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Davis, California

Wednesday, May 29, 2024


Fish are important to Peter Moyle, and he would argue they’re important to you too.

The UC Davis professor of wildlife, fish and conservation biology has dedicated his entire adult life to studying the ecology of freshwater fish. A Minnesota native, Moyle is a nationally known conservation expert and prolific author of 106 peer-reviewed papers and five books. He also serves on numerous committees associated with managing the San Francisco Estuary.

Moyle tries to pass on his passion for ecology by encouraging his students toknow your bioregionby taking one of the eleven self-guided field trips he wrote and posted on his website, which can be accessed through wfcb.ucdavis.edu.


What does your research focus on

Ecology and conservation of freshwater fish, especially in California, as well as the effects of alien invading fish on native fishes. I am especially interested in restoration of streams and rivers, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.


What classes do you teach at UC Davis? Do you have a favorite

WFC 120 Biology of Fishes

WFC 10 Wildlife Ecology, a general education course

Geology 135 Ecogeomorphology, a field course co-taught with Jeff Mount of Geology

Ecology 290, graduate seminars


I like them all because they reach different groups of students.


What drew you to studying the biology and conservation of fish

I was brought up in Minnesota on a ridge between two lakes, where I fished and boated. It also helped that both my parents were aquatic biologists.


On your website, you offer several field trip guides to explore local wildlife. Which would you recommend students start with and why

Stebbins Cold Canyon is my favorite for visitors. Reasonably close, 30 minute drive, and fairly wild. For the fairly fit, there is a great 4-mile hiking loop to a ridge top. Otherwise there is a shorter hike that is only a mile or so and not steep. But several of the trips are designed get people out to see some of the spectacular wildlife concentrations we have here at times: sandhill cranes (Cosumnes River), waterfowl (Yolo Basin), salmon (American River), even big flocks of robins (Cold Canyon).


Why is it important toknow your bioregion?

This is where we live and put down roots. I thinkacting locallyworks better for conservation. Besides, Davis is located in a really interesting region, with an incredible diversity of habitats and critters within a couple of hours in all directions. The watershed we live in, Putah Creek, goes an amazing distance up back into the coast range, draining large areas of rugged public land, including Cold Canyon.


You were originally against building a peripheral canal in the delta, but you changed your mind recently. Why was that

Times have changed. The original canal was designed mainly to transport a lot more water south. Basically, much of that water flows south today anyway, as well as to the Bay Area, by flowing through the Delta. This screws up the hydrology, confuses the fish and entrains them in the pumping stations, among other things. The ecosystem changes that everyone was afraid would occurfor example the collapse of fish populationswhen the PC [peripheral canal] was built have occurred anyway.

Now the PC, if properly built and operated, with fees serving as a steady source of money for restoration projects, could improve conditions for fish. Given the likelihood of massive levee collapse from earthquakes, making the present water transport system untenable, a PC is more or less inevitable, unless we want to stop diverting water from the Delta entirely.


Why are delta fish species important to California

They are part of our heritage, unique to the state (endemic). They tell us a lot about the health of the ecosystems that provide water for us. The Endangered Species Act says it is the policy of the people of the USA and California (state act) not to let species go extinct.

They are lovely fish and all are edible. Wouldn’t it be great if the Delta smelt and longfin smelt became so abundant they could be harvested? Similar species are highly valued as food elsewhere, which is not surprising because all smelt are tasty.


What’s your favorite fish species

Any species native to California. For a marine fish, I am partial to the sarcastic fringehead, which looks like its name.


Do you have a home aquarium

One small one, to amuse grandkids with goldfish, and a couple of small ponds, also full of goldfish. The fish feed the herons that stop by and amuse the kids when they try to catch them.


Anything else you’d like tell students

Know where the water comes from that you drink and where it goes when you flush the toilet. This will help you to understand how California works, or doesn’t work.


ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at campus@theaggie.org. 


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