Continuing to Core: Grayson Huston Research Update

By Attis Bielecki, ME EPSCoR Student Writer

Grayson Huston is graduate student studying in the School of Biology and Ecology at the University of Maine. He works on the Maine-eDNA program under his advisors Dr. Michael Kinnison, a Professor of Evolutionary Applications and Maine-eDNA Co-PI, and Dr. Jasmine Saros, a Professor of Paleolimnology and Lake Ecology, who is also a Maine-eDNA researcher. Huston gained experience by working at Yosemite National Park as a Wildlife Biologist, in between being an undergraduate student and working towards his current Ph.D. This work mainly consisted of studying aquatic animals, removal of invasive species, and reintroducing endangered species. It’s job’s like this where he would be introduced to the applications of eDNA.

Huston’s research is picking up where fellow Graduate Research Assistant Samantha Silverbrand’s left off on her lake sediment work. He’s focused on alewife eDNA found in the sediment of sampled lakes; specifically, the historic absence or presence of these species.

Lake sediment cores contain an abundance of eDNA that settles and accumulates at the bottom of any given lake. Overtime, this DNA becomes buried and preserved, acting akin to a fossil. By collecting and analyzing this buried sediment, we can get a glimpse of the species that historically resided in the lake, going back centuries or even thousands of years.

Alewife is Huston’s key species for his research because of its recent decline (likely due to damming) and because it is a keystone species. “Everything eats Alewife” Huston explains.

Huston’s work is helping to locate which water sources Alewife historically resides in, and will allow agencies to know where they should focus when they apply their efforts on repopulating the species and managing current dams.

Since Huston’s last check-in, he’s made progress in going out to collect more of these sediment samples to test. However, he’s made it clear that it has been a learning experience for him. “The most integral thing I’ve learned so far would be the process of collecting a sediment core,” Huston explained. “I’ve never collected sediment before this, let alone at the bottom of a lake.” Nonetheless, he’s found the process straightforward.

The process of sample collection is actually easier in the winter. “I would just walk out there on top of the lake with an auger, drill an eight-inch hole, then use specialized tools that go all the way to the bottom and punch a hole in the sediment to create a core,” Huston described.

Huston relates this research to what Silverbrand is now working on, by claiming “Her [Silverbrand’s] work provides a foundation for me to build off of. Not only because she was originally doing this sediment work and quite literally started it for me, but what she’s doing now also compliments my work on the eDNA testing aspects.”

Huston’s research itself will be key to discovering more about the history of environments being tested and provide yet another resource for eDNA. It will also likely lead to Alewife repopulation in the necessary lakes.