expanding the science of river ecology


Principal Investigator: Sandra Bibiana Correa

Photo by Jorge García-Melo

I am originally from Colombia (South America), where I earned a BS degree in Biology from the Universidad del Valle. Later, I graduated with a MS degree from the University of Florida and a Ph.D. degree from Texas A&M University. Throughout my career, I devoted myself to investigating fish ecology in large tropical rivers including how seasonality and structural complexity influence habitat use, how pulses in food resource availability mediate species coexistence, and how fruit-eating fishes contribute to the seed dispersal and natural regeneration of forested wetlands.

Graduate Students

Sitha Som (Ph.D. student)

I am from Cambodia, where I graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Science in 2004. I graduated from Massey University (New Zealand) with a M.S. in Environmental Management. I have over 17 years of experience working for international organizations, including Conservation International (CI) and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). My expertise includes freshwater turtles and tortoises and fisheries conservation, research, monitoring, and restoration. 

My experiences and contributions to freshwater conservation honored me with a Mekong Conservation Hero award by the USAID-Wonder of the Mekong Project in 2020. In 2022, I was awarded a similar conservation hero award by Mandai Nature- a conservation consortium based in Singapore and a regular donor to WCS.

I lead a US Forest Service sponsored collaborative project between Mississippi State University and WCS in Cambodia. My Ph.D. research aims to use remote sensing to map the critical floodplain habitats in southwest Cambodia. Mapping these habitats will allow us to quantify the extent of the floodplain forests, identify flooded forest formations and tree species composition, and define priority areas to conduct fish surveys and critical habitats to protect globally threatened species. In the future, I hope that I will be able to utilize the skills from this Ph.D. program to transfer knowledge and skills to other students through teaching and sharing experiences.

Undergraduate Students

Ke'Daja Freelom (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholars)

I am an undergraduate student from Coffeeville, Mississippi currently studying wildlife, fisheries, and aquaculture with a concentration in wildlife veterinary medicine. I am participating in a collaborative undergraduate research project. Specifically, I am performing DNA extractions of juvenile fish samples from floodplain forests to identify species through DNA sequencing later.


After I receive my bachelor’s degree, I plan to attend a college of veterinary medicine to pursue my D.V.M. I want to practice as an aquatic wildlife veterinarian and incorporate an outreach program into my line of work.

Julia Null (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholars)

I am assisting in identifying cryptic larval fish samples collected in flood forest ecosystems. I use DNA Extraction and other biotechnology methods to identify these cryptic fish. This identification will help further illustrate the biodiversity in these floodplain forest ecosystems in the southeastern USA.

After I graduate, I’d like to pursue a doctorate in veterinary medicine. My dream is to work in conserving international and exotic wildlife, focusing on wildlife disease, general veterinary medicine, or a combination of both.


Brittany Barner (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholars)

My home is Tuscaloosa, Alabama (USA), where I grew up on the Black Warrior River. My youth was spent frequenting the tributaries, such as Hurricane Creek, that feed into that stained river. I often let my imagination run wild with what lay beneath the surface. My heart and soul belong to the animals that call those dark, southern waters home. I will be spending my second career working toward protecting them.

I joined the lab in 2022, working on an international collaborative project studying Cambodia’s Sre Ambel River food web. I processed and prepared fish, mollusks, and insects for stable isotope testing. The project’s goal is to understand how the food web functioned in the flood plains and to identify critical factors contributing to the value these unique transient habitats contribute to diversity in the ecosystem.

I am currently leading a project on self-selection diets with channel catfish. The project will utilize unique technological tools to monitor the fish as they select their diet through a self-demand feeder. The goal is to help us understand their dietary needs and cravings as the aquaculture industry constantly tries to provide better support for healthier fish. Healthier fish make for better industry standards and feed more of the world.

Upon graduation, I will seek professional development in a veterinary medicine program, continuing to concentrate my educational goals on wildlife and fisheries. Upon completing the program, I plan to help secure the health and safety of our food chain through disease surveillance.

Breelyn Bigbee (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholars)

I am leading a research project exploring seed dispersal by fish as a recovery mechanism for endangered plants in river floodplains. The project utilizes two water circulation systems with 12 tanks each, a Conviron germination chamber, and the fruits of common floodplain plants. Many other tools and techniques are being optimized to properly care for up to 120 fish at a time and correctly assess the viability of seeds being fed to the fish. 


Upon graduation, I will pursue my master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries sciences under Dr. Correa’s supervision. 

Grant Peterson (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholars)

I am leading a collaborative undergraduate research project. The goal of the project is to determine whether bottomland forests represent a critical habitat for fish in early life stages. The project will utilize GIS technology, light traps, multiple identification methods, and other tools to sample juvenile fish species in these flooded forest ecosystems.

After I graduate, I intend to pursue one or multiple graduate degrees. I am interested in conservation biology, evolutionary biology, ecology, and conservation education.

Former Lab members

Lucelia Nobre-Carvalho (Post-doctoral Scholar)

I am originally from Brazil where I am an Associate Professor at the Federal University of Mato Grosso and coordinate the Tropical Ichthyology Laboratory (www.litufmtsinop.com). I earned a BS degree in Biology a Ph.D. degree in Biology of Freshwaters and Continental Fisheries, both from the Universidade Federal de Uberlândia. My research focusses on investigating interactions between fishes and abiotic environmental factors using descriptive, comparative, and experimental approaches. 

