Professor Eugene Maurakis

Biologist awarded NSF grant for documentary on fish that create nests

February 1, 2021

University News

Eugene Maurakis, an evolutionary biologist who specializes in environmental sciences, has received more than $200,000 in grant support from the National Science Foundation for research on freshwater fish species in Virginia.

This research investigates species that build gravel nests to spawn with mates, protect young — and draw in other fish to reduce the chances of their young being preyed upon. Studying nest-building can provide the basis for environmental policy and monitoring and assessment tools for stream ecosystems. The research can also determine how these fishes influence other species.

The four-year project is a collaboration with Virginia Tech’s Departments of Fish and Wildlife Conservation and Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Maurakis is a visiting research scientist in the department of biology and adjunct professor of liberal arts in the School of Professional & Continuing Studies. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Richmond and his Ph.D. from The George Washington University. Also an accomplished artist, he works to combine the arts and sciences to communicate science-related topics and issues in a way the general public can understand.

Some freshwater Virginia fish species create nests to attract mates and protect their young.

“This project includes a diverse and interdisciplinary team of engineers and biologists,” said, Maurakis.  “We will produce a natural history documentary grounded in science, yet interpreted with art, dance, animations, and music, so the general public has multiple ways of understanding science content.”

“The documentary component is especially important as access to videos for teaching has taken on increased importance as field labs navigate the pandemic,” Maurakis added.

Maurakis recently won the award for Best Short Film in the RVA Environmental Film Festival for “Plastic Oceans,” which explores plastic pollution in oceanic environments through art.

Maurakis, alongside his collaborator Tyler Rhodes, an animator, was one of six winners in this year’s festival. His film will be shown during the festival as part of the 2021 Film Contest section Feb. 14 at 4:25 p.m.