This summer I have the amazing opportunity to work with a federally endangered species of fish, the Clear Creek Gambusia (Gambusia heterochir). The species is native to a single spring in the head waters of Clear Creek in Menard County, Texas, with no other known wild populations. However, in 2014 a secondary refuge population was founded at Ink’s Dam National Fish Hatchery near Burnet, Texas. These types of refuge populations are an important management tool for endangered species, serving as safeguards against catastrophic events in the wild population. However, like any endangered population it is important to monitor not only the physical health of the individuals but the health of the population as a whole. This is where my project comes in. I am working on taking tissue samples from both wild and captive fish for DNA analysis. The information from this project will be used to measure genetic diversity contained within and amongst the two populations. This information can then be used to guide the level of outcrossing required to keep captive population as similar genetically to the wild population as possible.
I am especially excited to be working with G. heterochir not only because of its interesting biology, but also its rich history in US conservation policy. My academic background is in biology, more specifically population genetics, but I am also very interested in endangered species management, conservation, and environmental legislation. Formal protection for G. heterochir was actually established prior to the current Endangered Species Act. Gambusia heterochir was one of a handful of species to be deemed “endangered” under the ESA’s lesser known predecessor; the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. This act was one of the federal government's earlier endeavors to recognize and work towards the protection of species at risk of extinction. While this piece of legislation was only in place for about seven years, it was an important milestone in US conservation policy and helped set the stage for the extremely robust Endangered Species Act in 1973. It is an honor for me to have a chance to work with a species that has such a longstanding role in the development of endangered species law, and I am very grateful to the staff of Ink’s Dam for giving me the chance.