Researcher Discusses Barriers to Fish Movement in the Niagara River

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Date: February 29, 2016

A public program about a key prey fish species in the Great Lakes food web is planned for March 10 at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (National Lakeshore).

Dr. Sarah Delavan (University at Buffalo, State University of New York (SUNY)) will present a program entitled Hydrodynamic Barriers to Emerald Shiner Movement in the Upper Niagara River on March 10 at 9:30 a.m. at the Philip A. Hart Visitor Center Auditorium in Empire, Michigan.  

In the past 100 years, the extensive modifications to the upper Niagara River may have impacted the movement of emerald shiners (Notropis atherinoides). The emerald shiner is one of the predominant Great Lakes prey fish species and a major food source for threatened species like the common tern. In addition, the Niagara River flyway is an internationally designated Important Bird Area supporting the largest and most diverse concentration of gulls in the world. Economically and recreationally, the emerald shiner is valuable as a commercially and recreationally harvested bait fish for bass, muskellunge, and other sportfish, making it an important species for national parks and other protected areas of the Great Lakes region. 

Physical modifications have effectively channelized the river, nearly eliminating the presence of natural roughness elements that would disrupt the flow and produce valuable hydraulic cover. Fish swimming barriers were identified using a combination of computer modeling and field velocity measurements. Results indicate that large velocities immediately downstream of the international Peace Bridge restrict potential emerald shiner movement to within close proximity of either shoreline. Also, the large turbulence values suggest that the shiners may experience disorientation and body damage while moving upstream past this region of the river. Therefore, biological connectivity for shiners is impaired due to anthropogenic river modifications. Mitigation is suggested for proper restoration of emerald shiner communities and the other trophic levels that rely on this keystone species.  

Dr. Delavan grew up downstate in St. Johns, Michigan, but spent her summers on the Lower Herring Lake in Benzie County. Her love for the region and the natural beauty of the area led to an Environmental Engineering degree from the University of Michigan in 2000. Later, she earned a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Texas and a PhD in Environmental Fluid Mechanics from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Dr. Delavan worked at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand as a post-doctoral fellow to determine the environmental flow effects of mussel farming. She recently finished three years as an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. Her area of expertise is experimental fluid mechanics, with a focus on the influence of hydrodynamics on biological and ecological systems. Her work helps facilitate the management of our natural waterways through an understanding of the complex relationships between man-made structures, fluid mechanics, and the plants and animals that inhabit these waterways.  

These talks are part of a Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore speaker series called Research Rendezvous. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NPS and highlight the value of national parks as our nation’s living laboratories, the National Lakeshore is hosting a series of public talks by park researchers in 2016. All Research Rendezvous presentations offered at the National Lakeshore are free. Upcoming “Research Rendezvous” presentations include

Natural History of Bats in Michigan and Hibernation of Bats and White-nose Syndrome by Dr. Allen Kurta (Eastern Michigan University) on Saturday, April 9 at 10:00 a.m.

Comparison of Coastal Landforms and Sediments Between Sleeping Bear Dunes and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshores by Dr. Zoran Kilibarda (Indiana University Northwest) on Friday, April 15 at 9:30 a.m.

Investigating the Importance of Deer for Lyme Disease Ecology:  A Natural Experiment Presented by Lake Michigan Islands by Erik Foster (Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) and Dr.  Jennifer Sidge (Michigan State University) on Thursday May 12 at 9:30 a.m.

Avian Botulism in Lake Michigan:  How Does it Happen? by Dr. Harvey Bootsma (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.

Talks are scheduled once or twice a month throughout 2016, with more being added frequently. For a current listing of these talks, please check our schedule of events at 

Last updated: March 1, 2016

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