Rachel Bowes (RivEM PostDoc) and colleagues have studied the downstream passage of several migrating fish species during spring and fall 2020. Here she writes about their work:

Laxeleratorn at Vattenfall’s Research & Development facility in Älvkarleby

“Dams are like giant road blocks for fish in rivers. It is not always feasible or realistic to remove a dam to restore fish movement throughout rivers, so we need to design detours around them.

When going downstream we call this detour past the dam a bypass. The question we are asking is: How can we design a better bypass for multiple fish species to be able to move downstream past a dam more easily and efficiently? To test this, we are using the Laxeleratorn at Vattenfall’s Research & Development facility in Älvkarleby. We are testing Silver Eels, Salmon, and Roach fish species. Changing the design of the bypass and amount of water flowing through it, we hope to find out what combination creates the optimal bypass for these fish species.”

European eel (Anguilla anguilla)

Henry recently started his PhD at Karlstad University. Here, he writes about his previous work and what he intends to do as a PhD student at Karlstad University:

Hi! I’m one of the new additions to the RivEM group at Karlstad University. I’ll be working with the RIBES project, where the bulk of my position focuses on habitat alterations of rivers and fish community responses. Academically, I had excellent experiences studying at the University of Wisconsin-Stout for my undergraduate and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for my masters. Outside of the academic environment I had many incredible experiences, often dealing with natural resources or geographic information systems. Up until now, I have performed research in seven states, four countries among two continents, and worked for three U.S. government agencies (e.g., NPS, USFWS, USGS), a state government, and a local government as well as a handful of universities. 

Research-wise, my work has primarily dealt with freshwater ecology and fisheries, more often from a field perspective. Still, there were undoubtedly plenty of lab experiences too (but I do find the field more fun!). I would say my view of my research goals has changed drastically over the last ten years. I originally got started doing micro-satellite work with brook trout trying to optimize PCR reactions, ultimately answering population genetics questions. During my undergrad, the summers were a full immersion in the diversity of applied research in freshwater systems. These include dealing with invasive and non-native species throughout the Rocky Mountains (e.g., lake trout and zebra mussels in Yellowstone National Park, bullfrogs in the Yellowstone River, rainbow trout in the Crazy Mountains). On the other end of this spectrum, I have assisted with recovery efforts and management of endemic and endangered species (e.g., Higgins’ eye pearlymussel in the Mississippi River, pallid sturgeon in the Platte River, lake trout, and native lamprey recovery in the Great Lakes Basin, Bonneville cutthroat trout in Idaho). These projects were eye-opening because they tended to be outside of the academic setting. I observed how people outside of academia used research to help fix problems in socio-ecological systems.

Holding a pallid sturgeon caught during Platte River monitoring project.

My master’s degree focused on channel catfish long-distance movements in an internationally managed ecosystem (Lake Winnipeg Acoustic Telemetry Project) compounded with the difficulties of managing a mixed-use fishery. The foundation of this problem was ecological, while the problem’s tradeoffs were socially and economically dependent. I addressed this problem with a Bayesian modeling framework to quantify movement and an ecosystem services approach to investigate alternative management options (in preparation for publication). These broader system-wide issues helped inspire my Aquatic Sciences publication, highlighting the importance of a proactive management paradigm concerning fragmented rivers and aging reservoir ecosystems.

I think now I have gone off the deep end into the quantitative realm. Exposure to Bayesian statistics has me wanting more out of the models the everyday ecologist is trying to wrestle in R. I think finding a balance between well-designed field sampling campaigns and well crafted statistical techniques will be my new focus for the next few years.

Veli recently started her PhD at Karlstad University. Here, she writes about her previous work and what she intends to do as a PhD student at Karlstad University:

Hello, hello! My name is Veli and I am one of the many new PhD students joining the RivEM band. My project is part of the MSCA-RIBES (River flow regulation, fish behaviour and status) and will aim to develop new guidance devices for downstream migrating fish. I will be hosted officially by Norconsult, but I will be actually based at Karlstad University. My main supervisor is Larry Greenberg, and I will be also under the co-supervision of Ann Erlandsson and John Piccolo at Karlstad, while Axel Emanuelsson is the Norconsult supervisor.

 I was born in Bulgaria during communism when the typical pastime was to wait at very long lines in front of the shops from early in the morning to try and buy some milk (one of my earliest memories). My parents are windsurfers and while my sister followed in their footsteps and became a professional windsurfer, I was always more interested in what was going on beneath the surface and would often get away from the coast, abandon the surfboard and dive to spot some fish and check how deep it was. Since the love for the sea was deeply drilled into my heart, when the time came to start thinking about a career path, the idea of becoming marine biologist felt the most natural.

