Grand Award

1st Place

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Tucson Herpetological Society Outstanding Award

Are There Native Fish in La Milagrosa Canyon?

Earth and Environmental Sciences
Wade Olsson

Jeannette Olsson

"Native riparian fish are commonly overlooked and historically under-appreciated inhabitants of desert ecosystems. Before an historical drought in 2021, I found what I believed were longfin dace (Agosia chrysogaster) in a drying pool in La Milagrosa Canyon, a tributary of the Santa Cruz watershed. However, the pool in which I found them may have completely dried up later that summer during an historic drought. After the pool had refilled from seasonal rains I revisited the site but instead of finding dace, I found an invasive fish: green sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus). To determine whether native fish were still present, I partnered with USFWS to sample potential habitats of native species and possible source pools for invasive species to be flushed down into canyon pools. After 900 trapping hours with minnow traps, I did not find any fish but this is likely because a flood less than a month before flushed the canyon out and spread out any fish populations. Older footage of the fish from before drought indicate they may have been invasive sunfish the whole time. Revisiting these pools in the summer when water levels are lower is suggested to help answer the question of whether there are any native fish in this canyon."

Project presentation

View Project Presentation file

Research paper

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One thought on “Are There Native Fish in La Milagrosa Canyon?

  1. Although our focus was to identify and judge projects with a focus on amphibians and reptiles, this project checks practically every box of relevance for a science project from our perspective aside from the focal organism. It asks an important question that centers on sampling native wildlife in a local ecosystem known to already have non-native species. It discusses various aspects of the natural history for the various fish species involved, and addresses details relevant to how weather events and seasonality might have influenced their findings. The project includes a research paper to accompany the presentation, which is well thought out and is lush with relevant images, including the student’s field notes (super impressive!). And similar to amphibians and reptiles, the native species studied represent animals that are often overlooked by conservation efforts and underappreciated by the general public.

    I will note that it seems likely that this student had a fair amount of help from parents or friends that are clearly familiar with study design and framing scientific writing appropriately. However, given that this is a science project, I see this as yet another highlight of the student’s project. The correct way to conduct science is by collaborating with others (regardless of age or status) and being resourceful. Not only is the writing proofread and detailed, but the student demonstrated the ability and motivation to reach out to local scientists for help with acquiring research materials and advice.

    In short, this is an exceptional project that has meaningful implications for conservation and contributes practical knowledge regarding the distribution of these species. This student is clearly learning how to do science the correct way and I commend him for his passion to learn more about these unique species. Well done!

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