Sunday, January 27, 2008

A .pdf Copy Of My Southeastern Naturalist Article

Actually, I'm not posting the article here, but I've posted it on the NANFA Forum site at this url:

I had to ask Todd in Toledo, OH, to get me a copy since Southeastern Naturalist posts digital copies of the journal via the BioOne site. Unfortunately, UAH doesn't subscribe to this so I asked Todd to get it through his school, the University of Toledo.

We went out to Limestone Creek again on Friday to collect more juvenile scarlet shiners. James and Paul were game for the freezing air temperature and 3 deg. C water temperature. We caught the 20+ that I wanted, but I think they've almost all died. I stupidly realize now that taking them out of the water with air temperature right at freezing may have frozen their gill tissues just enough so that they were fatally damaged. But we might still have just enough living juveniles to start our 11KT treatment, maybe with only 5 individuals in each treatment tank. I hope to get Paul trying his hand with brain dissections of juvenile scarlets this week, so that we have data on brain size of fish at the time of capture to (hopefully) compare to our treatment results down the line. It'll be tough, we're talking about a 30 mm fish here with a brain not much thicker than a pencil lead.

Tomorrow I serve as a judge at a science fair at the local Westminster Christian Academy. It'll be my first gig doing this off-campus. I have no idea exactly what to expect; I certainly hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Yet More Cold Weather Collecting Of Scarlet Shiners

I went out midday to Limestone Creek aiming to collect about 20 more live young of the year scarlet shiners for the 11-KT project. Paul and James went with me, a first visit to this creek for both of them. The air temperature wasn't much above freezing, and water temperature was down to 3 deg. C from 8 deg. C last Friday. But the fishes were out and about, and after about an hour we had the fish we needed without mishap.

The young scarlets I've had for a week have already acclimated well to aquarium life. They hang out together in small schools facing into the current like good little drift feeders, waiting for food particles to come at them. Finely crushed dry fish food is taken by them, so they're actually beginning to look well-fed. We've decided that our protocol for exposing them to a dose of 11-KT will be adding the hormone to the water, and letting the fish take it up across their gills. The fish are way too small to be injected. I have to work it out with Amy what will be reasonable doses, based on such literature as exists on the subject.

The reprints of my Southeasten Naturalist article arrived today. I have to send some to Bob Muller, in particular. The journal has .pdf's available through the BioOne site online, but it turns out that the UAH library doesn't subscribe to BioOne so I can't get at a digital version of my article. I'm going to bug the editors politely for a copy, and then I can send it out to interested readers (like you?).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

It's Alabama, And My Seine Net Froze!

We had successful trips on Friday and Monday to collect scarlet shiners. At Limestone Creek we were able to catch dozens at a time by spotting aggregations in the open water and scooping them out with a seine. I have about 30 still alive in 4 tanks, which means we'll have to go out and collect about 20 more live ones probably on Friday. And on Monday we made it out to Estill Fork in the hamlet of Estill Fork. Working upstream from the old ford there we were able to collect about 20 with some difficulty in the exquisitely clear water. One shoreline had ice on it, and of course the fish were congregating under the ice cover. Pulling out netfulls of ice with the fish is tough business. We caught most of our fish in one seine haul just downstream of an exposed sand bar after breaking through the thin ice. This was my first collecting trip in Alabama in which the net would freeze upon being pulled out of the water. But by the end of our trip the temperature had risen above freezing and we didn't have that problem. Andrew, Daniel and Sandy went along on both trips.

We also found a surprisingly large number of washboard mussels, Megalonaias nervosa, in Estill Fork Some of them were as big as dinner plates. I had never observed them in Estill Fork before, although admittedly I hadn't looked. This is a large, thick-shelled species that rests on top of the substrate. They were the basis of the commercial mussel trade because of the high quality of their shells. I'm sure other species are present too, we didn't muck around in the cold water trying to dig them out.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Winter Creek Collecting For Scarlet Shiners

I went out yesterday to Limestone Creek in Madison County, AL, to collect live yearling scarlet shiners for our developing experiment on the influence of 11-ketotestosterone on brain growth. We also collected an equal number, ~50, to examine growth rates in this creek. Andrew, Daniel, and Sandi were game for running around in 8 deg. C water which is about as cold as it gets here. I should say that we had waders. Air temperature was about 6 deg. C, with bright sunshine. All of the shiners intended for the experiment got to the lab alive, although 5 of them were dead this afternoon and joined their comrades in a jar of 10% phosphate buffered formaldehyde for measurement and gut contents examination. As expected, the species is niche-specific: We caught most of the fish swimming at the surface in a relatively deep flowing pool just downstream from the bridge.

The original plan was to go collecting today at Estill Fork in Jackson County, AL, in the hills near the Walls of Jericho property to collect yearling scarlet shiners to study their growth there in comparison to Limestone Creek. But we wimped out at the prospect of snow this morning and temperatures just above freezing. We guessed right, there were snow showers and even in Huntsville it was a cold, wintery day. So, we'll go out on Monday instead when the temperatures will be warmer with no snow. My biggest fear about snow at Estill Fork would be getting trapped up the Paint Rock River valley, since the one road into the area from the south is prone to icing which makes it impassable. And I admit I was glad not to go seining in the snow with a cold wind blowing.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Preliminary Oocyte Size Data For Telescope Shiners

I've had a (small) chance to work through the notebooks kept by my students working on the telescope shiner reproductive biology project. We have at least two observer's data on all of the female telescopes from April and May of last year. I've gone through for six of the May fish and pulled out the most representative averages of two of these observers for each fish as a way to standardize everyone's slightly different views. These preliminary data show that these six fish averaged 289 maturing oocytes in their ovaries (by maturing, we mean that they show evidence of vitellogenesis and begin to look like "eggs"). The oocyte diameter size averages broke down as follows for the four maturation stages we use: early maturing, 479 micrometers; late maturing, 687 micrometers; mature, 1215 micrometers; ripe, 1410 micrometers. I was happy to see a clear pattern of steadily increasing size. There's still plenty more work to do on this project...

