August 08, 2022

Students interning with Susquehanna’s Freshwater Research Institute spent a portion of their summer in the remote forests of northern Pennsylvania gathering data that will inform future conservation initiatives.

As Matt Wilson, director of the FRI, explained it, he and his students “threw the kitchen sink” at their work — sampling everything from water, sediment, fish and aquatic insects — in an effort to gauge the health of smaller streams in the area.

“We are collecting data this year to better understand how fish communities respond to their in-stream habitat,” Wilson said. “We hope to start using this data in the future for conservation efforts with Trout Unlimited.”

Students who accompanied Wilson remarked the summer’s heat was one of the biggest challenges they faced.

“I don’t think I was prepared for wearing waders,” admitted Mattie Lawson ’23, an ecology major from Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. “It intensifies the heat by about 10 degrees. When you add a 35-pound backpack, it gets pretty hot.”

The FRI also continued its longstanding work with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Unassessed Waters Initiative, an effort that allows students to directly impact state policy. Students are assigned streams by the PFBC and sample them for the presence of wild trout, which indicates exceptional water quality and allows the PFBC to afford additional protection in those watersheds.

Gabe Peachy ’23, an ecology major from Belleville, Pennsylvania, hopes to use some of his research into trout to inform his senior capstone project examining the relationship between native brook trout and sculpin, a bottom-dwelling fish trout both eat and compete with for food.

Upon graduation, Peachy will seek a job that will allow him to do more of the work he’s been doing with the FRI this summer.

“If I wasn’t working in a stream every day, I’d probably find myself there enjoying the outdoors in some way,” he said, “With the work I’m doing at the FRI, I’ve been able to combine my love of nature with a career path.”