American eels (Anguilla rostrata) occupy a broad range of habitats along the Atlantic coast of the Americas. They reside in estuaries, lakes and rivers, as far north as Greenland and as far south as Venezuela. American eels employ a catadromous lifestyle, which means they spawn in marine systems (Sargasso Sea), migrate into freshwater systems to live as adults and then return to the ocean to spawn. American eels are the only catadromous fish species within the Chesapeake Bay watershed and provide many unique ecosystem services. In the Chesapeake Bay, young eels are ecologically important as a food source for other organisms and economically important as an exported delicacy. Eels rely on the Chesapeake Bay because it acts as a nursery for the elver stage of their life cycle. However, their complex life cycle makes them vulnerable to a multitude of threats including habitat fragmentation, pollution and overfishing. A recent increase in dam removals has resulted in greater inland migratory range for American eels. My current research is investigating their relationship with these newly available habitats where they will spend a majority of their life. This data has implications for biotic resistance of invasive species, long-term resilience of eel populations and cross-boundary energy subsidies. Informing the public about the current status of eel populations, the increasing range of eels inland and the benefits that eels provide is an essential step towards successful management of American eels in the future.
An infographic will be developed to communicate general background information on American eels and also specific findings of my current research. The goals of this infographic are to simply raise awareness about American eels and alleviate the misconception that they are a ‘marine invader’. Interesting life history strategies, the reason for their expanded range and their benefit to inland ecosystems will be addressed within respective sections of the infographic. Images will be included to complement the background information (e.g., pictures of different life stages), the reasons for increased migratory range (e.g., dam removal figures) and the results of my study (e.g., a graph showing minimal competition with game fishes). The infographic will conclude with a simple call for action or a statement of need for future management. This document will be made available to target audiences as a hard copy and a digital copy.
The target audience of the proposed infographic includes a subset of the general public, individuals who enjoy the outdoors. This broad group of people is likely to not only entertain new information about their environment but also to act on the newly obtained information. As a hard copy, this infographic will be posted at park kiosks, trail heads, prevalent angling areas, angling stores and park visitor centers. It will also be available online through relevant websites (e.g., Trout Unlimited). The placement of the infographic will reach members of the audience along a spectrum of involvement, from occasional park goers to wildlife rangers. The purpose of this communication tool is to promote future interest in local and national conservation of freshwater eels. The infographic will gain interest of those who are unaware of eels and their ecological role, and alleviate misconceptions of those who believe that eels are disrupting freshwater communities.