Sunday, August 30, 2009

I FInally Wrote About 3 Key Paragraphs

I've been largely staring at our NeuroReport manuscript for several weeks, tinkering with some obvious changes and deleting much of the previous discussion because we're dropping three of the original figures. Yesterday I finally directly attacked the key changes we need, writing one new paragraph for the Results and two for the Discussion, and heavily rewriting the concluding paragraph. As usual it's a big relief. Now I think it will fly. I'll look at it later today, confirm that I like it and send it to Amy for her input. And with any luck we can crank it out soon. I'd bet money that it will be the first time that any contributions to NR deal with Lythrurus or Notropis species.

Meanwhile, I still have to finish the flame chub paper!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Poster Display And Phosphate Measurement

Andrew showed his poster about Dactylogyrus gill flukes in telescope and scarlet shiners this afternoon. I think all of the Summer REU student at least submitted a poster, and most showed up. Andrew had good talks about his poster with the Science Deans as well as other faculty members; one of the deans is still giggling at the thought of us maybe naming the new species D. chargeri, after the UAH teams name. And I met both of his parents, who were of course impressed by the poster even if they might not have totally understood all of it. And, in truth, it was a pretty good poster, ready with minor changes to be shown in a bigger venue.

Brittany has pretty much worked out our colorimetric phosphate test. Our preliminary results show that the July water sample from Estill Fork had very low phosphates, like maybe 0.15 mg/liter, and the August sample had slightly more, about 0.3 mg/liter. This is at the very low end of what this test can detect. It's not a surprise, we know that this is essentially a pristine stream, but I'm still impressed. The Tennessee River would probably have values around 2-3 mg/liter. We're still researching what's been found with phosphate levels in local streams, with the US Geological Survey being the best source to date. The TVA does faunal surveys in streams like Estill Fork but has patchy water chemistry data.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Change On The Bifax Project?

I heard today from Steve Rider, who's an Alabama state biologist with the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries. He's been working on, and preparing to do more with, the question of the status in Alabama of the stippled studfish, Fundulus bifax. I told him I'd be happy to pool our results, and I guess maybe go out with them to some sites. They're planning follow-ups to some 2004 site visits, based in part on data given him by the late Malcolm Pierson. So that's good since I want to get our results out and firm up what we know about the species.

We went out to Estill Fork on Saturday and I've been trying to get pictures off of my new cell phone. But it hasn't worked out yet... For a switch we found tons of scarlet shiners, mostly young, and few telescope shiners. The drift net went well too, which of course is fairly easy.

Andrew shows a poster of his summer work this Friday 2-4 in our building as part of a show by all of the REU students. It should be good.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Field Trips This Week

I went out yesterday with Andrew and Taito to Limestone Creek. It was raining off and on in the area, but we were very lucky to go out in a mild drizzle for most of the time. I think seining goes better in the rain, and that was true yesterday, we easily caught the scarlet shiners we wanted. Just as we were about to leave we heard thunder, so that was the end of the seining. The creek was at low flow so that helped too. On the way home down the Interstate the rain was so heavy I slowed down to 50 mph. I feel lucky once again.

We're going out to Estill Fork on Saturday. There's a new moon this week, so the time is right for setting up the drift net. Brittany has done an excellent job to date counting and ID'ing inverts from July's drift netting, so I'm curious to see if there's any real difference this month.

Andrew told me that among the gill flukes we've found on scarlet shiners, most a new species of Dactylogyrus, are individuals of a previously described species, D. crucis, never before observed on scarlet shiners. So that's kind of fun, too. Andrew has put together a poster of his summer work with gill flukes for display at a group show of posters by REU students in a week or two. It looks pretty good, maybe he'll win something with it? And maybe I'm being too competitive for no good reason.

