Haag honored with Presidential Early Career Scientists Award

December 19, 2008

Washington, DC - U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) Fisheries Research Biologist Wendell Haag, Ph.D., received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers during a ceremony today at the White House. Haag was among the nearly 70 scientists and engineers receiving the award, which is the highest honor that a young scientist or engineer can receive in the United States.

The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, established in 1996, honors the most promising young researchers in the Nation within the fields of science and technology. Federal departments and agencies annually nominate scientists and engineers early in their careers whose work shows the greatest promise to benefit the nominating agency's mission. Participating agencies award these scientists and engineers up to five years of funding to further their research in support of critical government missions. Haag will receive a total of $125,000 in research funds over a five-year period.

Haag's research is focused on understanding the poorly known biology of freshwater mussels and using this information to develop effective conservation strategies. The southeastern United States supports the most diverse mussel fauna on Earth and, because they are filter feeders, these animals play a crucial role in maintaining high water quality in rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, mussels are disappearing rapidly, threatening the integrity of freshwater ecosystems.

Haag has made important contributions to several aspects of mussel biology and conservation. His research has been central in revealing the fascinating life histories of mussels. Because their larvae must spend a brief period of time as parasites on the gills of fishes, mussels have developed strategies to attract host fishes and infect them with larvae. These strategies include displaying elaborate lures that closely mimic minnows, crayfish, and other prey items of host fishes. Fishes are tricked into attacking these lures and receive a mouthful of mussel larvae instead of a meal; however, larvae rarely harm the host fish.

Haag also led a 10-year effort to monitor rates of survival, growth, and reproduction in several healthy mussel populations. Researchers are using data from this project to build demographic models that predict future trends in mussel populations, similar to methods used in predicting changes in human populations.

Finally, Haag conducted important research on the production of growth rings in mussel shells. Like trees, mussels produce annual rings in their shells as they grow. Because some mussel species live for more than 50 years, these rings provide a wealth of information not only about the growth of the animals, but about changes in the aquatic environment over long time periods. The Forest Service scientist has published research findings in a wide array of books and international scientific journals, and his work has been highlighted in popular science magazines in the United States, Great Britain, and Denmark.

Haag is based at the SRS Center for Bottomland Hardwoods Research work unit in Oxford, MS. Haag received his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Mississippi in 2002, his master's degree in zoology from The Ohio State University in 1991, and his bachelor's degree in biology from Eastern Kentucky University in 1988. He is a native of Lexington, KY.
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USDA Forest Service ‑ Southern Research Station

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