Image above: Mountain redbelly dace and Bluehead chub, Rockfish River, St. Rt. 151 bridge, about 4 miles S of Nellysford, Nelson Co., VA, May 20, 2019.

University of Richmond professor Eugene G. Maurakis has been awarded funding from the Virginia Academy of Science for his research project, “Testing the general public’s knowledge and attitudes of nest-building fishes in Virginia.”

Maurakis is an adjunct professor of liberal arts in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies and visiting research scientist in the School of Arts and Sciences’ biology department. He also serves as chief scientist at the Science Museum of Virginia.

The grant will support research and travel related to a publication and documentary of the breeding behaviors of cyprinid nest-building minnows in Virginia.

“The research is significant as it will be the first time that a study of the general public's perceptions relative to native nest-building fish breeding behaviors and the interpretation of these behaviors by the arts and humanities has been conducted in Virginia, or even in the United States,” said Maurakis.

Maurakis says three crucial issues have resulted in a need to find new ways to educate the American public about freshwater environments in the U.S.

First, U.S. streams are degraded due to the impacts of agriculture, habitat loss, and other factors. As a result, more than 700 of the 1,200 species of freshwater fishes in North America are imperiled, which means they are vulnerable to becoming endangered or extinct. Of those, about 25% are minnows and chubs.

Second, there is a narrow perception of freshwater biodiversity because freshwater species shown in the media largely focus on sport fishing. Non-sporting fish like minnows are often considered bait, yet these native fish are critical to the ecosystem.

Finally, studies show that today’s generation is more likely to know more about wildlife in Africa than they do about the environment and its biodiversity where they live.

With this project, Maurakis hopes to educate, increase awareness, and create behavior change towards aquatic fauna in Virginia. 

“Presenting science alone is less likely to result in long-term changes in feelings and behaviors,” said Maurakis. “This publication and documentary project aims to create a more memorable and exciting experience that will resonate with the general public.”

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The Virginia Academy of Science promotes the advancement of science in the Commonwealth of Virginia by providing financial support for research projects and by providing a platform for dissemination of research results.

About the grant awardee

Maurakis received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Richmond and completed his Ph.D. at The George Washington University. He is a published author and has written numerous articles in his field. Maurakis strategically applies the arts and humanities as unexpected entry points to communicate science and natural history phenomena. He is the co-curator of the See the Heat exhibition currently on view at the Science Museum of Virginia on the correlation between street murals and the urban heat island effect.

Visiting Research Scientist
Climate Change
Biodiversity
Behavior