On Monday I had a 15 minute meeting with the District Director of our congressman, bluedog Democrat Parker Griffith. I was lobbying for more federal biology funding as part of the American Institute of Biological Sciences' lobbying week. It went well, I think, explaining who I was and why federal funding is important to both biology research and education. The Director took notes and promised to inform Cong. Griffith of my concerns, and took the handouts I printed from the AIBS site. I feel that this kind of politicking by scientists is important to explain what we do and why it benefits everyone, so I'd urge any other scientists reading this to get in gear and polish your lobbying skills. If you need advice, I'd be happy to talk.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

School Starts This Week, Oh No!

I'm sliding out of my sabbatical now. School starts on Wednesday, so I'll be teaching two lecture sections of BYS 119 (Biology 1) and a class of Vertebrate Reproduction. Our enrollment has zoomed up this year, so as of now there are 499 students enrolled in the three lecture sections of BYS 119, up from ~440 a year ago. So think fast!

I'm going in tomorrow to talk to a staffer of our congressman, Parker Griffith. The American Institute of Biological Sciences has organized a lobby your congresspeople week, so I'm going in. The drill is that I'll have about 15 minutes to make a case for sustained and increased federal funding to support biological research and education. Griffith is an M.D., and serves on the House Science and Technology Committee, so he's basically supportive of research. I hope to emphasize a few points such as the National Science Foundation has been level-funded for several years, and is short-handed, so hopefully Griffith will continue to support biology funding NSF at the rate of $6.937 billion in the coming fiscal year, an increase. I haven't done this kind of politicking in a while but I look forward to it.

And on Tuesday morning, back out to Limestone Creek for scarlet shiners. Hopefully the rain from Tropical Storm Claudette won't be bad here over the next 48 hours.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thanks To Andrea Simkova

I heard back from Andrea Simkova today. He sent me not only a .pdf of the paper I requested, but three others too related to Dactylogyrus gill flukes on European cyprinid fishes. Now all I have to do is sit down and read them. It struck me that this is yet another example of the Internet changing scientific practice; fifteen years ago I would have mailed a postcard to him in Brno, Czech Republic, requesting the article and he would have mailed me some form of copy that would have arrived several weeks later at some expense to him. This is much better, ain't no doubt.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

An Apparent Explanation For Gill Fluke Pattern

I think I've finally found a reasonable explanation for what we found in telescope shiners, where the peak in breeding condition as measured by gonadosomatic index is very closely correlated with gill fluke infection in the April - July breeding season. I came across a paper by Andrea Simkova and other Czech biologists who work with Dactylogyrus gill fluke infections of European cyprinid fishes like roach. They have found a similar pattern with roach to what we've found with telescope shiners, that the infection of fish with gill flukes goes up in the breeding season. This is attributed to fish putting so much energy into producing eggs and sperm that their immune system is impaired, allowing parasites to increase in number. This basic pattern holds with other parasites such as liver flukes, but apparently is most obvious with the gill flukes. It makes sense to me; I'm still unclear on the exact nature of the fluke life cycle such as life expectancy but I'm working on that, too. I become more fascinated by parasites as time goes on, partially for the creepiness of their life cycles and partially I'm in awe of the influence parasites have on community structure and energy flow through trophic webs.

Our registration numbers are way up at UAH this semester. There are currently 473 students in our BYS 119, Biology I, classes, compared to 440 last year. And the Dean's office is convinced that we could peak at 525 because many students, both transfer and incoming, still haven't registered (school starts next Wednesday). So business is good and we're scrambling to find enough students to teach our lab sections. As of today we have 19 lab sections, compared to 18 a year ago, and we're probably going to add a Saturday morning lab section for the first time in ~25 years. Biology is now a hot major, so away we go! And many of these incoming students are much better prepared than has been the case in the past.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Another Round Of Kicking Around Data

This week we've started a new round of analyzing data about telescope shiners and their gill flukes. There's always a large number of ways to look at data, and we've tried several lines of inquiry. One obvious result we found is that female telescope shiners from Hurricane Creek in 2007 were carrying more eggs with larger size. This is hardly groundbreaking, but analyzing the peak reproductive months April through July with a regression of standard length vs. total eggs, the F statistic always gave a statistically significant result. We also did the same statistical analysis for any significant relationship between number of gill flukes and total eggs. These tests were all negative. But there are positive relationships between both standard length and fish body mass vs. gill fluke number. Simply put, longer, heavier female fish tend to have more gill flukes and certainly produce more eggs.

