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Research Scientists, Undergraduate, and High School Students Collaborate To Explore How Fish May Be Impacted By The Invasion of The Bloody Red Shrimp

Group shot at dock (2)


Research scientists, undergraduates and high school students collaborate to explore how fish may be impacted by the invasion of the bloody red shrimp  


We tend to think of invasive species as nuisances, spoiling native habitat and altering ecosystems. By very definition, an invasive species is one whose “introduction causes or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health”(NISC 2006).  This definition does not preclude an invader from providing some potential benefits to native ecosystems or, in particular, to valued native species that may actually thrive in the presence of the newcomers.


Such may be the case with the “bloody red shrimp” (BRS), Hemimysis anomala, which could be a new food source for native Finger Lakes fish species such as lake trout according to feeding experiments run this summer in collaboration with Dr. Meghan Brown (Associate Professor of Biology at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, HWS). Lake trout feeding experiments on BRS are one of several research efforts spearheaded by Dr. Brown, Dr. Brent Boscarino and his high school student researchers from the Poughkeepsie Day School, and Dr. Bruce Smith (newly retired Professor, Ithaca College), to investigate the continued spread, integration and ultimate role of BRS in Finger Lakes food webs.

Hemimysis-pictures (2)

The bloody red shrimp, Hemimysis anomala, which was first detected in the Great Lakes region in 2006. Photo credit: Environment Canada


Our collaborative research team worked together in 2013-2014 to track the movement of BRS from its initial point of invasion in Lake Ontario towards the Hudson River via the Erie Canal (the results of which can be accessed here). Our current research, funded by the Great Lakes Research Consortium (GLRC) through the Great Lakes Protection Fund as well as with support from the Poughkeepsie Day School Annual Fund, will take our efforts on BRS further by: (1) quantifying the degree to which both native and naturalized fish species including lake trout are capable of capturing BRS through controlled feeding experiments, (2) incorporating citizen science surveys to help with early detection and population monitoring of the species, (3) documenting the behavioral interactions and spatial overlap of BRS with fish through a combination of SCUBA videography and field work, and (4) working on new techniques such as environmental DNA (eDNA) to detect the species.


 Group shot at dock (2)

High school student researchers with faculty mentors, Drs. Brent Boscarino and Meghan Brown, at the Bozzuto Boathouse at Hobart and William Smith College. From left to right (back row): Chris Canfield, Mia Foucek, Ellie Stapylton, Julia Roellke, Kate McKeon, Sonomi Oyagi, Meghan Brown, Jesse Held. (front row): Matt Warren, Brent Boscarino. Photo Credit: Kevin Colton, Hobart and William Smith photographer.



Fish feeding experiments reveal high feeding rates of lake trout on BRS  


Determining the efficiency with which certain valued fish species can utilize BRS is one of many goals of our project, and one that has already yielded interesting insights into the potential role of BRS in native food webs. Preliminary results from controlled feeding experiments performed this summer indicate that lake trout are capable of consuming BRS at extremely high rates. The observed rates are particularly impressive provided the large size of BRS relative not only to the body size of lake trout used in our experiments but also to the size of other zooplankton prey available to these fish. Furthermore, the strong swimming ability and escape response of BRS makes filter feeding by planktivorous fish highly improbable (Janssen 1978) and prey must therefore be taken individually. Mysid shrimp, like BRS, also tend to have a much greater highly unsaturated fatty acid and caloric content relative to other available zooplankton in areas of overlap with lake trout, making BRS highly desirable from a nutritional standpoint. Increased recruitment of lake trout in Flathead Lake, Idaho, for example, was attributed to the introduction of another species of mysid shrimp – the recruitment boost was due in part to the high caloric content of the mysid and the same may apply to BRS in the Finger Lakes (Ellis et al., 2011). We are also examining the use of BRS as a food resource for other fish integral to Finger Lakes food webs such as the alewife and yellow perch.

Ellie and Matt Hemimysis counts

Student researchers Matt Warren (above) and Ellie Stapylton sorting BRS for use in fish feeding experiments. Photo credit: Brent Boscarino

Adding Hemimysis to tanks (2)

Dr. Meghan Brown and Poughkeepsie Day School students adding BRS prey to yellow perch experimental tanks. Feeding rate experiments were run under natural light conditions around twilight, a period of high BRS and fish feeding activity. Students (from left to right): Back row: Kate McKeon, Ellie Stapylton, Sonomi Oyagi, Front row: Chris Canfield, Julia Roellke, Meghan Brown, Mia Foucek, Jesse Held, Matt Warren. Photo credit: Kevin Colton, Hobart and William Smith Photographer   


BRS may become an important energy subsidy for species such as young lake trout and other economically or ecologically valued species that spatially overlap with BRS. However, the situation is complicated by the fact that BRS are also competitors with the same fish species that prey upon them.  Thus, BRS may locally deplete zooplankton and benthic food resources that would otherwise be available to the fish.  Furthermore, optimum spawning habitat for lake trout consists of piles of clean cobble and rubble with enough interstitial space to protect eggs- the same type of substrate preferred by BRS (Claramunt et al., 2012). In the long term, developing lake trout will likely utilize BRS as a food resource in nurseries, but there is the potential for the shrimp to prey upon lake trout fry as they emerge before the fish have outgrown BRS predation pressure. Further research will have to tease these variables apart before any definitive conclusions can be made about the impact of BRS on lake trout survival and growth.


