Meet graduate student Lucas Nathan

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Lucas Nathan

Lucas Nathan is enjoying exploring as much of the East Coast and the New England outdoors as he can while he is in Connecticut. A Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, Lucas moved from Wisconsin and already has plans to complete postdoctoral research in Michigan when he finishes his work at UConn. His current research helps ensure proper management and conservation of brook trout in local streams and rivers. Here is what he said in an interview.

Where did you study as an undergraduate?

I studied at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

What was your major?

I majored in Fisheries and Water Resources.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school?

After finishing my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to gain more experience leading my own research projects. I earned my master’s degree in biology with a concentration in conservation from Central Michigan University. During that time I studied the Great Lakes bait trade as a potential pathway for invasive species introductions. I used environmental DNA (eDNA) to conduct invasive species surveillance and also studied the effectiveness of distributing posters to bait shops to educate anglers about invasive spaces.

I decided to continue my studies and get my Ph.D. at UConn, largely because of the brook trout research project that was available for me to work on. I had experience working with brook trout in other regions and also using genetics to inform conservation, so the project was a great combination of my previous experiences and research interests. I also saw it as an opportunity to further expand my research capabilities and gain additional experiences that would help me pursue a future career in fisheries research.

Who is your advisor?

Dr. Jason Vokoun, associate professor and interim department head of NRE.

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Lucas goes electrofishing to survey fish.

What is your field of research?

My dissertation research is focused on studying brook trout genetics at broad spatial levels. In Connecticut, and in much of their native range, brook trout are found in small cold water streams, but are often separated by larger rivers that are warmer than the suitable temperatures for brook trout. Although many brook trout may not leave a single stream over their lifetime, even rare movements among populations could be very important for maintaining genetic diversity and ultimately long term adaptive potential in headwater populations. I am using genetic information and landscape models to better understand population structuring among Connecticut’s headwater streams and identify the river or watershed features that prevent gene flow. Using this information, I am developing decision support tools that help fisheries managers target specific areas for protection or restoration.

Name one aspect of your work that you like.

I have always chosen research topics that can be directly applied to conservation and management of native fish species. I really enjoy the opportunity to apply innovative techniques to better understand the surrounding environment and use that information to improve conservation efforts. My current dissertation research includes aspects of population genetics, stream ecology, landscape ecology and fisheries management, which leads to a lot of blending of conceptual ideas and analytical methods. It’s very exciting, albeit challenging at times, to continuously learn new techniques that can be applied to a broad range of natural resource problems.

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment so far?

Over the four years of my dissertation work I have been very active presenting my research at professional conferences and have been awarded five best student presentations awards at the state, regional and international level. I’m very proud of those accomplishments because I view outreach and communication as a fundamental component of scientific research. Given the applied nature of my research, communicating results to stakeholders, management agencies and fellow researchers is a very important part of applying research to conservation issues.

What do you hope to do once you get your degree?

I recently accepted a postdoctoral research position at Michigan State University. I will be collaborating with various agencies in the Great Lakes region to study grass carp, an invasive species, in Lake Erie and develop management strategies to control the future spread of the species. Following that position I hope to pursue additional research opportunities in the Great Lakes region to further inform fisheries conservation.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

Perhaps not surprising, given my field of study, but I enjoy getting outdoors in my free time as much as I can. I’ve been trying to take advantage of living on the East Coast for the first time. I have been on hiking and camping trips to every New England state over the last four years. I also like to go boating, kayaking, hunting and fishing. However, despite being an angler and spending a large portion of my professional career studying brook trout, I rarely fish for trout and I still have yet to cast a fly rod!

To learn more about Lucas’s ongoing research you can visit his website at lucasnathan.weebly.com.

By Jason M. Sheldon