Biology Student Researches Genetics of Alewives

Ellen McCann Labbe is a graduate student in the USM Biological Sciences  Department researching the population genetics of river herring in the Gulf of Maine. Better known in Maine as alewife (Alosa pseudohargenus) and blueback herring (Alosa aestivalis) these sea-run bait fish were once of considerable socioeconomic and ecological importance along the entire Atlantic seaboard. They are still the favored spring bait for the Maine lobster industry and feed numerous marine and land predators throughout the year. Recent dramatic declines in commercial landings have caught the attention of numerous stakeholders, and highlighted the need to improve our understanding of the biology and behavior of these migratory fishes for conservation and management. Ellen hopes to shed light on how landscape features and human activity have shaped the genetic differentiation between alewife in Maine watersheds.

In the spring and summer of 2010, Ellen joined collaborators from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in extensive sampling of spawning river herring on lakes and rivers throughout Maine, from East Machias to Saco. She then spent five months as a visiting researcher at Duke University Marine Lab, developing new genetic markers for these species under the guidance of Dr. Tom Schultz and Dr. Eric Palkovacs. She is now busily working up her results and tackling her thesis.

Ellen conducts her research under the advisement of Dr. Karen Wilson, USM Department of Environmental Science; in collaboration with Dr. Theo Willis (USM Environmental Science) and Dr. Jason Stockwell (University of Vermont).