River and Aquatic Life Research

Bed Sediment Composition in the Shenango River, Before and After Large Woody Debris Removal- Mark Russell, (Shenango River Watchers, Water Testing and Research) 2012Funded by Shenango River Watchers

I sampled six sites along the Shenango River from the beginning of the middle Shenango River, at the outflow in Jamestown, to its mouth at the Shenango Reservoir, in Transfer Pa.  The samples were sent to Penn State for analysis/presence of 25 different elements and pollutants.  This was done in order to determine if by removing trees for completion of the water trail would affect bed chemistry and or water chemistry.  No significant affects were found. Students at Greenville High School aided in determining local geology and stream parent material.


Sublethal Effects of Manganese Pollution- Mark Russell, (Shenango River Watchers, Water Testing and Research) 2009. Funded by NSF

With the rise of Marcellus shale gas exploration and the current issues surrounding acid mine drainage in the Shenango River Watershed, Pennsylvania, we should be striving to learn as much as possible about the effects of the associated pollutants. To that end, I evaluated the effects of low manganese concentrations on predator avoidance behaviors and growth rate of Appalachian crayfish Cambarus bartonii and pulmate snails Helisoma trivolvis, two species that are common in areas effected by mining pollutants.  I also cross-factored the predation risk treatment with treatments manipulating manganese concentrations.  I hypothesized that predator avoidance behavior and snail growth rate would decline as Mn concentrations increased.

I found that Mn at low levels decreases the growth rate of Helisoma trivolvis and the effects are intensified with the presence of crayfish predator stressors.  The data also suggests a significant difference in growth rates between Mn concentrations, but no significant difference in predator avoidance behavior of Helisoma trivolvis between Mn treatments.


Determining Spawning Occurrence and Reproductive Potential of Shenango River Lake Walleye – Michael T. Hamilton (Youngstown State University), 2009.  Funded by Shenango River Watchers

The objective of this project was to achieve an accurate walleye (Sander vitreus) spawning habitat assessment through the collection of eggs and physical data in the Shenango River from the Shenango River Lake upstream approximately 24 river kilometers.  The data collected during sampling on depth, velocity, temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and substrate content also provides a baseline of comparison for future studies on the Shenango River and similar fisheries.  This information is compared with that of other studies on walleye spawning habitat to establish a Walleye Spawning Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (WSQHEI).  While it is generally thought that successful spawning of walleye in Pennsylvania is nearly non-existent, the research to support this is limited (Anderson K, PAFBC, personal communication). This is the first confirmation of walleye spawning attempts by the Shenango River Lake walleye population in the Shenango River.  The WSQHEI is not suitable for establishing the extent to which spawning is occurring in the Shenango River or any other aquatic system, but it is useful for baseline assessments when little or no data is available about the walleye spawning activities in a lotic system.  The collected data yielded very little gradient amongst the variables, which limited the development and effectiveness of the WSQHEI.  This occurred because sampling was restricted to areas conducive to walleye spawning based upon literature of known environmental variables.  All sites with walleye spawning activity had statistically insignificant environmental variances; however, migration distance was correlated with walleye spawning activity.  Spawning occurrence decreased as distance from Shenango River Lake increased.


An Exploration of Fish Diversity and Drainage Areas in Tributaries to Reservoirs in Northwestern Pennsylvania- Mark Russell (Shenango River Watchers, Water Testing and Research) 2006.

In order to study fish diversity, we used electrofishing equipment to sample the tributaries of the Shenango River, Shenango Reservoir, and the Upper Shenango (Pymatuning Reservoir).   We found no departure from expected values and no significant difference between the fish diversity in tributaries of Pymatuning Reservoir and tributaries of the Shenango Reservoir.


Effects of Large Woody Debris Removal on The Shenango River, Pennsylvania- WPI, Mark Russell and Brandi Baros, (Shenango River Watchers, Water Testing and Research) Ongoing. 2011. Funded by Shenango River Watchers

A number of data were collected to determine if clearing the main channel of the Shenango River, in order to create a Water Trail, significantly affected the river.  Data were collected before and after the large woody debris clearing along the length of the Shenango River from Jamestown to Riverside Park, in Greenville.  The areas studied included changes in the macroinvertebrate community, and changes in stream morphology.


