VCU Rice Center

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Project highlights

Researchers at the Rice Center are working to solve some of our most pressing environmental concerns. Below are some examples of the important work being carried out at the center.

Restoration of Atlantic sturgeon in Virginia’s coastal rivers

The Atlantic sturgeon (Acipenser oxyrhynchus) is a biological and historical superlative. In addition to being the largest and longest-lived aquatic organism in the Atlantic rivers of North America, the Atlantic sturgeon played a critical role in the establishment of the first English settlement as Jamestown’s “founding fish” and was (and remains) culturally significant to Native Americans throughout the region. Following centuries of over-fishing, habitat alteration, and pollution, this migratory species has been extirpated from many Chesapeake Bay tributaries and — in Virginia — persists as a small but viable population only in the James River. Read more »

Wetland ecology and restoration

A major wetland and stream restoration effort is under way at the Rice Center. Lake Charles, a prominent feature of the center since the mid 1920s, was formed when an earthen dam and spillway was built at the mouth of Kimages Creek at the James River. The impoundment flooded 70 acres of tidal and non-tidal freshwater wetlands, primarily bottomland hardwood swamp forest dominated by bald cypress and tupelo gum. The impoundment altered the hydrology and ecology of this wetland and its tidal creek, both critical habitats in the lower James River ecosystem. Read more »

Nutrient dynamics in the James River

Paul Bukaveckas, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biology and Center for Environmental Studies at VCU, is conducting research focused on nutrient and plankton dynamics in the James River. By combining these data with innovative ecosystem modeling, he and his graduate students hope to provide river and watershed management strategies. Read more »

Fish-bird interactions

Greg Garman, Ph.D., director of VCU’s Center for Environmental Studies and Cathy Viverette, CES research associate, are participating in a multi-institution and cross-disciplinary study of the trophic relationships among fish-eating birds and selected fishery resources within the Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries. Read more »

Prothonotary Warblers

Cathy Viverette, research associate at VCU, with the assistance of a dedicated group of faculty, students and volunteers, is continuing the work of Charles Blem, Ph.D., ornithologist and ecologist from the VCU Department of Biology (retired), on the migratory patterns and breeding habits of the Prothonotary Warbler. The warblers have returned to their breeding grounds on the James River an average of one day earlier each year since the study began nearly 20 years ago. A change in egg production also has been noted. Researchers believe the earlier arrival dates may be linked to global warming. This research has far-ranging implications for the population dynamics of Neotropical migrant bird species and on conservation management strategies. Read more »

Conservation Medicine

The Rice Center supports research in the broad field of conservation medicine, whereby scientists conduct research focused on monitoring, evaluating and understanding the relationship between diseases and abnormalities of animals, human health and environmental conditions. Many animals are sensitive to environmental conditions and can serve as bioindicators of potential human health risks. These investigations thus contribute to both better conservation of wildlife and improvement of conditions affecting human health. Read more »

Hydroelectric flow regulation

Rice Center researchers Leonard Smock, Ph.D., professor of biology and Steven McIninch, assistant professor of environmental studies, along with Ph.D. graduate student Drew Garey, are leading a multi-year study of the impacts of flow regulation by hydroelectric dams on the Roanoke River in North Carolina. Hydropeaking, or the short-term release of large volumes of water from a dam to produce electricity, greatly increases flows in the lower Roanoke River. Read more »

Gene movement across landscapes

Along with his graduate students, Rodney Dyer, Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Biology, is conducting research that focuses on understanding the processes, mechanisms and consequences of gene distribution across a landscape. The spatial patterning of gene movement within populations has several ecological and evolutionary consequences, including population size and genetic variation. Read more »