Topics of interest include fish behavior, fish-forest interactions, and the effects of parasites on fish behavior. Our work is strongly field-oriented, with studies conducted in streams and rivers of the Tapajos Basin within the Amazon region. 

At Mississippi State University, I analyzed a large dataset from the Teles Pires River, focusing on fish-forest interactions and seed dispersal and seed predation by fish. See recent publications (Santos et al. 2020, Carvalho et al. 2021).

Karold Coronado (Ph. D. student)

I am from Colombia (South America), where I obtained a B.S. in Environmental Engineering and M.S. in Environmental Engineering from the National University of Colombia, Palmira campus. Before coming to MSU, I worked in professional positions studying marine organisms and ecosystems from a spatial approach. Previous work includes studying the effect of climate change on the spatial distribution of commercial fishes in the Colombian Pacific Ocean, detecting algal blooms in the Colombian Caribbean Sea using remote sensing and GIS tools, and evaluating ecosystem health in coastal zones.

At Mississippi State University, I investigated the drivers influencing the spatial distribution of the Serrasalmidae family (pacus and piranhas) in the Amazon basin river. I explored the relationship between flooded forest characteristics and environmental change with spatial aggregation patterns and the diversity of frugivorous fish species. In the future, I would like to keep investigating macroecological patterns of freshwater and marine species.

Laura Horowitz (M.S. student)

At Mississippi State University, I studied the fishing mortality of tarpon in laboratory settings and coastal lagoons in Puerto Rico. In the lab, I was able to mimic fishing experiences to determine the stress of tarpon and assess proper aquaculture techniques for tarpon. In Puerto Rico, I partnered with Caribbean Fishing Adventures, taking blood samples to determine how stressed the caught fish are and tagging and tracking caught fish to assess post-release mortality with acoustic telemetry. After graduation, I am pursuing a job where I get to be out in the field. 

Conner Owens (M.S. student)

At Mississippi State University,  I had the opportunity to research how fish assemblages change over time and space in an extremely unique and dynamic river-floodplain system, the Pascagoula River, Mississippi. My research demonstrated that bottomland hardwood forests provide habitat for more and unique fish species than the main river channel. These forests serve as climate refugia for fish by maintaining cooler water during the hot summer months. 

I am currently working for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, where I continue sampling fish assemblages in unique environments and studying the fascinating world of aquatic ecology!

Adriana Forero (Visiting Scholar, Ph.D. student, Universidad del Tolima, Ibague, Colombia)

I am from Colombia (South America), where I earned a B.S. degree in Biology and M.S. in Biological Sciences from the Universidad del Tolima. Nowadays, I am a Ph.D. student of the Biological Sciences doctoral program and I am a member of the Zoology Research Group at the same University. My research evaluates the effect of invasive rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in streams, emphasizing the trophic ecology of fish. My work has been oriented toward knowing the aquatic ecosystems present in the department of Tolima and the effects that humans are having on them.

At Mississippi State University, I conducted analysis of stable isotope, diet, and community data to establish trophic relationships between native high mountain fish species and the invasive trout. Upon graduation, I plan to continue in an academic career and teach at a research university.

Autumn Caroll (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholar)

I co-led an undergraduate research project at Mississippi State University. The project aims to determine if bottomland hardwood forests are critical in supporting juvenile and larval fishes. The project utilizes GIS technology, light traps, fyke nets, identifying and handling fish, as well as collecting water quality measurements.

I am currently pursuing a Veterinary Doctor degree at Mississippi State University.  I plan to specialize in marine animal medicine.

Nick Stewart (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholar)

At Mississippi State University, I led an undergraduate research project, with Dr. Correa’s guidance, looking at potential changes in fish distributions along local coastal rivers driven by sea-level rise.  This project used survey data of Local Ecological Knowledge from fishermen and anglers to assess change.  In addition, I participated in field research assisting graduate student Conner Owens in sampling fishes with different gear types, identifying and handling fish, and collecting water quality measurements. 

After graduation, I continued working with Dr. Correa’s lab, leading another project estimating the age of bowfin fish using hard structures such as the gular plate and pectoral fin rays. Bowfin fish is an ancient predatory fish species abundant in floodplain forests. My research aims to understand how long individuals persist in flooded forest ecosystems and thereby their influence on food webs.

I am currently working as a research assistant at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory of the University of Southern Mississippi.

Austin Reese (College of Forest Resources Undergraduate Research Scholar)

I started working with Dr. Sandra Correa and Dr. Joshua Granger (Department of Forestry) in the fall of 2019. During the 2019-2020 academic year, I helped determine the age of tree cores taken from floodplain forest sites along the Pascagoula River, Mississippi. I was able to present the findings from the research at an undergraduate symposium in Spring 2020. Between 2020 and 2021, I conducted independent research to investigate the relationship between mosses grown on trees in flooded forests and fish at the Noxubee Wildlife Refuge near the MSU campus. This ongoing project will sample the aquatic invertebrates associated with the mosses, which in turn are fish prey.

Ian Hurst – Undergraduate Research Assistant

Jessica Browne & Taite Williamson – Evaluating the seed dispersal potential of Feral Pigs (Undergraduate Honors Program)

Madison Gnoose & Reagan Docerty – Assessing habitat use of Southeastern floodplain forests by wildlife (Undergraduate Honors Program)

Prospective Students

Graduate Students that join the Correa Lab are either funded by a specific project, and hired as Graduate Research Assistants, or bring their own funding to develop research of their interest. If you are interested in joining our lab, contact Dr. Correa (sbc257@msstate.edu) for current funding opportunities and venues to apply for external scholarships.