Zachary Hutchens, a student in Stephen F. Austin State University’s Department of Biology, was recently awarded the Student Field Natural History Award by the Southwestern Association of Naturalists for his work studying the Sabine shiner in the Lanana Creek watershed.
June 4, 2021 — For the past nine months, an SFA biology student has ignored unforeseen weather extremes and other hurdles to wade into the waters of Banita and Lanana creeks in search of a threatened fish – the Sabine shiner. The Southwestern Association of Naturalists recently recognized his efforts with the Student Field Natural History Award.
Zachary Hutchens, a senior from Nacogdoches, is conducting research to assess the status and habitat conditions of local populations of Sabine shiner in the Lanana Creek watershed.
“In winter and summer sampling trips, we face extreme conditions, such as freezing and scorching temperatures,” Hutchens said. “Regardless of the weather, we maintain a consistent sampling schedule in order to standardize our data collection.”
The Sabine shiner is a small fish found in clear, shallow streams and is currently classified as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Texas, necessitating a need for tracking its geographic distribution in East Texas waterways.
Using a seine, Hutchens and his faculty mentor, Dr. Carmen Montaña, assistant professor in the Department of Biology, collect the fish and mark them with visual implant elastomer tags to study their movements in the creeks.
“It is a species lacking research into their movement patterns,” Hutchens said. “My project has shown that there is an isolated population of the Sabine shiner in Banita Creek, and it does not move very far from the tagging location.”
Because the last study on the fish was conducted 20 years ago, Hutchens’ research will provide a much-needed update.
“That study reported a much higher abundance and stable populations of Sabine shiner compared to what we are finding today,” he said. “This presented a great opportunity to investigate exactly how much this population has changed and search for reasons as to why.”
Once collected, results from Hutchens’ study will be compared to the previous study.
“As a faculty member and a mentor, I am proud of our students,” Montaña said. “They work very hard in the field and lab settings to produce quality scientific data and increase their involvement with scientific research.”
Hutchens recently presented his research to judges, students and other scientists at the 68th annual meeting of the Southwestern Association of Naturalists where he was recognized for his outstanding oral presentation and the strong field component in his research.
“This conference gave students a platform to present their research to a diverse group of scientists and graduate and undergraduate students working in the fields of ecology and conservation,” Montaña said. “Their participation in this meeting allowed our students to grow as scientists.”
To learn more about the Department of Biology, visit sfasu.edu/biology.