Thursday, March 9, 2017

Research On Native Adirondack Fish Species Continues

Two years ago a research team from Paul Smith’s College published a paper about the possibility that yellow perch could be native to the Adirondacks, after finding its DNA in sediment from Lower St. Regis Lake that dates back more than 2,000 years ago.

Now similar sediment core sampling is being done on Mirror Lake in Lake Placid. In late February Paul Smith’s College students under the tutelage of Paul Smith’s College Professor Curt Stager – who led the original study – teamed up with Ausable River Association Science and Stewardship Director Brendan Wiltse to take sediment samples that will be analyzed for the presence of three fish species: yellow perch, rainbow trout, and lake trout. The group also plans to extract additional samples in the future. The DNA testing will be done by the Adirondack Watershed Institute at Paul Smith’s College.

Wiltse, who is leading the work, said the scientists have made some modifications in procedure and equipment from what was done on Lower St. Regis Lake. One of the big changes is that scientists will DNA of the three fish species. The previous study only looked for yellow perch DNA.

Wiltse said rainbow trout and lake trout will serve as controls for this new study. Lake Trout have been in the Adirondacks for thousands of years, while rainbow trout have only been in Mirror Lake for the past 100 years or so. So Wiltse said the scientists expect they find lake trout DNA dating back a couple of thousand years and only find rainbow trout DNA in the newer sediments. That would indicate that lake trout lived in the Mirror Lake for a thousand years or more and the rainbow trout was introduced more recently. Rainbow trout are not native to the Adirondacks and started arriving here from the Pacific northwest in the 1800s. The scientists will then look for yellow perch DNA.

“If we find yellow perch similar to what they found in Lower St. Regis in Mirror Lake, you know, a thousand or two thousand years ago, and we also find Lake Trout, then can be pretty confident that yellow perch is a native fish to Mirror Lake,” Wiltse said. “Conversely, if we don’t find yellow perch in the bottom, but we find them in the top, then we know that yellow perch were a more recent introduction in Mirror Lake.”

If the scientists do find that yellow perch were native to Mirror Lake that would lend more credibility to the Lower St. Regis Lake study and open up more dialogue on the history of the yellow perch. The Lower St. Regis Lake finding caused a stir in the fisheries world because the state Department of Environmental Conservation has traditionally classified the fish as an invasive species that was introduced by man into Adirondack lakes and ponds. Even with the Lower St. Regis study results, the DEC continues to classify the yellow perch as an invasive species, saying shortly after the study that more evidence needed to be presented before it changed the status of the fish, which is generally considered to have negative impacts on fish like brook trout when living in the same water body.

In addition to the work on Mirror Lake, Wiltse hopes to extend the fish research to other water bodies in the Adirondacks in the future.

Photos by Brendan Wiltse: Top, Paul Smith’s College students collect sediment core samples from Mirror Lake in Lake Placid. Below, an up-close view of a sediment core sample from the bottom of Mirror Lake.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

5 Responses

  1. James Marco says:

    Thanks for the update, Mike!

  2. John Sheehan says:

    Thanks Mike. It’s great to see this research continue. The better we understand whether trout and perch can survive in the same waters, the better we will be at answering difficult fisheries management questions.

  3. Scott says:

    I have many questions about this study. Cross contamination is the primary concern. Is this an accepted peer reviewed methodology? How accurate is the DNA analysis? What are the detection limits? Have cases where a species has definitively been introduced been studied? I suppose the last question might be answered with the rainbow trout portion of this study.

    Personally, I think this is a backdoor attack on pond reclamation. Stager has long been a critic of the practice. Without reclamation, brook trout in the Adirondacks would be in even more peril than they are now. With the coming loss of brook trout habitat from climate change, I don’t understand why these people would want to further tie DEC’s hands. Native or not, perch and brook trout don’t mix and perch are in no danger from any environmental issue.

    • Boreas says:

      Good points!

    • Scott,

      The original study published in PLOS One ( went through the peer-review process. The work we are doing now is a continuation of that study and involves a study design that will further answer the questions you raised.

      This isn’t an attack on pond reclamation. Rather, it is the development and refinement of a technique that will be incredibly valuable in furthering our understanding of how fish community assemblages have changed (or not) over time. This information will help us better understand how fish have responded to environmental change in the past, whether that is climate change or the introduction of a new species.


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