Monday, October 29, 2007

The Society for Neuroscience Meeting Is Later This Week

The SfN meeting is in San Diego beginning later this week, apparently come wildfire or high water. We're displaying a poster of our work on scarlet shiners, or more precisely, Enrique and Jennifer's work that, respectively, documents sexual dimorphism of brain size and the strong correlation (causation?) between 11-KT and the intensity of male coloration. The poster will be displayed at 3 on Sunday afternoon (I think), if you're wandering through the SfN meeting. Amy Bishop and Enrique will be standing by it. Next week I hope to post a copy of the poster on this site, since it was assembled using PowerPoint and saved as a .jpg file.

Tomorrow I'll spend most of the day helping with a mussel survey in a stretch of creek south of Huntsville. This creek is so muddy and lazy I suspect that we won't find lots of mussels, but you never know. Dewey and his crew will do at least some SCUBA work, along with some snorkeling in shallower stretches of the creek. We'll probably do somewhere between 6 and 12 transects across the creek from top to bottom. The weather should be good, with a high of about 70 F and clear sunny skies.

And I hope everyone is happy that the Red Sox won the Series, I know I am!

Monday, October 22, 2007

We Found No Flame Chubs In Russellville, AL, And Were Lucky To Find The Creeks

Andrew joined me on Saturday for a visit to two creeks just south of Russellville, AL, in Franklin County due south of Muscle Shoals. It was a beautiful, clear, warm day, fun to be in the water. But we found no flame chubs.

The first creek was Cedar Creek where it's crossed by County Road 63. It's a fairly broad creek at this point, much of it with slow-moving waist-deep water. Using my four-foot seine we were able to work almost 200 meters upstream from the bridge. Early on we found a few brook silversides, the first I've encountered for a while, and lots of rainbow and Tennessee snubnose darters. Several small bass allowed themselves to be netted, unusual in my experience. We focused on shallower areas along the banks more typical as flame chub habitat, but no flame chubs. A TVA crew had sampled this area in June 2004 and found one flame chub. The creek seems to be in reasonably good shape, with a high TDS value of 283 ppm and pH of 8.2.

Our attempt to find Robinson Creek took some doing. Both my Mapquest map and the Delorme Gazeteer show the site as just across Highway 43 from Cedar Creek. No way. The roads in this area bore little resemblance to what the maps claimed. For instance, we had to find County Road 36 and then quickly turn left on CR 61. Our maps showed CR 36 due west across Highway 43, with CR 61 running off of that. What we found was the CR 63 crossed Highway 43, with no roads running south from it. After looping extensively around CR 46, the next crossroad to the south, Andrew finally had the realization from the Gazeteer that CR 36 was fairly far south. Sure enough, we found it, and CR 61 ran south off of it, quickly crossing a creek.

Robinson Creek was in sorry shape. It's a series of long, disconnected pools with no current flow. Some broken limestone bedrock that should be a riffle system had obviously been dry for a while. We extensively netted through the pools, especially "downstream" from the bridge where the pools were cleaner over sand rather than oil-contaminated soft mud like upstream. The fish were fairly easy to catch in these pools. Under the bridge, in a deep, shaded pool we found some big stonerollers and striped shiners, along with lots of Gambusia everywhere. Scarlet shiners and small creek chubs were common, along with rainbow and Tennessee snubnose darters and a few black-spotted topminnows.

But no flame chubs were found. The TVA crew in June, 2004, reported that they found 36 flame chubs at this site and have them in their collection. We may have missed flame chubs, although we sampled a lot of fish. Maybe flame chubs have disappeared from this stretch of creek under the duress of the drought. Or did the TVA people misidentify small creek chubs as flame chubs, which is easy to do? I don't know. These sites are numbers 52 and 53 in my creek survey of historic flame chub sites, and the current total is: flame chubs were found in 18 of 53 sites visited.

Looking downstream on Robinson Creek, through what were probably riffles at one point.

A pool under the bridge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Maybe My Last Flame Chub Trip This Saturday

I hope to get out this Saturday to visit two creeks in Russellville, AL, that have been reported to have flame chubs. Once this trip is done I'll have visited 53 historic flame chub sites, and I'll finish writing my article once and for all. With the Choccolocco Creek trip, the current tally is finding flame chubs at 18 of 51 historic sites.

I gave a guest lecture on Monday to a physics class on campus, Frontiers In Science. The class format is to present different researchers from around UAH who discuss their research work. My presentation was very different, talking about running around the northern tier of Alabama looking for flame chubs. A typical talk might be on optics research, or some flavor of physical chemistry. I think it went well, no one fell asleep and they had intelligent questions at the end. None of them had ever encountered a minnow like a flame chub, I'm sure, much less considered where one might find a specific minnow and know that it's vulnerable to extinction. It's fun not to preach to the converted.

