Dr. W. Todd SlackTodd Slack has worked for the past 24 years on a number of projects concerning invasive, threatened and endangered species in Mississippi and the southeast. He began his career at the University of Louisiana, Monroe, and received his PhD and did post-doctoral work at the University of Southern Mississippi. He held the position of Nongame Research Biologist at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science from 1998-2009, and is currently a Research Fishery Biologist in the Environmental Laboratory at the US Army Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg.
His research with colleagues on the endemic and federally threatened bayou darter and the AFS threatened Pearl darter have had great influence on management of these species. Examples of three additional projects that have major conservation concerns are with invasive Nile tilapia, the conservation status of saltmarsh topminnow, and the protection of Federally threatened Gulf sturgeon. His work with tilapia provides state and regional resource managers information to make better decisions on managing potential threats of this invasive species. His work on the saltmarsh topminnow has not only elucidated its distribution along the Gulf of Mexico, but has delineated its preferred habitat, reproduction, diet, and specifically use of upper salt marsh for feeding and reproduction. These efforts have led to a NOAA-Office of Protected Species Conservation Plan for saltmarsh topminnow and, almost single-handedly, has led NOAA and USFWS to consider the elevation of this species to the threatened status under the Endangered Species Act. Finally, he has led multi-agency research efforts on the threatened Gulf sturgeon in the Pascagoula and Pearl rivers, all of which deal with movements, habitat use, critical feeding habitat, and environmental factors that influence migrations. Additionally, he was the first scientist to find evidence of Gulf sturgeon spawning in Mississippi, and his discovery stopped the construction of a dam at the site. It's a great success story of how a good scientist accomplished a huge conservation achievement through dedication, knowledge, and plain old common sense. These endeavors have led to a much better understanding of Gulf sturgeon use of various segments of the Pascagoula and Pearl River systems, and thus have major implications for management and recovery of this threatened species locally and regionally.
While best known as an ichthyologist, our award winner is also recognized as a major contributor to our knowledge of the mussel fauna in the southeast. With so many mussels listed as threatened or endangered, his research provides keen insight on protecting and conserving this group of diverse, sensitive fauna in our rivers and streams. In addition to research, the C.A. Schultz Award winner has also co-authored 36 scientific papers. One of his greatest achievements was to author 31 species accounts in Fishes of Mississippi, providing sound taxonomy and ecology for many non-game fishes. This book will have a long-lasting influence on our understanding and education of fish species management, conservation, and ecology in Mississippi. Our award winner has also shared and promoted his conservation ethic in many other ways. He has served as a committee member for 13 graduate students at 3 Universities. He has been a member of the Gulf Sturgeon Working Group, the Pallid Sturgeon Lower Basin Work Group, State Reporter for the Southeast Fishes Council, and served as President of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Fisheries Society in 2002. Additionally, he can talk to scientists and then also talk to the landowners, the commercial fishermen, or the hunters, most of whom respect him for both his knowledge and his graciousness toward them. This ability to share science is a gift that has opened the minds of many non-scientists in Mississippi about the need for conserving the state's fishes. Finally, it is difficult to find another biologist who has contributed more to the protection of the Pascagoula River basin. Past threats such as the Richton salt dome project and Leaf/Bouie River Lake proposal were both in the last stages of approval when conservationists such as our award winner produced impact data and assessments. These sound contributions allowed the Pascagoula River to be the last true large basin to remain unimpeded with limited industrial water withdrawals. In conclusion, Todd Slack has dedicated his career and life to the study of fishes and mussels and their habitats. He has played a significant role in understanding and protecting threatened and endangered species and their habitats, and has guided conservation activities in Mississippi and beyond its borders. Todd has had and will continue to have a major impact on conservation within Mississippi and the southeast for decades to come.