Nature Lab

By Bonnie Chasteen | January 1, 2018
From Missouri Conservationist: January 2018

Each month, we highlight research MDC uses to improve fish, forest, and wildlife management.

Fisheries Management: Grotto Sculpin Population Study

 “Being in a cave is like entering a different world,” Sindupa De Silva said. His coworker, Wesley Sleeper, agrees. “Caves are full of sights and organisms that simply cannot be seen above ground.”

These two MDC research assistants don’t explore caves just for fun. They’re part of the team collecting information for the state’s grotto sculpin population study. Grotto sculpins are small, cave-dwelling fish that occur in five cave systems and two surface streams in Perry County.

“We study the numbers and sizes of the sculpin in different caves,” De Silva said. “Then we observe any trends in the numbers and sizes over seasons and years and look for any changes in the environment, such as the water quality and sediment.”

This information is valuable in helping biologists recommend management choices that can protect the species. For example, cleaning up sinkholes that lead to caves where the fish live can improve their habitat because sinkholes supply water to cave streams and groundwater sources.

Jason Crites is the MDC fisheries management biologist who leads the grotto sculpin research team. He explained how the team’s research will help MDC better manage cave habitat and water quality.

“Changes in wildlife populations below ground can be an indicator of big changes above ground,” Crites said. “Understanding the grotto sculpin’s specific habitat needs and tracking its population can help us improve stewardship of surface lands. This, in turn, helps us protect groundwater quality, which impacts us all.”

The study will end in May 2019. The team is considering further research to explore other questions about the species. MDC has researched grotto sculpin for over a decade, but the current research project is focused on assessing population numbers and status, which includes reproduction.

Grotto Sculpins at a Glance


Perry County

Ecological Value

Environmental indicator. A strong population indicates clean water.


Current data indicate a stable population.


Pollution from trash, chemicals, and runoff.


Sinkhole clean-ups, stream buffers, and careful construction.

Browse more research projects at

Also In This Issue

Prairie Chickens grazing
Serving Nature and You: Fiscal Year July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017.

This Issue's Staff

Editor - Angie Daly Morfeld

Associate Editor - Bonnie Chasteen

Staff Writer - Larry Archer
Staff Writer - Heather Feeler
Staff Writer - Kristie Hilgedick
Staff Writer - Joe Jerek

Creative Director - Stephanie Thurber

Art Director - Cliff White

Designer - Les Fortenberry
Designer - Marci Porter

Photographer - Noppadol Paothong
Photographer - David Stonner

Circulation - Laura Scheuler