PSU Graduate Student Researches Smallmouth Bass on Squam

Justin Brigham, a graduate student of biology at Plymouth State University, is currently conducting a two year field study as part of him MS thesis. His study focuses on male smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu) during their spring spawning season when these fish move shallow to construct nesting areas that can hold thousands of offspring. Around this time, male smallmouth bass will aggressively defend their nests from any potential threat to their offspring. Oftentimes, this heightened aggression can make them easy targets for recreational anglers in search of a fun day on the water. However, previous studies suggest that the harassment associated with angling events puts additional stress on these fish, and may cause them to prematurely abandon their nests. Once left unattended the offspring are susceptible to many different predators in search of an easy meal. Justin's work on Squam Lake involves catching and tagging individuals that are guarding nests, and putting them through treatments that simulate different aspects of an angling event. A tagged individual may be released 50, 100, or 500 meters from him nest, or held out of the water for 1 or 5 minutes. Each male's aggression is measured one hour and twenty-four hours after a treatment has concluded. This is done using a clear box that contains a live pumpkinseed sunfish (Lepomis gibbosus) and counting how many times the box is hit, bit, and rushed in a ten minute observation period. Justin is interested in pinpointing what treatment or treatments have the most profound influence on smallmouth spawning behaviors both shortly after testing and one day later. Last spring Justin tagged and collected data on 40 individuals, and plans to continue his research during the spring of 2013. The overall goal of this study is to learn more about male smallmouth spawning behavior, and its interactions with recreational fishing. Information gained from this work could ultimately be used to educate anglers on proper protocol when catching spawning bass which may help reduce the likelihood of nest abandonment.