Sunday, May 31, 2009

Plans For The Week

I went in to my lab yesterday to see how the fish we brought home alive were doing. There were a lot of casualties, but more than half are still alive. The problem is that almost all of the telescope shiners were kaput; several of the larger scarlet shiners were still alive, whose fresh brains we want to process tomorrow; most of the striped shiners were still alive, tough suckers that they are; and the 5 snubnose darters that we brought home were all alive. With the telescopes and scarlets we want to prepare brain sections for NMDA receptor measurement, which can only be done with freshly sacrificed brains. The striped shiners are purely for gut content analysis since they're the dominant shiner species in Estill Fork. And with the scarlets and darters, we want to examine them for gill flukes. Andrew and I realized that no Dactylogyrus gill flukes have been described for any darter species; maybe these flukes only parasitize cyprinids? Either way we want to see what we can find on the gill filaments of the darters.

So, with few or no telescopes tomorrow, I'm planning a return to Estill Fork in the next several days. This time we'll collect only telescope shiners, handle them much more gently and keep them in a slightly refrigerated bucket (an ice cube in a plastic bag), take them home and immediately do the brain dissections. I guess sabbatical leave is for this kind of mad-dog work schedule. And maybe we should do a few striped shiner brains, too, whilst we have them...

Friday, May 29, 2009

We've Seen Gill Flukes, Spawning Tennessee Shiners, A Buncha Stuff

We went out to Estill Fork today and caught our target fishes of scarlet, telescope and striped shiners, for gut content analysis and also to look at brain structure and general length/weight relationships. It went well, with lower water levels, six students went out with me. But we saw this amazing swarm of tennessee shiners in breeding color spinning around with females entering the swarm of males; scarlet shiners were on the outside, also doing a heavy spawning thing. Here's my best photo of the swarm; every time I approached them they moved off.

The males are bright orange, and the females aren't, a classic case of sexual dimorphism. This species, Notropis leuciodus, is in a sub-genus that includes other very sexually dimorphic species such as the rainbow shiners from the Alabama River drainage.

We've been working on gut content analysis and gill flukes. We have some good photos of the latter, hopefully I'll post some in the next few days.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

GenBank Accession Numbers For Mummichog DNA

Kris has finished the submission of our F. heteroclitus cyt-b DNA sequences to the on-line repository GenBank. The accession numbers are GQ202727-GQ202741, with the last one, 741, being the sequence for an individual F. similis from the Florida Keys that we use as an outgroup in our phylogenetic analysis. These sequences are ~760 bases long, starting at around position 400 in the 1140 base pair gene and mostly running up to the 3' end of the gene. They'll be available online July 1 to give Kris a chance to write his thesis and get it out at (hopefully) the same time the sequences become public. I guess that posting these online is even a small "publication" of sorts, since my name and Kris' are listed as "authors". We hope to publish a short article with our analysis of these sequences (with a few others found on-line) probably in the journal Northeastern Naturalist.

I had an unusual experience this morning. I dropped my truck off at a local Toyota dealership to fix a blown shock in the right front corner dating back to being stuck in that wall of mud in Tallapoosa County last year. It's really only long walking distance from there to my office, but I decided to wait for the shuttle because of a rain threat. While driving around dropping off others, I chatted with the driver who didn't seem to be the typical shuttle driver. He asked me about the appointment of the former head of NASA to a cushy job here at the university, which seemed to amuse him; "I used to be in academia". By the time he dropped me off I began to realize who he was -- it was Douglas Prasher, who should have shared in the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology last year. He did key work in isolating the green fluorescent protein gene (GFP) from a jellyfish back in the 1990's while at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Cape Cod. This gene has become a key workhorse for molecular biology as something that can be cut into many organisms' genomes and used as a marker for the expression of other genes. Only three people can share in a Nobel, and Prasher wound up as a fourth contender, but odd man out. Prasher came to Huntsville to work at NASA, but lost his job several years ago when NASA unceremoniously disbanded their local biology research. He became "famous" for not being able to find other work as a Ph.D. biologist, driving shuttle buses for local companies to scratch out a living. So I have to go back later today to pick up my truck, and I think I'll take the shuttle just to introduce myself to Prasher now that I remember his name(!).

