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Meet Au Sable’s 2017 Grayling Research Team!

May 05, 2017

The Arctic Grayling, a blue-grey fish characterized by its large, often rainbow colored dorsal fin, is the subject of Au Sable’s newest research study. This fish is iconic in northern Michigan where even a town (Grayling) bears its name. Yet the Grayling has not inhabited the waters of this state since its last recorded catch in 1938. Prior to its extirpation in Michigan, the Grayling was a plentiful fish, highly popular with anglers who prized its flashy dorsal fin, but due to overfishing, habitat degradation from the logging of the 19th and 20th century, and competition with introduced fish species, the Arctic Grayling was lost in Michigan.

Grayling photo by James N Perdue, 2012.

A partnership between The Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR), Michigan Technological University, Au Sable Institute, Trout Unlimited and a number of other organizations, is working to reintroduce the Arctic Grayling to Michigan’s waters. This summer Au Sable’s Grayling research team, Ridge Sliger and Brandan Ward, will be assisting Dr. Cameron Goble, a Post Doctoral Research Fellow with Michigan Tech, to identify suitable habitat characteristics for remote, in-stream rearing areas for Grayling fry. In these carefully chosen locations, reintroduction efforts should have the greatest opportunity for success in years ahead. Funded by a grant from Consumers Energy Foundation and administered by the MDNR and the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, 2017 will be the first year of this important study. The Au Sable Research Assistants, Ridge Sliger and Brandan Ward, will begin their work in May.

Ridge Sliger of Lee University (Tennessee) is a Biological Science major. A student well ahead of the curve, Ridge is at the top of his class and possesses experience in field studies through working with Dr. Michael Freake of Lee University on hellbender restoration research (the hellbender is a large salamander found in major river systems in the lower Midwest and Southeast regions of the US whose populations have been declining in recent years). Ridge has also been involved in junior and senior level research through the prestigious iMASS (Integration of Math and Science Students) program at Lee. Speaking of the research program at Au Sable, Ridge explained, “This experience will allow me to utilize my current ecological fieldwork skill set as a servant of Christ and will allow me to further develop my skill set in a way that will prepare me for a career in which I will continue to honor Christ as a wildlife ecologist capable of conducting and publishing meaningful research for the good of God’s Creation.” Ridge brings a natural curiosity about science and proactive work ethic evident in past roles as President of Lee University’s Creation Care Club and membership in multiple National Honor Societies. We are glad to have you on the Au Sable team, Ridge!

Brandan Ward joins Ridge on the Grayling study, coming to Au Sable from Point Loma Nazarene University (California) where he is majoring in Environmental Science. With a background of service in the US Navy where he worked for ten years as a Nuclear Machinist Mate, Brandan has most recently served as a Leading Petty Officer. Trained as a Submarine Scuba Diver, Brandan is well acquainted with working in an aquatic environment.  Possessing strong laboratory skills, an outstanding academic record, exemplary recommendations from faculty at Point Loma, and a passion for the outdoors, Brandan will be a great asset to Au Sable’s research. “As I’ve grown older,” said Brandan, “I have begun to appreciate how threatened the outdoor places I so enjoy are. Participating in research, I believe, along with many other benefits, would help me direct my future endeavors in the world of environmental science.” A recipient of Sailor of the Year (2016), and 6 Navy Achievement Medals, Brandan’s dedication to excellence and quality is clear, as well as his leadership ability and personal initiative, invaluable assets to the Grayling research team. Welcome to the Au Sable Research Program, Brandan!

Dr. Cameron Goble of Michigan Tech will be leading this field study in 2017, “As the only stream-dwelling member of the Salmonidae family native to the Lower Peninsula, Arctic Grayling were undoubtedly a central piece of these river ecosystems and the cultures that relied on them. I’m thrilled to be a part of such a diverse and collaborative research team focusing on returning this iconic species to its native Michigan waters. I hope that one day soon Michigan’s Lower Peninsula will once again be known worldwide for its thriving Arctic Grayling populations!” said of the upcoming study. It is an honor to have Brandan and Ridge on the Grayling study team, and to have Dr. Goble at the helm. Looking forward to the upcoming field season!

This is the third in a series of stories that will introduce the Au Sable Research Teams for each study. Watch for the next story about ongoing studies of the behavioral ecology of forest bird communities, which will be taking place at Au Sable this summer through Dr. Darren Proppe of Calvin College.