My big labor over the weekend was to sift through what's left of the teaching material for our Invertebrate Zoology class that hasn't been offered for 10 years. More than half of the preserved specimens are either messed up, or unlabeled. But I did take two wooden slide tray cases full of excellent prepared slides, and ten slide boxes with identical slide collections designed to be used by a student over a semester. It took eight medium-sized cardboard boxes to hold all the material I salvaged. I can't bring myself to abandon good material when we move in the next 2 months. My goal is to someday teach a two semester sequence, Invertebrate Zoology and Vertebrate Zoology. Our department is so short-handed I know it won't happen anytime soon. But, as usual, I'm attracted by what's right and I'll get hung up trying to make it happen without stepping on too many toes. And to think that I'm a pedigreed Environmental Scientist rather than a Zoologist...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Choccolocco Creek Update

On Monday I sat down with the Choccolocco Creek fish we collected and did my IDs. We kept 7 silverstripe shiners and 6 tricolor shiners, along with two stonerollers, an Alabama hogsucker, 4 southern studfish and a golden redhorse (sucker). The redhorse threw me, just because I've rarely caught them seining and so wasn't expecting to see one. I know we threw back a good number of them, so they turn out to be surprisingly common in this stretch of creek. And, of course, we found no flame chubs.

Looking at our collection area on Mapquest over the last several days I realize that we were within 500 meters of the GPS coordinates I had for the Mayden flame chub collection of 2001. I think one could approach this site from the west, instead of the south like we did, by driving up an ungated dirt road. That's a dicey thing to do out in the country if you don't know anyone, so I didn't. And I also suspect that even in the past 6 years this area has become more heavily settled, since many of the houses we saw in the vicinity were obviously new. That's the typical story, expanding human population alters habitats in a variety of ways and some species start to drop out. I hope that there are still flame chubs in this creek but I'm doubtful.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Choccolocco Creek Has No Flame Chubs (?)

Yesterday I went to Choccolocco Creek to the east of Anniston in Calhoun County, AL, with Andrew and Loren. We were trying to find the reported location of a flame chub sighting by Rick Mayden of St. Louis University in 2001, and catch flame chubs ourselves. The previously reported flame chub sighting in this creek system was in 1986. Exactly how flame chubs came to be in this area including nearby areas of Talladega County, 200 km from the next population to the north in the Tennessee River valley, is still unknown.

We found the creek with relatively little confusion (thanks, Mapquest!) and parked at the bridge along Joseph Spring Motor Way. The land on the east side of the creek is some kind of Wildlife Management Area. My GPS reading at this site put us about a kilometer south of the Mayden coordinates, but there was no obvious way to reach that point without baldly driving up someone's driveway and across their fields. So we did the old infantry thing, and walked up the creek. Water level was low (of course) with a slow current, and lots of filamentous algae in the shallows.

This creek has lots of woody debris in it, increasing as we worked upstream. We pulled the net across and through shallow areas and sidepools, the habitats I've usually found flame chubs in other streams. And I pushed my big kicknet through these areas. But, doing this for three hours along about 500 meters of stream including several runs loaded with minnows, we didn't find a single flame chub. We found lots of silverstripe shiners, tricolor shiners, some shiners I still have to ID, small sunfish and bass, southern studfish, blackbanded darters, sculpins, redhorse and stonerollers.

So what does this mean? Bernie from the University of Alabama Ichthyology Collection, who gave me the site coordinates, said that Mayden found the flame chubs at the mouth of a small spring run, which is about 700 meters in a straight line from where we worked our way to. Bernie's opinion is that flame chubs probably exist along Choccolocco Creek at the mouths of spring runs. We passed several small springs along the creek, but no spring runs. Maybe we were too shy about running across someone's fields to get to the exact site. But this creek shows signs of abuse, such as high vertical banks that result from large pulses of water coming down the creek because of poor land management. The surrounding woods were scraggly and in the early stages of succession, and full of privet. I'm inclined to think that there are few if any flame chubs in this creek.

By the end of the month I hope to visit two creek sites just south of Russellville, in Franklin County, AL, where TVA biologists have found flame chubs. That will probably be the last survey trip before I try to publish my results.

Here's a view of Choccolocco Creek, looking downstream from our starting point to the Joseph Spring Motor Way bridge.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Galley Proofs For The Burrhead/Silverstripe Shiner Article

I received the .pdf file for the galley proofs of my article on burrhead and silverstripe shiners in Southeastern Naturalist on Wednesday. It was gratifying to see all of that material in journal page format. It runs to 12 pages, which is more than I had thought. My editor Todd and I found some errors and problems with it, but nothing serious. I arranged today for the department to pick up my $780 page charges; 12 pages @$65. I hope it will appear in print at the end of this year, or in the first issue of next year. In twelve pages is 3.5 years of my life, so like I said it's a thrill to see it.

Tomorrow we're off to Anniston, AL, looking for flame chubs in their historic range. I'm aiming for one site on Choccoloco Creek. That'll take the whole day getting there and back. At least the drought is still going, so we should find low water levels.