Thursday, October 30, 2008

Photos Of My New Fish, Orangespotted Sunfish & Southern Studfish

I now have five orangespotted sunfish and four southern studfish in my 55-gal. lab aquarium. The o-spots were collected by Stan Sung in the Rio Pudre in Colorado, and the studfish are from a creek in Collinsville, Alabama. Stan took the photos below, which very clearly show the features of the fish. The o-spots are still young, only about 5 cm long. The one in the photo is the larger of the two males. The studfish is also the largest male in the group.

Orangspotted sunfish, Lepomis humilis:

Southern studfish, Fundulus stellifer:

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Aquarium Update, And How Easy It Is To Dissect Previously Frozen Shiner Brain?

The 55-gal. tank seems to be going well. Both the southern studfish and the o-spots recognize defrosted frozen brine shrimp as food, and they seem to be considering the palatibility of TetraMin flake. The two surviving whitetail shiners seem to be happy in a 10-gal. of their own, facing into the current and picking out flake food; like most shiners they seem immediately to recognize flake as food.

We're meeting tomorrow afternoon to coordinate our actions in examining the scarlet and telescope shiners we've collected lately. They're mostly frozen to preserve the NMDA receptor proteins in the brain. So, we'll have to defrost them, weigh and measure them, and remove the brain to be stored at -80 deg. C until we can run the brain in a western blot. The trick is to set up a whole bunch of western blots at the same time so that they can be interpreted on the same basis, i.e. westerns are more like reading tea leaves than I like to think about (no, really!). So we'll be assaying the levels of these sex & learning pathways in the two species, and comparing young of the year to adults (we hope). The only tricky thing might be ID'ing male vs. female telescope shiners. There's little sexual dimorphism, so it usually requires gonadal dissection to determine sex. This is relatively easy in formaldehyde-fixed specimens, but defrosted unfixed individuals might be somewhat mushy. We'll see.

And everyone's planning to vote, I hope? You know that you really should vote like me. Ask and I'll tell you!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Trip To Estill Fork, And New Fish

I've come into more fish for the lab aquariums this past week. Stan Sung, in town for a series of collecting trips with others, gave me 5 orangespot sunfish he collected in Colorado. I also received 7 whitetail shiners from Drewish in Virginia in the mail. I put all of them in the 55 on Tuesday, when they all arrived separately. The o-spots are subadults, about 2 inches long, and the whitetails were on average slightly smaller. When I came in on Wednesday, one of the o-spots had a tail sticking out of its mouth; the two largest o-spots had each eaten one of the smaller whitetails. Great... I had to move the whitetails to a 10 gal. tank, and three of them died from the accumulated stress by Saturday. The remaining two kind of looked OK yesterday and I hope to find them alive tomorrow when I go in. But the o-spots look great!

There are now 5 southern studfish, Fundulus stellifer, in the 55-gal. with the o-spots. Stan and crew went to Collinsville, AL, on Thursday to look for southern studfish and rainbow shiners at my suggestion. They found both and gave me five of the studfish, all young adults (and all bigger than the o-spots). They're good aquarium fish with one caveat: they're the most athletic fish I know of and will try to jump out of anything you put them in. The 55-gal. is well covered and I hope to keep them in it.

Stan and all joined us on Saturday for a trip to Estill Fork. We wanted a variety of telescope and scarlet shiners, adult and YOY, for population and brain studies, and they were interested in going to a new, interesting stream. A good time was had by all... we caught bunches of fish for research on a beautiful sunny day. The stream was up since it rained late in the week. We also met a local guy who studied with Prof. Jandebur (I misspelled his name...) who used to be at Athens State until about 10 years ago, who carried out fish research. He was fun to talk to and we hope to meet him again at the stream in the future. He also used to be a member of the Methodist Church near this site, which is interesting in its own right. One irony is that we netted an obvious Cyprinella species which I thought was a blacktail shiner without thinking. Today I realized that it was an adult whitetail shiner, at least now I really know they're in Estill Fork for future purposes.

Below is a picture of two of Stan's group (Stan second from left), and also Brittany and Jennifer who work with me as we prepared to leave.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Limestone Creek Trip, And Back To Estill Fork On Saturday

I went out on a brief trip to lower Limestone Creek last Friday afternoon with Andrew and Doug Dame. Doug was briefly visiting as part of a 1750 mile collecting trip from his home in Florida. He wanted black darters and scarlet shiners, so we went to where I knew we could easily collect lots of each. Above is a photo of Andrew and Doug wading through this ford, chasing down darters. We also pulled the seine through and got a haul of unusually large, still colored-up scarlets. It was a beautiful afternoon so we were all glad to be out.

Today I received a box of white tailed shiners from Drewish in Virginia. He mailed them Priority last Wednesday, and they got here today. But all 7 made it alive, largely thanks to the Kordon Breathing Bags they were packed in. These bags are amazing, they allow oxygen to diffuse in to the bag but are still waterproof. The fish are now in my 55-gal tank. Also today, Stan Sung came by with three fellow travellers from California and Ohio, and delivered 5 orangespotted sunfish. Both of these species can be found around here, I just haven't had a chance to go out and track them down. The 5 o-spots are also in the 55. Hopefully they all enjoy their new home.

