Kevin Lambert, an undergraduate in wildlife and fisheries management with a minor in conservation ecology, is an avid angler who loves being outdoors.
So when this Elkins, WV, native got the chance to combine one of his loves with compelling research as an undergraduate student, he jumped at it.
Lambert was one of five undergraduate students to receive the George A. Myles Natural Resources Student Experience Program funding in 2016. The funds are awarded annually to students in Forest Resource Management, Environmental Protection, Wildlife and Fisheries Resources and Energy Land Management. The program provides stipends for students to develop undergraduate research projects, attend conferences or assist with an internship program.
This program is the second largest student enhancement fund in the WVU Davis College and the largest in the School of Natural Resources. Students must apply for the funds in the spring of each year. By 2019, more than 20 students will be able to receive funds to do undergraduate research and internships each year.
For, Lambert, examining the impact of an introduced food source for bass in the Stonewall Jackson Lake near Weston, WV, was a perfect way to get hands-on field experience and do something he loved.
“As sport fishing is becoming more popular, anglers are wanting bigger, more aggressive fish. In a lot of West Virginia Rivers, the predators are present but managers cannot keep a healthy balance in the population. With more native fish failing and river systems continuing to degrade, there must be a different approach to getting bigger fish back in our rivers,” Lambert said.
In 2009, due to anglers’ demand for musky and big bass, fisheries managers from the state Division of Natural Resources stocked 93 adult Gizzard Shad (Dorosoma cepedianum) into Stonewall Jackson Lake. Shad are an important food source for bass. Managers wanted to give the bigger fish a reliable food source without eating all the pan fish and smaller bass. But little research was conducted after the stocking to determine how shad had affected the lake’s ecosystem and trophic levels, Lambert said.
“I’ve been working on a gastric lavage study with the help of the state Division of Natural Resources to look at black bass diet preferences and if they are consuming shad in their regular diet. This research will show preference the bass have over the range of bait fish found in Stonewall, and help to aid in future research about the stocking of gizzard shad to grow larger apex predators.”
Lambert received a grant of $1,000 to buy supplies, gas and other resources needed to complete the study. He worked with Aaron Yeager, the DNR assistant fisheries biologist for the state’s central counties, and Dr. Stuart Welsh, and adjunct professor of ichthyology, to conduct the research and to oversee the project.
“This research could be especially important in a lake like Stonewall Jackson that brings in so much tourism from the park, resorts, campground, golf, and not to forget anglers,” Lambert said. “Research had not been conducted on the effects of shad in West Virginia aquatic ecosystems, even though shad are such a crucial part of growing fish in all stages of life. Stocking any fish can be tricky, and a mistake can completely disrupt the natural balance of a lakes ecosystem, but the stocking of gizzard shad in reservoirs or rivers could be a very useful tool if done right.”
Not only is this research a great resume builder for Lambert, it also will provide important data for state fish managers and how they make collaborative management decisions in the future, while also fulfilling his capstone project major requirement.
“Not many undergrads have the opportunity to take on their own research project,” Lambert said.
These types of programs allow students not only the chance to learn and run their own project, but it also helps them find themselves along the way, he said.
“Working with the people I did and being out in charge of a project makes me want to continue my schooling and find more projects to coordinate with,” Lambert said.
“Having grant opportunities like these put WVU graduates higher up in the competitive job market and give us a better chance to succeed in our careers.”