RIO GRANDE — The professors of the University of Rio Grande’s Wildlife Conservation program in the School of Mathematics and Natural Sciences dedicate their work to educating both students and the community about new ways to preserve animal and plant life in our area.
Dr. Rob Hopkins, associate professor of wildlife conservation, is taking this effort to a national level by partnering with other conservation specialists across the country to create a three-volume set of scientific reference books, Freshwater Fishes of North America, being published by Johns Hopkins University press.
Dr. Hopkins is being supported by the university with a sabbatical leave from teaching this fall to focus on the project. Rio President Dr. Michelle Johnston said nationally-recognized projects like this one represent the distinguished work of the university’s faculty.
“Like the successes of our graduates, the impressive research, teaching and service accomplishments of our faculty are Rio’s greatest mark on the world,” Johnston said. “Speaking on behalf of the administration, his faculty colleagues and students under his guidance, we are extremely proud of Dr. Hopkins’ research record. He makes us better!”
Hopkins said his role in the project is to make geographic distribution maps for the volumes and authoring some of the chapters.
“This project is a three-volume reference work covering the diversity, life history, behavior and conservation of freshwater fishes in North America. The editors needed someone to make range maps for the books. One of the editors, Brooks Burr, was my Ph.D. advisor and knew I could make them,” Hopkins said. “My job is to create maps showing where each species of fish can be found throughout North America. Most of my sabbatical will involve working on the maps for Volume 3.”
The first volume of the reference set was published in July 2014, with the second to be published later this year. The third and final volume will be released in late 2017. Hopkins is making the range maps for all three volumes and has also contributed to the second volume by writing a chapter on smelts, a group of fish closely related to salmon and trout. Hopkins said his involvement with this project has been a privilege and has allowed him the unique opportunity to work alongside some of the most prominent fish biologists in the world.
“This work is primarily intended to be a research reference tool. We are essentially reviewing all the research done on these fishes and distilling it down to one easily accessible set of reference books. These books are specifically designed to help guide students and other scholars in their research efforts to further our knowledge and conservation of North American fishes,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said his research has expanded his own knowledge of freshwater fishes and has been a great way to help prepare for teaching Field Ichthyology, a course on fish identification and ecology he will teach when he returns in the spring.
“Working on these books has been very enlightening. Getting the information needed to make the most accurate and comprehensive maps often requires exploring historical museum collections. It has been a great experience to visit museums across the country and look at different collections of fishes, some of which date back to the mid-1700s,” Hopkins said. “We’re excited to see the project so close to being finished. I’m extremely grateful to Rio for allowing me to take this sabbatical and being supportive of my research on this project. Knowing our administration values these types of faculty endeavors is wonderful because our sabbatical work can be translated to unique learning and research experiences for our students.”
Hopkins will finish his sabbatical in December and return to the classroom in the spring semester.