Sunday, July 29, 2007

A Coupla More Flame Chub Sites I Have To Visit

By going to the ASIH meeting in St. Louis two weeks ago I've found more information about flame chubs in north 'bama. Mike Retzer at the Illinois Natural History Survey was kind enough to send me a copy of the 11 flame chub holdings in the INHS collection, including the only flame chub record I've found for Franklin County, Alabama. I also heard from Bernie K at the University of Alabama Ichthyology Collection that there is good reason to think that flame chubs are still in Choccolocco Creek outside Anniston, AL, in Calhoun County so I've got to go down there and check it out. I also hope to go to Franklin County if I can fully decipher the location for the INHS site (no GPS coordinates for a 1970's collection). So, on to the road trips!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

By Request, GSI Data For Notropis Asperifrons And N. Stilbius

By request from Andrew in a Comment to the last posting, here are GSI figures for Notropis asperifrons (burrhead shiners) and N. stilbius (silverstripe shiners) from Borden Creek in the Sipsey Wilderness of Alabama. The first graph is males, and the second is females, of the two species. Silverstripes are near relatives of telescope shiners, so the comparison is interesting. We have found much higher peak GSI values for both males and female telescopes than for silverstripes, and differences in reproductive timing: silverstripes peak in May, telescopes peak in June. And, in a slight twist, the burrheads have a reproductive peak in April, probably one way that two similar species partition the environment of a fairly small creek. In the graphs below, the small numbers represent the sample size for each month's average.

I guess one could do this in a really big way with a bunch of shiner species from around the region and discern apparent patterns. Maybe as interesting would be doing it for a given species in a given stream over several years, and see if the patterns hold steady or do they vary interannually as environmental conditions might vary. I honestly don't know the answer, maybe that's a graduate thesis or dissertation waiting to happen. But I'll continue to serve in my own way, too.

Monday, July 23, 2007

We have the data for telescope shiner GSI through July now. Just as I suspected, June is the peak month for spawning as inferred from large GSI values (fraction of gonadal tissues as part of body weight). July fish are still elevated in GSI over May, but the end is in sight for the breeding season. Compared to other shiner data I've seen, the telescopes have a very focused one month peak. Usually it's a smoother rise and fall.

Here are the graphs, male and female:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Flint River episode of "Discovering Alabama" Will Air On August 21

I finally checked the Alabama Public Television web site for the premiere of the new episode of "Discovering Alabama" about threats to the Flint River here in Madison County. It will air at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, August 21, and be on again each of the next two days at slightly different times. I haven't seen it yet, but I appear in it at least to some degree.

The next scheduled telescope shiner collecting trip to Hurricane Creek is Tuesday, August 7. Hopefully this time there won't be any downed trees on the road. But we should have a chain saw with us.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

July Telescope Shiners Are Smaller

Just like I thought, the telescope shiners we collected at Hurricane Creek on July 7 are smaller than the previous months' collections. The 29 individuals averaged 44.8 mm standard length, and 1.18 g body mass.. May fish, by comparison, averaged 51.59 mm standard length and 2.09 g body mass. I just calculated standard errors for both standard length measurements, and the standard lengths are significantly different (no overlap of the two means +/- 2 standard errors; a t-test would work as well). The mass/length ratios have changed, too: 0.027 g/mm for July fish, while the June fish were heavier at 0.033 g/mm. We only have preliminary GSI data at the moment but I would say that the breeding season is ending for the species, with survivors smaller on average. It appears that the telescope shiner breeding season peaks in May and June, with a sharp decline in July. I'm not really surprised; certainly it's reassuring that the data clearly seem to support this analysis.

Monday, July 16, 2007

The ASIH Meeting Was A Gas

I spent the past long weekend in St. Louis at the annual meeting of Ichthyologists & Herpetologists, primarily hosted by the American Society of Ichthyologists & Herpetologists. As usual I met many people in the flesh who I've only known through e-mail, including members of NANFA as well as other scientists with similar research interests. For instance, I finally met Jeremy Tiemann who's also a member of the NANFA Board of Directors, and just like I figured would be the case he's a great guy (not only because he also appreciates slow-tap, room temperature Guiness stout). He works for the Illinois Natural History Survey and does field work in streams that might be affected by highway construction. I also finally met Stewart Reid of the Desert Fishes Council who lives in Oregon; we've talked via email about how to set up conservation grants in a non-profit group.