And on Saturday my lab group will meet up with Stan's group and we'll head up to Estill Fork in Jackson County. We need more telescope and scarlet shiners of all ages, so away we go. Stan saw parts of the lower Paint Rock valley last April and was wowed; I'm sure he'll be at least as impressed by Estill Fork.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

DISL Director Scott Quackenbush Passes

I received an email the other day from Sally Brennan at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. The new director of DISL as of July, Scott Quackenbush, passed away last week from advanced cancer. That's a shocker, I would never have guessed that when I met with him in early August at DISL. I guess the Sea Lab will start a new search sometime soon. The Sea Lab has been expanding and growing over the past several years, so stable leadership would seem to be necessary for that. I hope it works out well, and my condolences to Scott's family.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Our SFC Abstract For The Chattanooga Presentation

The following is the abstract we've submitted for the Southeastern Fishes Council (SFC) meeting in Chattanooga on Nov. 13-14. Jennifer will be the presenter, basically of her graduate work.

"Investigations into the Relationship between the Steroid Hormone 11-ketotestosterone and Reproductive Status in the Fish Lythrurus fasciolaris"

Jennifer L. Schade, Department of Biological Sciences (Master’s Candidate), University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama 35899, Bruce W. Stallsmith, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama 35899, Amy Bishop, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama 35899.

In many fishes, 11-ketotestosterone (11KT) is a critical androgen regulating primary and secondary sex characteristics. In the sexually dimorphic Lythrurus fasciolaris, dominant nuptial males display heavy tuberculation on the head and nape, dark dorsolateral vertical bars, and dramatic red coloration in the fins, venter, and operculum area. This study aimed to quantify 11KT circulating levels in males and determine its correlation with key reproductive status indicators such as nuptial coloration, size, and Gonadosomatic Index (GSI). Wild-caught L. fasciolaris (15 males, 16 females) were divided into three groups according to reproductive status: dominant males (D), non-dominant males (ND) and females (F, control group). Physical measurements, digital imaging, and blood samples were used to quantify body size, GSI, nuptial coloration, and circulating levels of 11KT. Dominant males had higher 11KT levels and nuptial coloration traits compared to ND males and females (red area, hue, saturation), and a higher GSI than ND males. Non-dominant males had more 11KT and coloration than females. Increased 11KT levels corresponded to increased coloration, size and GSI.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

New Aquarium Fish, Jennifer's 11-KT Project, Telescope Shiner Brains

I've been meaning to collect some whitetail shiners, Cyprinella galactura all summer but never had a chance to visit a regional stream with them. So I'm receiving 6 freebies from Drewish on the NANFA Forum that he collected in SW Virginia. They're a fairly large, active species that I last saw at Coon Creek last summer. I hope they'll do well in the currently empty 55-gal. tank in my lab. I think they're another one of these fairly widespread but relatively poorly known species.

The abstract for Jennifer's presentation to the SFC meeting in Chattanooga is about ready after some back and forth. She's performed new analyses on our data, which basically show that elevated levels of the androgen 11-KT in alpha males has very pronounced effects: they're bigger, more colorful (red!), have larger testes than males with low levels of 11-KT and females. These large males have an average blood concentration of 11-KT of 39 picograms/microliter compared to non-alpha males with 1.9 and females with 0.5 pg/ul. I've been re-reading some of the literature on males in other fish species with elevated 11-KT, and usually these average levels in alpha males don't exceed 20 pg/ul. So our scarlets are total steroid monsters; some individuals had over 100. Yow!

On a related front, Brittany, Andrew and Alexandra are making headway measuring brain volume of our June telescope shiners. Each is doing a complete set of measurements, and we'll either average all the measurements if they seem comparable or just use one person's measurements. So far it looks like they're doing it about the same, which is good for quality control.

Monday, October 06, 2008

None Of The Telescope Shiner YOY Made It

I came in this morning and the four young telescope shiners were all dead, as well as the little fantail darter. I think we handled them too roughly, not initially planning to keep any alive, and that shock along with being placed in even a well-aged aquarium was too much. Gad. We might go out again in the next several weeks, we'll have to plan any live captures with more care.

We're standardizing the measurement of telescope shiner brains from our digital images. Brittany has made a big head start on the June fish, and she sat down with James and Alexandra this morning so that they were all measuring fish the same way. I want all three to make independent measurements so that we can check for any error. Once we get through the June fish we'll move on to the May fish. And, of course, we now have very small fish from this year that we can hopefully measure too.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

It's Easy To Catch Telescope Shiner YOY At Estill Fork

We went out to a spot on Estill Fork first thing this morning to catch young-of-year telescope shiners for brain examination (for real). This spot is way up the Paint Rock valley in Jackson County, Alabama, maybe 3 km south of the Tennessee line. It was a good guess, we caught all the fish we needed within an hour with Andrew and Brittany doing some shallow wading wielding my superfine mesh kicknet. We caught fish in the size range 12 mm - 30 mm, brought back most of them alive, and sorted them three ways: about 5 I'm trying to keep alive in an aquarium just to observe them, about 7 were frozen so that we can run western blots with their brains to assay for the presence of NMDA receptors (learning and sex circuitry), and about 14 for dissecting and measuring the brain that were fixed in formaldehyde.

The above photo is the basin just below the lowhead bridge that crosses the stream, at what used to be a ford. Under normal stream flow this can be almost 2 meters deep, and has a surprisingly high diversity of fishes in it including gar. At the downstream end of this basin the stream forms a run/riffle section for several hundred meters that has more darters and northern studfish, in particular, than any equivalent stretch of stream I've seen.

Above is a shot of Brittany and Andrew at work scooping up telescopes from the schools moving along the edge of this basin. I took the shot into the sun low on the horizon, so it has an interesting "Mists of Avalon" look to it.

The photo above is of an upstream section that is usually about a half meter deep. The drought is beginning to kick in again around here, so the stream was very low today. The shallows were full of small northern studfish, telescopes, scarlet shiners, bluntnose minnows and darters. We brought home a small fantail darter that I have in a lab aquarium.