Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Type



Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design


Wildlife and Fisheries Resources

Committee Chair

Todd Petty

Committee Co-Chair

Eric Merriam

Committee Member

Eric Merriam

Committee Member

Quinton Phelps


Unconventional Oil and Gas (UOG) production has been steadily expanding throughout the mid-Atlantic since 2008. Increased sedimentation, degraded water chemistry and an overall decrease in habitat quality due to UOG is anticipated to negatively impact aquatic inhabitants, a common observation in other stressed landscapes (i.e., mining, agriculture, development). We assessed stream health through both community analysis and physiological parameters (i.e., growth and hematocrit). A before-after-control-impact study uncovered three fish metrics that were significantly different following UOG disturbances. The invertivore-piscivore metric decreased following UOG disturbance (p = 0.045) whereas two benthic metrics saw a surprising increase (p = 0.003 and p = 0.011). Further analysis revealed that fish communities are becoming more uniform as tolerant taxa proliferate through the chronically degraded systems. An ANCOVA alongside a linear mixed effect model failed to find a significant difference between the weight and length of Semotilus atromaculatus residing in both treatment conditions. S. atromaculatus were tested for hematological responses within eleven UOG impacted sites and eight reference sites with a linear mixed effect model. Hematocrit levels were found to be significantly lower in S. atromaculatus residing within UOG impacted streams (p = 0.029). A weak negative correlation (r = -0.397) suggests that as UOG well density increases, resident fish health decreases. Our findings indicate that in systems chronically impaired by anthropogenic stressors, physiological health indicators may provide better insight than community analyses. Additionally, we predict that the steady expansion of horizontal wells could lead to an overall degradation of resident fish populations as they exhibit degraded health. Our findings have potential to shape management practices and establish UOG protocols that protect aquatic environment.