The peak experience for me was giving a talk about my flame chubs research in a 15 minute time block at 9 a.m. Saturday. The challenge is always how to boil down several years of your life into under fifteen minutes. And as always, I wasn't good at the boiling down aspect... I basically got chased off the stage by the moderator at 15 minutes (as should be done). But I think I got the audience's attention with my reporting of flame chubs being present at only 18 of 50 historic sites around north Alabama. Various people came up to me afterwards and said that they liked my presentation, and I don't think they were doing it because they felt sorry for me. The odd thing was that my talk, in a Fish Conservation session, was the only one that didn't involve heavy genetics data.

That session lead to a talk with Yongjiu Chen of North Dakota State, who does excellent population genetics work with endangered fish species. He has developed protocols for a genetic analysis examining microsatellite variation in cyprinid (minnow) fishes, which essentially tests for the existence of repeating motifs of DNA at specific genes. Hopefully we can start a pilot project to examine genetic structure and variability in flame chubs using the alcohol-preserved fish I collected in my field work. Knowing what level of genetic variation exists in a species, and some idea of the evolutionary history leading to current distribution patterns, is a key part of figuring out how to save a species in an efficient manner. So I'm looking for a motivated student to learn Yongjiu's protocols and start a project on flame chub genetics.

Christian's poster about gill parasites in scarlet and striped shiners at the meeting turned out well. Several people at the ASIH meeting talked to her about our subject, and had some good suggestions. She and Kris put it together pretty much on their own, and it tells a good story of a work in progress. I think that we found multiple, new species of Dactylogyrus parasites, especially in the scarlet shiners. As is true of most good science, research should lead to new questions and more research... I think we're on that track.

Next year's ASIH meeting is in Montreal. Ruth and I have to figure out how and if we'll go. I've never had a chance to visit Montreal, which I've always heard was a fun place to visit and hang out. It would be another chance to attempt to use my high school French, which can be embarassing of course. Would les habitants be impressed, or would they politely switch to English? I'll keep you posted.

Monday, July 09, 2007

We Had No Chain Saw, So That's As Far As We Went

We managed to collect a decent number of telescope shiners on Saturday from Hurricane Creek. But we didn't quite make it to our regular site on the Walls of Jericho property because we were stopped by a large fallen oak tree on the road. Nick had emailed me the night before to advise me that there was a downed tree on the state property, and he would meet us there Saturday morning with a chainsaw to remove it. But we encountered a large downed tree not even a mile down the gated road to the Walls. We thought it might be the one Nick had mentioned, so we hung out for about 80 minutes and waited for him to show. When he didn't, we turned around and collected telescopes from the creek at an old ford. Nick told me yesterday that he had taken an ATV down the horse trail from the main entrance, didn't find us, but cut up the tree by himself and cleared the road. He didn't even know that there was a second downed tree on private property leading in to the Walls. When we go in August we're bringing a chain saw with us, which of course means we won't come across any downed trees...

Here's a picture of the downed tree, a really solid oak. Kevin is on the ATV that was able to get around the tree with some difficulty; my truck certainly couldn't get over or around the tree.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

We're Getting Ready....

to run 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) ELISAs on scarlet shiners. I should say Jennifer is, really. Her first test run demonstrated that she has to purify the blood plasma using diethyl ether and nitrogen gas, which concentrates hydrophobic substances such as 11-KT so that the sensitive ELISA test won't give false readings. It's a good chance that once the purifications are done she'll soon have a good data set.

I also edited the previous entry about the Coon Creek trip. I'd forgotten that we'd found a thirteenth species, northern hogsucker. Still not high diversity but a little better. After kicking this around on the NANFA Forum, Dave Neely rightfully pointed out that this touches on a puzzle about the distribution of fishes in the Alabama/middle Tennessee stretch of tributaries to the Tennessee River. At the corners of this region there is high fish diversity, such as Bear Creek and Cypress Creek to the west and Chickamauga Creek to the east. But especially along the western edge of Sand Mountain, tributaries such as Coon Creek have low diversity. No one has any one really good idea why, which begs for some kind of deeper research. I'm also sending the two sculpins we collected to Dave for his analysis, since he's worked with sculpins a lot. It turns out there is no museum material for sculpins out of this creek or nearby creeks, so these sculpins may help explain the broader diversity patterns sculpins in the Tennessee valley. I'll keep you posted!