Veli at age 8, heading into the sea with oversized windsurf equipment.

I started my bachelor degree in marine biology at Queen’s University, Belfast and in my final year I chose a project on fish aggressive behaviour, since I have been interested in the topic since I was a child. Me and my dad were always figuring out ways to minimise the aggression between our tropical aquarium’s fish, using see-through partitions when passions escalated and when introducing newcomers. The bachelor project examined if fish use a preferred lateral position when displaying to an opponent. After analysing hundreds of videos of convict cichlids duels, it became clear that they appeared to escalate only after ‘head to tail’ position and never from ‘head to head’, which had serious implications for previous fish aggression studies done with mirrors.

I was keen to investigate the mirror situation further and so I obtained a grant from the Fisheries Society of the British Isles (FSBI) and set up an experiment comparing one focal fish’s displays when presented with a real opponent and with a mirror. The experiment was further continued by a bachelor student and the results were eventually published in Animal Behaviour.

After the bachelor degree I wanted to gain some field experience and so I left for Istanbul to help a PhD student with gathering behavioural data on cetaceans to study how they are affected by marine traffic in the Bosphorus strait. The internship made me even more interested in animal behaviour so I decided to go back to university and start a masters in animal behaviour and welfare.

During my masters I became more interested in exploring different visual behaviour questions and so I chose a research project investigating if bats can see polarized light. The experiment was carried out in a Y- maze but also had fieldwork component, taking place at Max Plank’s Siemers Bat Research Station in Bulgaria. Even though my laboratory experiments were not conclusive due to the limited time period for research on the animals, the field experiments carried out by my colleagues at the research station seemed to conclude that the bats do indeed see polarization and use it to navigate, making them the first mammal to do so (making the findings Nature material).

After the masters degree I comleted an ERASMUS + placement program in Spain studying the effects of whale watching vessels on cetacean behaviour in the Gibraltar strait, where I helped with the collection and analyses of data and photo ID material.

Shortly after the end of the placement I left for the Hondurian cloud forest of Cusuco National Park as part of ongoing conservation expedition Operation Wallacea, where I worked as camp manager and I was more on the logistical side, however I got to dip my toe in all the different ongoing  terrestrial surveys, such as collecting Chytrid fungus samples from the endemic amphibians, bird and bat surveys in the park, etc. I went back to Cusuco for another expedition again a couple of years later in 2016.

After 9 years abroad, in 2015 after learning that a young family member is ill, I decided to go back to Bulgaria, so that I can be close to my family. In couple of weeks I organised a campaign to raise funds for the treatment and decided to do a solo cycle from Lisbon to my home city Sofia as a crowdfunding challenge. I made it home after 65 days, raised enough funds towards my cousin’s treatment and today she is in remission.

Collage from the 5000 km cycle challenge that raised over 6000 euro.

Once back to my home country I tried to be as involved as possible by being active citizen and organising and participating in science related and environmental protests. After becoming clear that no one else was going to do it, I organised The March for Science in Sofia, the only Bulgarian protest associated with the international demonstrations.

March for Science, Sofia, 2017

In 2018 I was part of the team of the Wind2Win challenge, where my sister and her partner did a historic crossing of the 300 km Bulgarian coast with windsurfs in 3 days to raise awareness of the plastic pollution problem in the Black Sea. I was part of the science team on the safety vessel and we were taking water ecological samples with a sonde and making cetacean and floating debris observations during the crossing. A documentary was made about the challenge, in order to help raise awareness among the public (teaser) with an upcoming online premiere. Under the initiative more than 6 clean ups have been carried out lifting around 3 tonnes of plastic from various beaches.

In my free time you can catch me in nature with my family, or trying out something new.

I am currently working at an eel experiment at the Älvkarleby flume and when free I go to Germany, where my family lives, but I look forward to moving to Karlstad and getting to know everyone soon.

As a member of the European consortium RIBES (River flow regulation, fish Behaviour and Status), the River Ecology and Management research group at Karlstad University invites applicants to three PhD positions on fish migration and passage in regulated rivers. In addition to the three PhD positions in Karlstad, RIBES also announces 12 more PhD positions in Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Italy and the UK as part of the same network.

Read more about the PhD positions and how to apply here!

Last application date is 31 May 2020.

To be eligible for one of the PhD positions in Karlstad, candidates cannot have resided in Sweden for 12 months or longer in the 3 years immediately before the recruitment date.

For more information about RIBES, check out our website!

River Klarälven in Värmland, Sweden