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Working at CSU

Larval Fish Laboratory celebrates 35 years

November 1, 2013

Colorado State University's Larval Fish Laboratory (LFL) celebrated its 35th year of native fish ecology and conservation earlier this semester, and is looking forward to new outreach projects and collaborative research for many more years to come.

The LFL is part of the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology in the Warner College of Natural Resources, and was founded in 1978 by Darrel Snyder and Professor Emeritus Clare Carlson. At a time when most research was focused on fish during adult life stages, the LFL’s core purpose was to provide a unique research facility to study the early life of fishes, specifically the endangered species native to Colorado.

35 years later, the LFL has grown to be a research cornerstone at CSU and in the fisheries field as a whole. Under the leadership of LFL Director and CSU Senior Research Scientist Kevin Bestgen, the Lab includes an aquatic research facility, 31 full or part-time employees, a fleet of research boats and trucks, and conducted work on 26 projects in 2013 alone.

The Laboratory has published a series of illustrated guides to help biologists identify larvae and early juvenile fish species in key river basins throughout the West. It has also built a collection containing nearly 125,000 lots and 3.9 million fish representing more than 200 North American freshwater and anadromous species from across the continent.

The LFL is funded through research grants, contracts and service fees, and conducts critical inter-agency work that supports the conservation of native and threatened fish species in the Rocky Mountain West. 

Notable work from the lab

West Slope Endangered Fish Recovery: Collaborating with federal and state agencies and environmental groups from across a four-state region, the LFL has been working on an intensive recovery program for endangered fishes including the humpback chub and razorback sucker. The program includes reestablishing populations, researching and restoring habitat, invasive predator management, and establishing fish-friendly dam operations. Tremendous strides have been made toward restoration of razorback suckers populations in the upper Colorado River basin, including successful recruitment of juveniles in 2013, a life stage not seen in abundance in many decades.

Cutthroat trout taxonomy: The LFL helped develop a geographic model of rare cutthroat trout species distribution in Colo., Wyo., Utah, and N.M. Identity of various lineages was established with morphological criteria and helped underscore the need for joint studies that also incorporate molecular genetics to provide the strongest science possible.  Future studies will focus on resolution of whether additional diversity of cutthroat trout exists along the Front Range.

Purgatoire River Fishes: Working in collaboration with the U.S. Army, Colorado Natural Heritage Program, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Colorado Cattleman’s Land Trust, the LFL conducted extensive surveys of biotic diversity along the Purgatoire River.  Researchers found that native species like the rare suckermouth minnow and flathead chub comprised 99.6 percent of the fish population in the River. The LFL’s work identified one of the most undisturbed and rare ecosystems in the region and discovered how streamflow and disturbance regimes can shape species distributions.

The LFL has built a reputation for research excellence and impact conducting a variety of unique research, education and outreach activities focused on fish ecology, native species conservation, and early-life taxonomy. It provides educational workshops and resources for fisheries professionals across the country, and has also created coveted career opportunities for the many CSU students and biologists.

More information about the Larval Fish Laboratory.

Contact: Taylor Jaquez
Phone: (719) 510-9958