My article has appeared in the new issue of Southeastern Naturalist. The title is "Observations on the Reproductive Biology of Two Notropis Shiner Species", 2007, Vol. 6, pages 693-704, by Bruce Stallsmith, Kevin Butler, Amy Woodall, and Bob Muller. I don't have a .pdf yet otherwise I would offer to send it to anyone who's interested in just what the hell burrhead and silverstripe shiners do for reproductive output. I realize that I started work on that project almost exactly four years ago, so that's a typical turnaround time for carrying out research and getting it into a peer-reviewed journal. I'm happy to see it out, it's definitely an ego boost. Hooray!

Saturday, January 12, 2008

I've Moved My First Fish Into The New Lab

I just moved the juvenile scarlet shiners I've raised from little babies into my new lab. All 7 of them are in my odd 10 (or 12?) gallon tank with a built-in top screen. I think they're in shock, as moved fish usually are. The big 20 gallon in the old teaching lab with a bigger school of scarlets, stripeds and bluntnoses will hopefully be moved this week in my next burst of energy.

Weather permitting we're going out next Friday to Limestone Creek north of here to collect juvenile scarlets, and on Saturday we'll hopefully get out to Estill Fork in Jackson County, downstream from the Walls of Jericho. This project with two students will hopefully document the growth of YOY scarlet shiners in two somewhat different streams, a lowland stream in an agricultural area and a highland stream in a remote mountain area. We also hope to examine gut contents, which would probably not show any surprises. In truth I honestly don't know what to expect in terms of growth patterns, and whether or not they should be especially different between the two streams. I'm still trying to find relevant literature. Maybe no one else has done this with North American cyprinids because it's too stupid? I'd like to think not(!). On the Friday trip we also hope to collect and keep 50-60 live fish for my developing experiment on the effects of different doses of exogenous 11-KT on brain development and growth. I think I found the test doses, used on carp: 1 microgram per kilogram of body weight, and 5 micrograms per kilogram of body weight. That's a fantastically small amount of 11-KT, but that reflects just how potent it is as an androgen. I'm leaning to doing shallow abdominal injections using a 27 gauge needle, which hopefully wouldn't be the equivalent of bayonetting the fish. I'll keep you posted, of course.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Our Shiner Parasite Poster From ASIH In St. Louis

Here's our poster on Dactylogyrus gill parasite load in scarlet and striped shiners that we presented at the ASIH meeting in St. Louis last July. I've converted it from a PowerPoint slide to a .jpg, and it's huge if you click on it. Christian and Kris assembled it, and it came out well. I hope it's intelligible being posted here...

I've been knocked down and out much of the last 10 days by the cold going around. I spent the day in bed on Sunday, something I rarely do. It's mostly passed, luckily, as school has started this week and I have an 8 o'clock lecture class on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. I've been working with various students to get various projects in gear again, after the break and after the move. In truth I'm still moving stuff from our old building. This weekend I hope to move my live fish for once and all, including 2 20-gal. tanks, one 10-gal. and one 2.5-gal. And next Friday, weather permitting, we hope to go out to Limestone Creek and collect a large number of YOY scarlet shiners for various purposes. The 10-day forecast is for a day that's maybe 50 deg. F, we'll see how tough everyone feels. It would be a midday trip, at least. And sometime in the next 4-5 weeks I hope to stage our first trip after stippled studfish in Randolph County, AL.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Falling Into 2008

I've made it into the new year with a cold, to match the genuinely cold weather we're having. And, we're still setting up the various teaching labs since school starts on Monday. The intro biology labs are just about ready; we found one weird thing in one of the labs today, that the wall jack for a computer is about 25 feet away from the projection screen so any lab instructor would have to stand a distance from the screen unless they're lucky enough to have a long (and expensive) VGA cord. Gack.

I also realize that we have enough cabinet space in these labs to put some of the preserved fish & herps collections away if we run out of space in the Vert. Zoology lab. My latent "funny" streak is to leave out a few big glass jars containing preserved rattlesnakes or cottonmouths because there are always a few students who get creeped out by seeing them, and even by being in the same room with them. But as much as I like to have serious snakes lying around, I'll restrain myself.

My current aquarium inventory is 6 10-gal. tanks, a 15-gal. tank, (maybe) 2 20-gal. tanks, 2 5-gal. tanks, 1 55-gal. tank and 1 130-gal. tank. The 10-gals. are enough, I hope, to carry out the 11-ketotestosterone experiment on scarlet shiners I mentioned earlier, and the water in these tanks is aging as I write. Now we just have to go catch the shiners for this shindig.

And my take on the current presidential primary craziness: no reputable candidate should support government subsidized ethanol production. It's inefficient with current technologies, since many of the necessary inputs for corn production are petroleum based including fertilizers; and this misguided effort is distorting the market for corn, not just nationally but internationally, and driving up the prices of other commodities. This effort also encourages the planting of land that has been removed from production since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s as conservation easements, which will further degrade water resources. John McCain is the only candidate who has had the nerve to oppose corn subsidies, and frankly I wouldn't vote for him even with that. Other candidates seem to be pandering to narrow Iowa interests (although maybe not Paul and Kucinich? I'm not sure). Anyway, I felt compelled to say this, thanks for reading it....