Masters student at Saint Mary’s University conducts study on Lake Utopia

Submitted photo Master of Applied Science Student Erin Francheville is set to complete a second round of field work at Lake Utopia this coming autumn.

CHARLOTTE COUNTY – Master of Applied Science student Erin Francheville is a year into her program at Saint Mary’s University where she is studying the impact of invasive species in Lake Utopia.

Francheville has completed one field season at the diverse lake just outside of St. George, N.B. She plans to return to the approximately seven-kilometer long and two-kilometer wide lake this autumn to complete a second round of research in the field.

“It was really helpful to visit the lake,” she said.

Field collections for a study of this nature are usually conducted during one set time to limit the variables in the data collected. Keeping the time of year the same prevents differences due to migration and diet change.

The samples collected during the first round of field work assisted Francheville and the team of researchers working on the study in developing a better understanding of the baseline food web for Lake Utopia.

A food web, or a system of interdependent food chains, helps their evaluation of the long-term impacts of the invasive species in the lake: chain pickerel. By conducting stable isotope analysis, the researchers can track how energy flows through the ecosystem.

“Once we understand that, we’ll have more knowledge of the impacts of chain pickerel in the lake,” said Francheville.

Chain pickerel is not native to Atlantic Canada, but it is found in freshwater lakes. They were first found in Lake Utopia in 2008.

The fairly large predatory fish, which survives on other species of fish, shares the lake with the endangered rainbow smelt. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada identified rainbow smelt as an endangered species in 2018, after having been listed as threatened since 2008.

“(Chain pickerel) can quite quickly become a top predator,” said Francheville.

Rainbow smelt in Lake Utopia are a sympatric species pair, which means a new species evolved from an ancestral species, and both coexist in one geographical area.

The two species of rainbow smelt that populate Lake Utopia are the small bodied rainbow smelt and the large bodied rainbow smelt. According to Francheville, the two species have visual differences.

The study is crucial to understand whether the chain pickerel are affecting the endangered rainbow smelt population. The study will provide a better understanding of chain pickerel across Atlantic Canada.

“It’s important that we track this,” said Francheville.

Francheville and her research partners have received significant local assistance with the project.

“I’m really grateful of the support of local fishermen. I’m grateful how passionate people have been,” she said. Passamaquoddy Recognition Group Inc., a local organization working to protect all native fish species in the area, including the rainbow smelt in Lake Utopia, have been instrumental collaborators on the project, according to Francheville.

If you’re interested in assisting with the study, or have information that might be helpful, contact Erin Francheville at erin.francheville@smu.ca.

heatherknight@stcroixcourier.ca