Monday, May 25, 2009

An Improved Abstract For The NeuroReport Manuscript

I looked closely at the Abstract that I posted yesterday, and realized that it was unclear at the end. So I worked on it today and re-did the last several sentences. So here it is again, the Abstract for our submission to the journal NeuroReport:

The sexually dimorphic fish Lythrurus fasciolaris (scarlet shiner) is a seasonal breeder. Morphological and molecular changes in breeding season were examined in three regions of the brain: the cerebellum, optic tectum and telencephalon. Male brain mass relative to body mass is significantly more variable than female. Males have larger average volumes than females in these brain regions relative to total brain mass. The quantity and location of NMDA receptors in relation to sex and reproductive status was examined. Early in the breeding season dominant males have 3.5-fold higher expression of NMDARs than non-dominant males in all brain regions. At the peak of breeding season females exhibit higher levels of NMDAR expression than males. NMDARs undergo both temporal and sex-specific regulation.

(Now I feel better...)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Scarlet Shiner NMDAR Abstract

The scarlet shiner brain size & function article is almost ready to go to the journal NeuroReport. The working title is, "Sexual Dimorphism in a Teleost Central Nervous System: Are Dominant Males Smarter?", by Stallsmith, Sosa, Sosa, Eguchi. One achievement was boiling down the original 300 word Abstract to 120 words (below). The text of the manuscript is still slightly too long, and we have 5 figures which might be overkill according to journal format. Amy is reviewing the manuscript, so we'll see if she has any further editing suggestions. Maybe we'll just toss it at the Editor and see if he likes it before we really step on it. Anyway, what follows is the:

The sexually dimorphic fish Lythrurus fasciolaris (scarlet shiner) is a seasonal breeder. Morphological and molecular changes in breeding season were examined in three regions of the brain: the cerebellum, optic tectum and telencephalon. Male brain mass relative to body mass is significantly more variable than female. Males have larger average volumes than females in these brain regions relative to total brain mass. The quantity and location of NMDA receptors in relation to sex and reproductive status was examined. Dominant males have a 3.5-fold higher expression of NMDARs than non-dominant males in all regions. Reproductive females exhibit a 2-fold higher expression than non-dominant males. In the cerebellum, females exhibit a 2-2.5-fold higher expression level. NMDARs undergo both temporal and sex-specific regulation.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

South Chickamauga Creek Before The Spill, And A Manuscript Number

I took lots of pictures of last Saturday's trip to South Chickamauga Creek in Chattanooga, but of course I didn't take any with me in them. So to complete the story, this photo has me in the middle waving the net (which was lost when I took a spill about 15 minutes later). In this seine set we're sampling in an area of the creek that's not quite high risk; just behind where we're working in the photo the current was a lot faster, and the creek bottom made up of uneven rocks rather than sand. Others in the photo, l to r, are Alejandro, Casper, (me), Khudgins and Dave Neely. The picture was taken, I think, by Betsy "Mrs. Ranger Bob" Culler.

And I heard from the editor of the Journal of Fish Biology today, with a manuscript number for the black darter article. It's a reassuring sign when an editor doesn't reject your submission out of hand (which happened to me in grad school, talk about ego crushing!).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Trip To Chattanooga: South Chickamauga Creek & Casper's Pool

I spent most of the day on Saturday with a bunch of NANFA people in Chattanooga seining for fish in South Chickamauga Creek, and looking at Casper's fish collection in his pool (some of you may understand the full significance of converting a swimming pool into a fish pond). South Chick was high and fast, and relatively turbid, carrying runoff north from its Georgia origins through Chattanooga on its way to the nearby Tennessee River. It's a surprisingly well-preserved urban stream even with that, usually clear water flowing over sand and jagged rocks. I took an amazing fall trying to cross the creek at a narrow point, but was able to execute my move of grabbing my glasses as I was knocked down by the water. I now have several new scars on my left leg; who needs tattoos?