In addition to fish feeding work, Master Divers Erik and Johan Hedlund (Poughkeepsie Day School student and parent, respectively), are utilizing SCUBA videography to determine the behavioral and spatial relationships of BRS and their fish predators in the wild. The team has already documented the swarming behavior of BRS and has begun the process of analyzing the captured videos to help assess the nuances of BRS microhabitat selection and their interaction with fish.

Erik Diving

SCUBA diver Erik Hedlund near the William Scandling dock . Photo Credit: Brent Boscarino


Want more information about their SCUBA trip?  The link is here.

Scuba Caption: Scuba footage taken near the docking station of the research vessel, William Scandling, that demonstrates the swarming behavior of Hemimysis in the field. Hemimysis tend to aggregate in rocky habitat in close association with man-made structures like piers, docks and marinas. Video footage courtesy of Johan and Erik Hedlund


The Bloody Red Shrimp and Citizen Science

A second goal of our summer research was to begin developing a citizen science campaign to help with early detection of BRS. This part of our work will consist of distributing educational brochures and sampling kits to local lake users to help monitor and track the spread of the species throughout the Finger Lakes and larger Great Lakes basin into Hudson River watersheds. This summer, Poughkeepsie Day School students developed two versions of budget-friendly “shrimp traps” that could potentially be used to distribute to the public to help with early detection of the shrimp in local waterways. While a standard containment device can cost hundreds of dollars, the students were able to create an effective sampling net for under $10 per unit. The first trap design utilizes embroidery loop, mesh fabric, string, plastic collection bottle and weight to mimic a student plankton net. The lightweight materials used also make this design easily “shippable” through the mail to citizen science volunteers.


Citizen science net

Plankton nets developed by student researchers to distribute to citizen science volunteers to help with monitoring the spread and population dynamics of BRS. The nets were constructed with lightweight materials that can commonly be purchased at local stores, all for less than $10. Photo credit: Julia Roellke

Citizen science meeting Julia Mia Hilary


Poughkeepsie Day School student researchers Julia Roellke (left) and Mia Foucek (left) with Hilary Mosher (center), discussing the design of the plankton nets intended for use in citizen science monitoring of BRS. Photo credit: Brent Boscarino


With the guidance of Dr. Smith, our group also worked to fine-tune a second BRS trap design that could potentially be used in citizen science surveys. This work was largely conducted by Jamila Roth (Skidmore, ‘18) whose work with Dr. Brown was supported by the Mellon Foundation through a grant where New York Six participants connect issues of local importance to their global context.  The trap design utilizes supplies that can be found in most homes, such as small sections of PVC pipe, swimming “noodles”, and buckets to capture individual Hemimysis inhabiting the lake floor and can be deployed (and recovered) during daylight hours.

Controlled experimentation in the laboratory this summer has confirmed that the  trap designs are extremely effective in detecting the presence of the species, catching upwards of a thousand organisms at times with relatively low sampling effort.  The grant monies have allowed our group to purchase the required materials for initial distribution and help establish a central database for recording the presence or absence of the species throughout New York State.  It is anticipated that the sampling nets, in addition to informational brochures and instruction sheets, will be ready for use and distribution in citizen science surveys in the early fall, so stay posted!


Claramunt RM, Barton NT, Fitzsimons JD, Galarowicz T. 2012. Microhabitat association of Hemimysis anomala on fish spawning reefs on Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Michigan. Journal of Great Lakes Research 38 (Suppl. 2):  32-36.

Ellis BK, Stanford JA, Goodman D, Stafford CP, Gustafson DL, Beauchamp DA, Chess DW, Craft JA, Delaray MA, Hansen BS. 2011. Long term effects of a trophic cascade in a large lake ecosystem. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 108, 1070-1075.

Janssen, J. 1978. Feeding-behavior repertoire of the alewife, Alosa pseudoharengus, and the ciscoes Coregonus hoyi and C. artedii. J. Fish. Res. Bd. Can. 35: 249–253.

National Invasive Species Council (NISC), Invasive Species Advisory Committee. 2006. Invasive species definition clarification and guidance white paper, Washington, D.C.

Full story available here as PDF: BRS FLI newletter September 2015

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