Thursday, December 27, 2007

Moving Preserved Fish Means Putting Them Away, Too

As of yesterday I've finally moved the last of the semi-abandoned preserved fish collection from our old building to the Shelby Center. Part of this collection is numbered and inventoried, which I've moved in to the Zoology lab. The other, more recent part is based on relatively recent collections mostly in north Alabama, jars with juvenile largemouth bass, sunfishes, or local stream fishes. These jars are now in a drawer in my lab. I've found some bizarrely mis-identified lots, like "Rough Shiners" from the Paint Rock river that are really telescope shiners; my retired colleague was hazy on both shiners and darters since he wasn't really an ichthyologist. One small jar contained three smallish flame chubs from "Flint River 1977" that were most dried out. I added 70% EtOH to that jar, hopefully saving them for possible DNA extraction. I'll replace the 70% with 95% in the next month or so.

I also found several excellent shark skeletons in jars that will be good for the Vertebrate Zoology class. Other fun finds include hagfish, lampreys, various flatfish like tongue fish and hogchokers, and oddities like cusk eels, moray eels and boxfish. Many of these still have to be put away in the Vert Zoo lab but I also brought over a solid steel cabinet with doors that I'd used for my fish collection. It adds a lot of useful space for storage.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Seasonal In Spite Of My Better Judgement

I want to thank Michael Wolfe in Georgia for this doctored photo of myself at the NANFA convention in 2004. I don't think anyone asked for it, but... here it is.

I'm down a functional 20-gallon aquarium. I started to fill one in my lab this morning, and it started a slow leak out the bottom. The caulking on the inside has always looked like hell, but held. The stress of the move seems to have croaked it. Oh well, I think I actually have another one that I'll have to drag over later today.

And I have almost everything out of my old office. Now I have an entire hanging file folder drawer dedicated to maps and interesting posters. Thanks to Jim Daniels I have a good collection of old USGS topos of north 'bama. Looking at those maps always makes me want to drive out and see if I can find the various springs noted on them, especially in Jackson County, AL, in the Paint Rock valley. But not yet...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Scarlet Shiner Experimental Design

I've still been moving stuff from our old building to the new one. Yesterday I moved my office phone and computer to my new office, which I suppose makes it official that I've moved. Today I hope to move some furniture like tall metal cabinets, both to the Zoology lab and to Jennifer's office; the grad student offices have almost prison-like furniture that's bolted together, with no bookshelf. So we'll move one over.

I've also inventoried and largely moved my aquarium collection. I have 6 10-gallon aquaria that hold water(!), along with 4 5-gallon, 2 2.5-gallon, 3 20-gallon, 1 55-gallon and 1 130-gallon. The 10-gallon are the most useful for any kind of research project, and I have one in mind: testing the effects of injecting sub-adult scarlet shiners with the fish testosterone 11-KT and seeing if that affects various features of brain size and function. My current experimental design to start next month would be to set up three treatments: control, low 11-Kt and high 11-KT. With the 6 10-gallon tanks I could use two for each treatment, with 8 fish in each tank. I would prefer to have three tanks for each treatment, but I think it will work and be statistically meaningful with two tanks. Maybe I should just bite the bullet and get three more tanks? We'll see. A student has agreed to work on this project next semester so I think it will actually get somewhere.

Today is Keith Richards' birthday. Wow, he's still alive!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Grant Proposal Submission To Birmingham Audubon

I'm still moving to our new building, and unpacking all that stuff to set up my own lab, the intro biology teaching labs, and the zoology teaching lab. Luckily Kris is helping with the intro lab, and Jennifer with the zoology lab, so I think it's under control. Later this afternoon I hope to move over the first round of my aquariums and set up one or two in my lab. With all of the times I've done this in my life you'd think it was easy. It should be. If nothing else, I need two or three tanks to hold the fish I currently have, mostly scarlet shiners.

My big research achievement of the week was to submit a grant proposal to an environmental research fund run by the Birmingham Audubon. I've asked them for $2000 to support a research project on the stippled studfish, Fundulus bifax. Roughly half of this would support just driving back and forth to the Tallapoosa River system in east Alabama, and half of it would be for doing genetics work in the lab. I want to visit historic collection sites to see if the fish is still present, and also to collect several individuals from each site for DNA extraction. I hope to be able to amplify and sequence the cytochrome-b gene from mitochondrial DNA, to compare different F. bifax populations to each other and also to the species' closest relatives, F. catenatus and F. stellifer. Hopefully the reviewers will be favorably impressed by research on a species that's now only found in Alabama, since it hasn't been found in the Georgia section of the Tallapoosa system for ten years or more.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Spring Pygmy Sunfish Group, And Finals Are Done

I've been invited to attend a working group meeting to review the status of the spring pygmy sunfish, Elassoma alabamae. This small, obligate spring fish was thought to be extinct from 1940 -- 1970s. Its known habitat was inundated by the construction of Pickwick Reservoir in NW Alabama as the result of dams on the Tennessee River. Since then, several isolated populations have been rediscovered in Lauderdale and Limestone counties, Alabama. One population lives on the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, AL, and others are found in spring systems on private property. As with other spring species, it's extremely sensitive to alterations in water quality resulting from land use changes. The species has no formal protection, since landowners have largely managed their property to avoid harming the fish. But the fish is still hanging on by a thread with only 3 or 4 scattered populations. So, this meeting is meant to consolidate knowledge of the species and consider the optimal way to manage it. Attendees include the people from Conservation Fisheries, Inc., in Knoxville, TN, and researchers from Tuscaloosa like Mike Sandel and Bernie Kuhajda. I've encountered the species once, during my flame chub survey, at a well-known spring system in Limestone County.

And final exams are over. I gave four this week, including the Biology II section, since a colleague had to go to Mexico on a trip planned before we hired her. Giving the exam wasn't so much a big deal, but calculating and entering the final grades took several hours out of an otherwise busy week. I'm happy to say all of my grades were submitted on time, and I don't think any students were offended by their grades (at least not for good reason). Today I'm going in and making a last push on packing the teaching lab; it'll be moved on Monday, when I begin a week of jury duty. The way Alabama does jury duty it's like being drafted. Oh well, hopefully it will be no more than boring.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

More Moving, And Now I Have To Give Final Exams!

I've been moving my junk at a steady clip to the new lab. I now have two of my three lab computers set up, logged in to the new network, and working with a digital microscope. I think I've more or less figured out what to do with the few fish I have until I construct my massive fish rack.

This week we'll move the teaching labs, which means my big burn is to make sure stuff is packed and ready to go by Thursday, probably. The freshman lab is well on its way, and I think the Vertebrate Zoology lab is about ready. This is all complicated by the fact that the week after this I've been trapped for jury duty. In Alabama the rule is apparently to take jurors to serve a solid week. I was spoiled by the Massachusetts system, in which you're called every other year and if you're not part of a trial by lunch they let you go. I have some cynical thoughts on the difference which I'll keep to myself.

This week I'll also be giving and grading four final exams, including one for a colleague who's husband just had to schedule a Mexico vacation this week. She owes me big.