“I grew up fishing and boating out on the bay, exploring the wetlands,” Davis said. “It hit me one day that I really care about the environment and especially the ecosystem from that area.”
Davis, 32, who recently obtained a master’s degree in biology from Bowling Green State University, made an important contribution to a new science paper, which asserts that four grass carp caught in 2012 had been bred and grew up in the Sandusky River.
The article, “First evidence of grass carp recruitment in the Great Lakes Basin,” was published in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, available online.
Because it showed a variety of Asian carp has reproduced in the Lake Erie ecosystem, the article made big news. It was reported in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and many other newspapers and news sources. Davis’ contribution was his study of otoliths, small bones found in the heads of the fish.
The importance of the otoliths is that they preserve the unique chemical composition of the waters where the fish came from, said Jeffrey Miner, associate professor and chairman of BGSU’s Department of Biological Sciences.
“You get basically the same thing as a DNA fingerprint, except that it’s a chemical fingerprint,” Miner said.
The Sandusky River, for example, has an unusual amount of strontium, which can be detected in the otoliths of the fish that spawned in its waters.
Research with otoliths is a tedious process that requires cutting them to expose the core and then processing them and examining them using a mass spectrometer with a laser to reveal the bone’s chemical composition.
Davis studied otoliths taken from another fish, the white bass, to determine many of the white bass in Lake Erie in 2011 were spawned in the Sandusky River. He won a first-place award, the Charles E. Shanklin Award for Research Excellence, in 2013 for his white bass work.
“I enjoy the research. It’s really exciting,” Davis said. “It’s a lot of work and takes a long time for stuff to happen.”
Davis is a class of 1999 graduate of Sandusky High School. His whole family still lives in Sandusky, including his mother, JoDee Davis, a registered nurse who works at the Meadows of Osborn Park retirement home.
“He was a scientist from the day he was born,” she said.
Even as a little boy, “he was always constructing traps,” she said. “He was going to trap things, so he could study them. When he has an interest in something, it consumes him until he understands it.”
She said her son grew up hearing stories about the lake.
Roger Notestine, Davis’ grandfather and JoDee’s father, as a young man worked as a commercial fisherman on Lake Erie, working with his brothers and his father. He told stories about what the lake was like back then, she said.
Having obtained his master’s degree recently, Davis said he’s looking for a job as a fisheries biologist.
“I’d like to stay in the Great Lake region,” he said.
Davis has a good future as a fish scientist, Miner said.
“He’s inquisitive. He’s got the skill set he needs to do this,” he said. “He also is an excellent naturalist. He’s used that interest and passion to study the populations of fish in Lake Erie.”