Sampling Fish Assemblages Along the Shenango River, Pennsylvania.  –Mark Russell (Shenango River Watchers), Andrew Turner (Clarion University), Peter Timashenka (Clarion University student), Bri Reed (Indiana University of Pennsylvania).  Ongoing . 2015. Funded by Shenango River Watchers,  and Act 13.

The last complete fish survey on the Shenango river was completed in 1938 by Edward Raney.  We conducted a fish survey along a 22 mile stretch in order to obtain a top-down picture of our river’s health and indicate rare species locations.  We are also comparing fish data with Raney’s historical data, as well as data we collected in 2005 when we sampled all the tributaries to the proposed study area.  We will be sampled 12 sites along the study site by electrofishing with a backpack shocker, trying to duplicate Raney’s sample sites.  At each site we will also collected water quality perameters, conductivity, alkalinity, total hardness, temperature, and oxygen.

-Students at Greenville High School will help process and graph data.


Investigating the relationships between land use and heavy metal concentrations in soils and shallow groundwater along the Shenango River Corridor.- Diana Alexander  (Youngstown State University), 2011. Advisor Dr. Jeff Dick.  Funded by Shenango River Watchers

The Shenango River Corridor in Mercer County, Pennsylvania has been chosen for research and analysis of the shallow soils and groundwater for heavy metal concentrations of selected elements.  Monitoring wells will be installed, with soil samples collected during drilling and installation.  Ground water samples will be taken and tested after monitoring wells are completed.  Using ICP technology, concentrations of selected heavy metals within the soil and ground water samples will be documented as a base-line data set of the corridor and included in the final Master’s thesis.


Diversifying a wet meadow in Greenville that has been overtaken by a non-native invasive grass species. 2010. -Jonathan Kinney, Advisor Dr. Felicia Armstrong.  Funded by Shenango River Watchers

Background/Question/Methods This study examines the invasive grass species Phalaris arundinacea (Reed canary grass or RCG) and attempts to control its growth and vigor through the use of shading and grazing techniques. Simultaneously, plugs and seeds of native grass species (Elymus riparius and Panicum virgatum) were introduced to examine their establishment rates under these same conditions. Shade levels of 0%, 40%, and 80% were established through the use of nylon mesh shade cloth placed over a structure 8 feet in height. Because RCG has become a nuisance in the Midwest and the Pacific Northwest by forming extensive monocultures, the development of successful control methods is vital in maintaining species diversity in the wetland areas it is prone to successfully establish. Plant heights and light readings were taken throughout the growing season, and plants were harvested at the end of the season to determine dry weights. These measurements were used to determine relative success rates of establishment or control. It is hoped that this experiment will allow for control of the invasive RCG with a minimization of disturbance. Also, the successful establishment of seedlings combined with seed germination is anticipated under these conditions.


Initial results showed successful establishment by plugs of both native species. Under periodic grazing, both species had larger dry weights by the end of the season. Elymus dry weights, however, were notably larger when 80% shade was combined with periodic grazing. There did not appear to be much difference in dry weights for Panicum under the varying light levels. Slightly higher dry weights were noted under periodic grazing than without. In contrast, seeds germinated with greater success under full sun conditions for both species than under shade. However, there did not appear to be a significant difference in seedling height among the varying shade level conditions. The presence of data points with zero readings from either plug disappearance or failure of seeds to germinate necessitated a second season of analysis. A fresh series of plugs and seeds will be planted in an attempt to improve on the study results. This will also be done to determine overwintering success as well as second year growth and control success.


Greenville High School student-led research project:

“What’s the Deal With Nelumbo: Decomposition of Nelumbo lutea, and the Affect on Dissolved Oxygen”- Megan Montalvo, 2010. 

With the expansion of American Lotus in Pymatuning Reservoir to the point of being classified as invasive, Megan looked at the effects of decomposition of American Lotus on dissolved oxygen, and compared it to a control of less-invasive species.

“Establishing QHEI for the Streams of the Shenango Watershed”- Ellen Groover, 2004. 

Ellen evaluated the physical qualities of 12 sites around Greenville, Pa.  QHEI use six principle metrics in order to “grade” a stream as a habitat.  Scores range 0-100.