USGS Louisiana Fish & Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit

We’re with the government and we’re here to help you. Really, we are. Come on quit laughing. Yes, many of you have probably either seen the sign for the “Coop Unit” or have heard people speak about it, but many of you may not know what we do (and yes, even though we are feds we still work) In this article, we hope to give you an idea of who we are and what we do Feel free to drop by and talk to us about any of our projects.

What is the Coop Unit?

The USGS Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research Unit is one of 44 Cooperative Research Units in 40 states. The Cooperative Research Units are cooperative endeavors between the U.S. Geological Survey, state game and fish agencies, Wildlife Management Institute, and in several cases, including Louisiana, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit Program was the vision of J. N. Ding Darling. As Director of the Bureau of Biological Survey (the future U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) Darling pushed for the cooperative endeavor in an effort to facilitate the training of wildlife biologists and to address applied wildlife and fisheries issues at the state and regional levels. The first units were established under his direction in 1935.

In 1960, Congress passed the Cooperative Units Act which facilitated the establishment of additional units across the U.S. In 1962, a Cooperative Wildlife Unit was established at LSU which was followed by the establishment of a Cooperative Fishery Unit in 1963. In 1985, both Units were combined into a single Fish and Wildlife Unit. In the mid-1990s, the Units were moved from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the U.S. Geological Survey.

How Does It Work?

As part of the cooperative agreement, the U.S. Geological Survey pays the salary of up to 4 scientists (one position is currently vacant due to a lack of available funds). The University provides office space, a secretary and other administrative support, and graduate faculty privileges. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries provides base funds to assist the research efforts of the research unit. The scientists teach graduate courses, employ graduate students to conduct graduate research projects, serve on other graduate committees, and assist in basic administrative duties/committees of the School.

What are the advantages?

There are several advantages to having the Cooperative Research Unit. First, the School and University essentially receive additional graduate faculty at a relatively low cost. In addition, the research unit is able to receive certain federal funds non-competitively by transfer from another federal agency to U.S. Geological Survey, and then through a unique process the funds are able to be converted to state dollars at a relatively low overhead rate. Thus, this facilitates federal agencies transferring funds to the faculty in the School because of the non-competitive process and the low overhead rates. Thirdly, the LSU AgCenter provides a negotiated overhead rate to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries which also maximizes state dollars spent on wildlife and fisheries research. Finally, the Cooperative Research Unit scientists are able to market the strengths of the School to other federal agencies that they regularly interact with and hopefully facilitate future research among federal partners and School scientists.

Currently, the Coop Unit administers a total of $3.68 million in research work orders; funds that would likely not have been available to faculty without the Coop Unit.In addition, Unit Scientists are currently responsible for $1.13 million in state grants and support 9 graduate students.


Dr. Sammy King is a native of Watson, Louisiana and grew up fishing and hunting in south Louisiana. Dr. King received a B.S. in Biology from Nicholls State University, a M.S. in Zoology and Wildlife Science from Auburn University and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. He spent 5 years working as a Research Scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wetlands Research Center before moving to an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee for 3 years. He became the Unit Leader in February 2003.

Dr. King has diverse interests in wetlands and wetland wildlife. Much of his career has been spent working on bottomland hardwood forests and associated wetlands in the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley. More recently, he and his graduate students have focused on a variety of wetland/waterbird issues. Currently, Dr. King has 6 graduate students and 1 research associate. He has several projects focused on waterbird use of rice and managed wetlands, including 2 completed and 2 ongoing studies with King Rails. Two of his graduate students are working on bottomland hardwood projects related to habitat management for Ivory-billed woodpeckers. One of his most recent projects, is a habitat evaluation of White Lake and Marsh Island for the potential reintroduction of Whooping Cranes. This project was recently funded and a new Ph.D. student will begin the work soon.

Dr. King currently team teaches Wetlands Ecology with Dr. Andy Nyman and Floodplain Ecology with Dr. Richard Keim.Both courses are field intensive with students visiting numerous refuges and wildlife management areas throughout Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.Dr. King thoroughly enjoys teaching students in field situations and exposing them to the views of numerous field biologists throughout the region.

