Student Research Spotlight - Brent Leibig

Posted: October 24, 2014

This is the 10th of twelve short news articles written by students, during the professional development class, about each other's research.

Fishing for leads in mayfly declines
By: Saundra Wheeler

Every year around Memorial Day, fly fishermen and students can be seen on a tiny old bridge, nets in hand, catching female Green Drake mayflies at central Pennsylvania’s Penn’s Creek. Penn State Researchers then release the eggs of the Memorial Day catch into Spring Creek, 30 miles away, in hopes of rebuilding the Green Drake population.

Trout consider these particular mayflies to be “fish candy”. They also serve as a low tech GPS for 4.1 million of America’s fly fishermen. Globally, streams have been modified by human activities, which negatively impacted aquatic communities that are extremely sensitive. Even the slightest ecological change can tip the scales out of balance. “Green Drake mayfly populations in Spring Creek were wiped out by a lab spill forty years ago and taking eggs from one creek to another has not been easy”, said Brent Leibig, a graduate student at Penn State University whose work focuses on identifying obstacles to rebalancing insect populations in streams.

Scientists are taking a closer look at where the Green Drake lays its eggs and how long it takes the eggs to hatch in an effort to repopulate Spring Creek. Leibig suspects that the eggs are being eaten before they can hatch.  Earlier studies have shown that Spring Creek has a large population of sowbugs. Sowbugs are tiny shrimp-like scavengers that eat anything and live in water, such as streams, ponds, creeks, and lakes.

Researchers have yet to prove that the mayfly eggs are being eaten by sowbugs or something else. Leibig believes that his research will have a positive impact on the environment and the fly fishing industry. ”If we can determine that the sowbugs are eating the Green Drake eggs then we can develop ways to protect the eggs until they hatch”, added Leibig.