Pictured, Ryan MacKenzie of the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Science studies a cutlip minnow, a threatened species in Ontario. submitted photo
Last year, the St. Lawrence River Institute of Environmental Sciences received a $30,000 grant from the Ministry of Natural Resources, via the Species at Risk Stewardship Fund.
The grant was to survey, identify, and monitor populations of cutlip minnow (Exoglussum maxillingua), a threatened species in Ontario. Since the 1930s, cutlip minnows have only been identified in four locations in Ontario, all which were in the Cornwall-Lake St. Francis area. Ryan MacKenzie, River Institute biologist, has spent the past eight months identifying the habitat needs and population trends of this rare species in the St. Lawrence River. “Based on the historic data, I didn’t expect to find any cutlip minnows here at all,” said MacKenzie. “It was great to find one on the very first day of sampling!”
Cutlip minnows have been found in one of the four historic locations, and two new sites have been located in the region with healthy minnows. The minnow prefers rocky, shallow areas with fast-moving water. The cutlip minnow is interesting not only because of its scarcity, but also because of its interesting biology and its sensitivity to water quality. “It would be interesting to determine whether the cutlip minnow could serve an indicator species of water quality,” states MacKenzie.
There is reason to believe that cutlip minnow nesting sites may be affected by the impacts of aggressive invasive species such as the round goby. The River Institute hopes to continue to study this species during the upcoming season to examine the effects of competitors on nesting habitats along with its sensitivity to water quality.
Typical of all River Institute research programs, the cutlip minnow project has provided many students and community volunteers with an opportunity to assist on sampling expeditions in all kinds of weather! Student interns, co-op students, field classes from St. Lawrence College, and visiting scientists have all worked with Ryan on the river, and all have learned a little bit more about threatened species in Ontario.
The River Institute was established in 1994 as a unique community partnership involving government, education, business, industry, and the Mohawks of Akwesasne. Its mandate is environmental research and education with a focus on the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence River ecosystem.