Casper lives on a bluff over South Chick, so we parked in his yard and made our way down a trail through the woods to a suspended foot bridge over the creek. I finally saw the "fishes of South Chickamauga" display signage that Casper's son Coby had helped to build for an Eagle Scout project. It was great! (see photo below) Snail darters have been found in this creek, but we didn't net any. We did find warpaint shiners, bluntnose minnows, redline darters, dusky darters, logperch, hogsuckers, six species (I think) of sunfish and bass, steelcolor shiners and satinfin shiners, and I probably forgot a few. Here are some photos of the day.

Here are (l to r) Alejandro, Ranger Bob, and Coby looking at a bag of fish; bluntnose minnows and young warpaints, I think?

Here are Casper and Anna (science director of the Tennessee Aquarium) watching people across the creek netting and roll around in the creek.

Here is the fishes display board, looking over Dave's shoulder. NANFA contributed some of the money for this board (the logo is in the lower right of the board), and I'd forgotten that I'd given them my longear sunfish photo from Sipsey Fork.

Here's a view of Casper's fish pool. The deeper area is covered with a mat of aquatic plants, and the shallows have water-tolerant irises and cypress along with a pump/filtration system. The list of species in this pool is long; killifish, sunfish, redhorse, chubsuckers,... It's an excellent chance to see many of these species close up in clear water.

Here's Casper doing his snorkel thing in the pool (really, he's not dead).

And here's five people snorkeling, kind of a NANFA pool party. Betsy (Mrs. Ranger Bob) is sitting along the pool in the upper right.

Finally, here's a shot of one of the irises growing in the shallows. I know them as "blue flags", but that's maybe not the best name? Some yellow ones were in flower, too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

And Speaking Of Submitted Manuscripts,

I bugged the people at the American Midland Naturalist about the telescope shiners manuscript. It's been 7 months since I submitted it so I wanted to make sure that they hadn't misplaced it. They very quickly replied that the Associate Editor has received one reviewer's comments, and expects the other's comments next week. Hopefully that's all good news.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Black Darter Article Submitted to Journal of Fish Biology

After 16 months of slashing, polishing and reformatting I submitted the black darter reproductive biology article to the Journal of Fish Biology. The good news is that with on-line submission you can send the material straight from your computer without the hassle of mailing it off as overseas mail (that's so 20th century). The only hassle now is registering on the publisher's web portal, and answering a whole list of questions like "Yes, I read the Instructions for Authors" and affirming that I did indeed format everything double-spaced. After submitting the manuscript, figure captions, tables, and 11(!) .pdf files for the eleven parts of 7 figures, the site built a composite .pdf which in my case amounted to 48 pages including a publisher's cover sheet. Hopefully the Editor likes it enough to send out on review.

Anyway, here's the Abstract for "Reproductive Development in the Blacksided Snubnose Darter, Etheostoma duryi" by Stallsmith & Bedingfield:
Reproductive development in the darter fish Etheostoma duryi was studied in two north Alabama populations. Sites chosen for comparison were urban Town Creek in Limestone County, and rural Limestone Creek in Madison County. Because of the small body size of this species the study uses a histological approach never before used in population studies of any Etheostoma species. Microscopic and macroscopic methods were utilized to study gonadal development and investment. Reproductive investment, as measured by gonadosomatic index, relative gonad mass and the proportionality coefficient, increased in both sites (and for both sexes) toward the time of peak spawning. Total number of oocytes differed significantly between populations, possibly attributable to differing body sizes. Clutch size and mass were not significantly different between sites. Reproductive maturation occurs from January until the peak in late March and April at both sites.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Black Darter Article Almost Ready To Go; Really!