BUT - Andrew has set up tests comparing fish with below average and above average numbers of gill flukes as to the individual fish's percentage of average GSI for the month of capture. For both pooled males and females, and only females, there's a statistically significant (using t-tests) difference between the groups, with less infected fish have relatively higher average GSI. So gill fluke infection is linked to gonadal size and condition, but not to total oocyte count.

Correlation isn't causation, of course, and individual fish are probably affected by other parasite infections such as liver trematodes which we didn't examine. Even so I think we're on to something with Dactylogyrus gill flukes having a negative effect on a host's reproductive capability. The fun part would be to look for a similar effect on scarlet shiners, of which we have almost a good collection. Maybe this semester.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Yet More Parasite Count Analysis

Below is close to the final statement of the graph of gill fluke parasites found in telescope shiners at the Walls of Jericho (the graph can be enlarged by clicking on it, and the error bars are one standard error). With Jennifer's help (in SPSS on her computer) we ran a one way ANOVA of our eight months of gill fluke counts data followed up by a post-hoc Tukey HSD. The whole point of this is to determine if parasite infestation varies monthly in a statistically significant way. And yes, it does. The Tukey test established that there are three clusters of months within the eight that have essentially identical parasite infestations: a, which is low; b; which is medium; and c, which is high. These categories overlap, so that on the graph several months are presented as b, c and one month is a, b. But only one month, May, is unequivocally in the high infestation group, c. The big news here is that this pattern of infestation is very similar to the monthly pattern of gonadal maturation we found for this group of telescope shiners -- for whatever reason, gill fluke infestation peaks as reproductive potential peaks. We still have to finish analyzing whether there's a statistically significant relationship between relative gonad size (GSI) and gill fluke infestation. Andrew will hopefully have a fuller accounting of that later in the week.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Cypress Creek, Lauderdale County, Alabama

Andrew and I made it out to a site on Cypress Creek yesterday. As we drove out the rainclouds parted and we had a sunny summer day by the end. Our primary goal was to catch some highland shiners, Notropis micropteryx, for gill fluke examination by Don Cloutman at Bemidji State as part of an on-going project. I had noticed highlands at this site three years ago while looking for flame chubs. And I remembered correctly, we were able to catch five. The rap on highland shiners is that they usually exist in large schools in flowing water over sand or gravel. We certainly didn't find large schools of them. Here's a photo looking downstream into the riffle/scour hole/flowing pool system we caught them in:
The highlands, along with warpaint shiners (Luxilus coccogenis) and blenny darters (Etheostoma blennius), were in this stretch of water especially along the undercut left bank where the water is deeper and faster than you'd think over shifting coarse gravel. We also removed a few beer bottles and cans that the local numbnuts high schoolers thoughtfully left behind (if you drink Natural Light beer I urge you to end it now; really).

We also found big steelcolor shiners (Cyprinella whipplei) in this system, and an unbelievable number of large, beautiful northern studfish (Fundulus catenatus). We brought home a pair of big studfish for the orange spotted sunfish tank. We thought we had found popeye shiners (Notropis ariommus) but looking at them today I think that they're telescope shiners (N. telescopus). But that's cool, this is one of the few streams in Alabama besides the upper Paint Rock system that has telescopes. And I swear they look different from the Paint Rock telescopes, but I'll have to quantify that later. I put six of the apparent telescopes in ethanol, and another eight or so with our other keepers in phosphate-buffered formaldehyde.

Here's me with my truck before we left. My camera is acting weird, turning whites to pink, so I'm really not standing under an airburst atomic test.