house for his labs and offices. He also has a fish wet lab there and docking facilities on Dauphin Island for his 3 boats…two aged Coast Guard fire boats and the brand new 44-foot RV Mary Lou, named in honor of Mary Lou Smith who has kept all of us straight for so many years.

[Read more...]

Mary Lou Smith-she keeps us swimming

When you need to know about the money in one of your accounts, where to get your departmental vehicle serviced or how to order furniture, Mary Lou Smith is the person to ask. She has been the rock solid administrative assistant who helps squeeze so much out of our taxpayer dollars that she is more like a magician. Mary Lou takes great care in getting the job done and getting it done right. She cares about every person who needs help and treats all with great care and respect. Although the job at times was more than one person should handle she got everything accomplished in an extraordinarily competent way. Today she has more help to do the accounting and administrative work for the department but for about 25 years she took a lot of work home with her to keep the rest of us swimming. [Read more...]

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