After 16 months of poking at it, the black darter article is just about ready to go. I've formatted the figures, tables and photos as instructed, in separate files, and used Imperial English in the text (colour vs. color, etc.). I'm going to read it one more time tonight or tomorrow, and hopefully email the whole mess to the editors at the Journal of Fish Biology Thursday or Friday. The worst they can do is to reject it.

I might go out first thing Thursday to look for juvenile mudpuppies near a lake in town. A woman called and is concerned that these juveniles are in a ditch almost a mile from the lake, and the ditch will dry out once the rains die down. She doesn't want to put them in the lake since people fish there, but of course that has to be where the parents are from. Once I get them, if I do, I might put them in that lake anyway. Or should I do anything at all? It's not an endangered species locally, so it might be better to let the mudpuppies figure it out. I'm sure that their ancestors survived worst crises.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Some Pictures By Stan Sung

The big news of the week: my sabbatical leave for this summer was approved by the Provost. So now I can devote most of my energies to research-related activities, including finishing the writing of various articles.

And I finally have a chance to process some pictures sent to me by Stan Sung from his visit to Alabama two weeks ago. The first is the two of us getting ready to enter Hillabee Creek in Tallapoosa County, AL (Stan on the left, me on the right):

The next photo is one that Stan was able to get by the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time. Stan and others in their tour group visited Collinsville, Alabama, two weeks ago to look for rainbow shiners, Notropis chrosomus. They certainly found them. The following photo shows a spawning aggregation, with the brilliantly colored males forming red streaks with hints of electric blue. These aggregations come and go for a few weeks before the breeding season peters out.

One of the more widely distributed shiners in the upper Mobile drainage is the tricolor shiner, Cyprinella trichroistia. Stan photographed one of his alpha males once he got back to California.

And who doesn't like tangerine darters, Percina aurantiaca? I was surprised when Stan sent me this picture because I didn't think he had been anywhere near the fish's range in east Tennessee. But this fish is on display at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. When in full color, male tangerines can look like escapees from a Max Ernst painting. This guy gives you a good idea of that intense coloration.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

To Dauphin Island And Back In Two Days

I don't recommend this kind of traveling, since it's about 390 miles each way from Huntsville to the mouth of Mobile Bay. But that's what I did on Thursday and Friday so that I could attend the Program Committee meeting of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. Usually we stay for two nights, but between confusion about where we were staying and the sudden death of one of our foster rabbits late Friday morning we got in our already packed car at 1:30 and headed home.

The Sea Lab is in some flux, both doing well and stressed by the current economic craziness. George Crozier is Executive Director, coming out of retirement to do it but kinda hoping he could leave or maybe even be fired(!). The Sea Lab had lots of money when he retired two years ago, now it's up against the wall in some ways. The punch line might be that the money isn't there to do a typical job search for such a senior position. The good news is that the new research building in partnership with the National Marine Fisheries Service is under construction, and a new research vessel (the R/V Alabama Discovery) is under construction and will be delivered mid-summer. Enrollment is up for summer courses to almost record levels; we are sending 8 students from UAH, a high for the time that I've been campus liaison. With all of this success comes a housing crunch (as I discovered this weekend). There's really no more affordable housing on Dauphin Island, as is true in most resort areas, so graduate students, postdocs and visiting scientists may or may not have convenient, inexpensive housing. Some of the current doublewide trailers will be converted to graduate housing, a good idea but I realize that my ability to visit the Sea Lab easily and cheaply is now hugely reduced. The more things change.....

It's been raining like hell in north Alabama today and yesterday, with 3.25 inches in my zip code yesterday alone. I'm glad that I was able to get out over the last week and collect fish while the creeks were manageable, that won't be the case any time soon. And a lot more rain is on the way tonight and tomorrow.