Dr. Sammy King's personal website

Dr. Al Afton came to the LSU Coop Unit in July 1988 as an Assistant Leader-Wildlife, after working 5 years as a Waterfowl Research Scientist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, where he studied migration ecology of diving ducks, particularly Lesser Scaup (dosgris). Dr Afton has been an avid waterfowl hunter since his childhood days in Kansas, where he attended Butler County Community College and completed a BS degree from Kansas State University (1973). His keen interests in waterfowl led him to pursue graduate work at the University of Minnesota (MS, 1977) and University of North Dakota (PhD, 1983), where he studied breeding behavior of Northern Shoveler (MS) and Lesser Scaup (PhD) in Manitoba, while supported by the Delta Waterfowl Research Station.

Dr. Afton’s research expertise is behavioral ecology and avian bioenergetics, with emphasis on waterfowl and the management of their wetland habitats. Given his hunting background, he also has interest and expertise in evaluating effects of new hunting technologies on waterfowl harvest. As an Adjunct Professor, he initially taught a graduate course in waterfowl ecology and now teaches graduate courses in behavioral ecology and avian nutrition, with and occasional graduate seminar. Dr. Afton especially enjoys working with talented and dedicated graduate students and his former students have gone on to successful careers as university professors (e.g., Northwestern State University, University of Alaska, University of Iceland) and wildlife biologists for several US and Canadian federal (USGS, USFWS, CWS), state (LA, ND, MN, FL), and non-government agencies (DU Inc).

Dr. Afton and his graduate students have researched topics ranging from local wetland management issues (e.g., leadshot remediation techniques; benefits of splays for regenerating coastal marsh; fire, water level and salinity effects on marsh vegetation), local and regional studies of variety of waterfowl and other wetland dependent species (e.g., Pintails, Mottled Ducks, Ross’s and Lesser Snow Geese, Mallards, Ring-necked Ducks, Passerine and other waterbirds), and studies of national and international interest, including: 1) the unique and rare Musk Duck in Australia, 2) effects of increasing white goose population on Canadian arctic habitats, 3) factors influencing the continental decline of scaup, and 4) evaluation of effects electronic calls and spinning-wing decoys on harvest of certain waterfowl species.

Dr. Afton currently has 3 graduate students working in his lab. Bruce Davis and Paul link are completing their MS theses concerning survival and habitat use of Mallards in northeast and southwest Louisiana, respectively. Jacob Gray, a new MS student, will be using satellite radios to investigate habitat use, survival and movements of wintering Gadwall in southwestern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. Dr. Afton is coordinating a new multi-partner project to further evaluate the importance that spring condition of females plays in the continental scaup population decline. This project, initiated in March 2007, is using satellite radios to track females and identify habitats used during their migration from wintering areas in Louisiana (and elsewhere) to breeding areas in northern Canada and Alaska. Readers interested in this new project can find further information at this website:

Dr. Alan Afton's personal website.

Coastal habitats: fisheries needs and restoration design.

Understanding the habitat requirements of coastal fishes and assessing coastal restoration impacts on wetland functions are two complementary goals of Dr. La Peyre’s research. Habitat is the key to an organism’s existence, and her basic research focuses on establishing habitat use of coastal fish in order to help inform management of the fishery resources, the design and implementation of wetland restoration activities to maximize fisheries benefits, and to identify quantitative indicators of wetland restoration and creation success.

Currently, students and associates in Dr. La Peyre’s lab are pursuing several lines of inquiry regarding fish habitat and wetland restoration. Graduate students Christopher Llewellyn and John Gordon are both examining the potential development of assays tomeasure coastal marshes support of fish. Chris is examining the use of stable isotope ecology to compare blue crab diets between wetlands restored using dredged material and reference sites located at Sabine NWR, while John is working in southwest Louisiana with the goal of developing a nekton-based index of marsh functioning. Results from both studies will prove useful in providing assays that can be added to monitoring programs, allowing a more accurate assessment of the fishery support function of marshes. Other work currently ongoing in the lab, includes the research of graduate student Bryan Piazza who is working in Breton Sound, LA examining nekton response to the Caernarvon freshwater diversion, graduate student Felixcia Mendoza-Jones, who is examining infaunal response to sediment additions and sediment re-working from hurricanes, and several projects that are examining the success of marsh restoration techniques including thin-layer dredging in restoring and re-establishing fully functional marshes.

Dr. Megan La Peyre's webpage