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CCU student and biology professor awarded more than $60,000 in grants to study fish conservation

November 5, 2019
Grants will help professor Derek Craneand graduate student team study the sandhills chub, a fish found only in specific regions of the Carolinas.

Coastal Carolina University assistant biology professor Derek Crane is researching a local fish called the sandhills chub that is only found in the Sandhills region of North and South Carolina as a part of the thesis for Garrett Herigan, a coastal marine and wetland studies graduate candidate. Crane and Herigan received $40,449 from the federal government through the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources grant and $23,710 from CCU through the University’s commitment to match funds to support the research.

“This is my first large grant since joining the faculty at CCU,” said Crane. “Prior to becoming a Chanticleer, I was a co-investigator on several large research grants to develop models to guide conservation of habitats for native fishes in the upper Niagara River.”

Crane and his team are trying to identify potential factors that may be limiting the occurrence of the sandhills chub in the Sandhills region of South Carolina, and to provide guidance for conservation of this species and its habitats. Herigan’s thesis is titled “Assessment of habitat and land use factors influencing presence and absence of sandhills chub.”

The sandhills chub has a limited geographic region where it can survive, which makes them uncommon, so their conservation is a priority in the Sandhills region of the Carolinas. The funds to make this research possible was provided through the State Wildlife Grant program, which focuses on species conservation priority outlined by each state’s Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Strategy. The State Wildlife Grant program is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I have been at Coastal Carolina for a little over a year and have one field season in the books for my project,” said Herigan. “I get to sample a lot of different streams and see tons of different species. Working with a fish that is only found in one tiny part of the world is really cool.”

Crane and Herigan say they are fortunate to receive a grant of this size. They will use the funds to cover various expenses, such as materials to do the research and to publish their findings.

“I am looking forward to learning new things about an uncommon species that we do not know a lot about,” said Crane. “I began my research career working in small streams, so it is fun to get back to small-stream research after being away from it for 12 years.”

Crane and his team travel about two hours northwest of CCU’s campus to the Wateree, Lynches, and Pee Dee rivers drainage sites where the research takes place. These sites were strategically picked as they are located within the geographic region of the Sandhills where sandhills chub are commonly found. The team explained they have found sandhills chub in new areas, but they have also disappeared in areas where they are historically found.

“The next step for me is to work on publishing my results from my first field season,” said Herigan. “After that, I need to get my model set up and ready to accept data from next year’s more intense field season.”

Working alongside Crane on Herigan’s thesis committee is Chris Hill, professor of biology, and John Hutchens, chair and professor of biology. Crane says they have been able to aid and provide valuable knowledge to the research process.

Crane earned his bachelor’s degree in biology and criminal justice from Lycoming College in 2006 and earned his master’s in natural resources and environment in 2008 at the University of Michigan. In 2013, he graduated from SUNY-College of Environmental Science and Forestry with a Ph.D in ecology. Crane began at CCU in 2015 and taught courses including Biology and Ecology of Fishes, Ichthyology, Ecology of Fishes, and Principles of Ecology, just to name a few. He has also been a part of many research teams where he has had the opportunity to provide knowledgeable input into presentations, books, and peer-reviewed publications.

Visit cranefishecology.wordpress.com to keep up to date with Crane’s research and projects.