Thursday, May 26, 2011

Back In Gear, Back In 'Bama

I'm back from two weeks in Panama. Hopefully my export permit will be approved by the end of the summer so that colleagues at the Smithsonian can mail me my fish... I found 3 species of Brachyrhaphis where I only expected to find one, so this work could be even more interesting than I'd thought. I'll keep you posted.

A new student, Kara, has agreed to look at black snubnose darters for gill parasites. We'll get the darters from the Flint River where we're doing other projects. I'm curious to see if they have a similar low level of incidence as Tennessee snubnoses from Estill Fork. This will be a good complement to Robert's work I hope.

I also received a box from Charlie Nunziata with Fundulus that he and others collected at ~12 sites in the Florida panhandle. Hopefully DNA sequencing will show whether some of these populations are a new species, or (just) an interesting intergrade between F. notti to the west and F. lineolatus to the east, both members of the subgenus Zygonectes. I have all of them jarred in 95% ethanol until I get the right DNA extraction kit. Hopefully this goes easy...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Tracking Down Brachyrhaphis At Several Sites

Today we did our last collection of Brachyrhaphis, at Quebrada Sardinilla in an easily accessible part of Soberania National Park. This site, Sendero El Charco, is described as a picnic area, which is true, but it's also an "Introduction to the Rain Forest" with an annotated loop trail. This crosses the creek at several points, with the picnic area at a small waterfall. We went to the furthest point of the loop trail where it crosses the creek with a suspended bridge. As usual, most of the Brachys I caught were in a small tributary in shallow, leafy water. Below is a picture of me basking in the relative ease of capturing fish at this site.

Yesterday we went to El Valle de Anton, in the floor of a drop-dead beautiful ancient volcano caldera about two hours west of Panama City. We collected fish at one site above a waterfall in Rio Guaybo to the northwest of town at about 650 meters elevation, and at a site to the northeast of town at 705 meters elevation. I mention the elevation because both are as high or higher than anywhere in Alabama... The first site is a tourist attraction with hiking on the grounds, and a zipline allowing people to roll down a suspended rope at the height of the forest canopy. That would be fun, but we didn't hang around to do it. The photo below is of me at the second site, Rio Mata Ahogado, chasing Brachys in the shallow sandy stream. The local people were politely bemused; rural Panamanians, especially, are very polite and tolerant, so crazy gringos showing up in the stream by the road netting fish wasn't a big deal.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

First Day Out Collecting In Panama

Ruth and I went out to three streams today with Gisela from the Smithsonian Marine Lab on Naos Island. She was able to borrow a 4WD truck from the Smithsonian, and the key to the famous Pipeline Road in Soberania National Park on the east side of the Panama Canal. It hasn't rained for several days which was good because that road would be impassable with any amount of rain. We collected ~40 Brachyrhaphis episcopi at Rio Macho and R. Mendoza, and ~40 of the closely related B. cascajalensis at R. Frijolito. It was hard work climbing down the surprisingly high banks at each creek's bridge, and wading down the creek using a Perfect Dipnet from Jonah's Aquarium to catch the fish. Both species are small livebearers, looking like Gambusia from North America but with some color. I put about 12 fish from each site in ethanol for possible future DNA work on host and parsites, and the remaining fish in fairly dilute formaldehyde to fix any parasites and the hosts too.

The following photo shows me and Gisela looking a net contents at Rio Macho.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Fun In Panama

We met Gisela yesterday at the Smithsonian Marine Research Labs complex on Naos Island, at the mouth of the Panama Canal. She's a research staff member who supervises and maintains the freshwater fish collection there, which is pretty intense: one small part of it is an entire wall, floor to ceiling, of shelves with preserved characins, tetras, etc., most of which I'd never heard of. She has also done some work with various Brachyrhaphis species, which is of course what drew us down here. She offered, and we accepted, to visit the most inaccessible part of the Soberania National Park next Tuesday to visit several streams to collect Brachyrhaphis. This involves borrowing a 4WD vehicle from the Smithsonian, and also getting the Smithsonian's key to the gate at the beginning of the famous Pipeline Road into this area. There are 3 streams that I want to visit there, the Rio Macho, Rio Frijoles, and Quebrada Juan Grande. The rainy season has begun here, with daily rain, but for the entire day, just a shower now and then. Even so I suspect it will be an amazingly muddy trip.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

A Driftnet In The Flint

I went driftnetting yesterday on the Flint with Doug and Alex. The water was relatively high but manageable for one net anyway; a second in the spot we prefer would have been a serious wrestling bout. The flow meter measured the bottom flow at 380 turns/60 seconds (~0.4 m/sec), the depth at the spot was 55 cm, and the water was 16 deg. C. The river had been much higher and violent last Wednesday when I went there, to the point that we couldn't have safely set even the one net. A bunch of new large trees (including rootballs) are now strewn along the banks after the storms of the past 2 weeks. The river substrate is very well scoured after a series of violent events. Hopefully the fish liked all the excitement!

Monday, May 02, 2011

Estill Fork Pictures

We easily caught our target of about 25 each of the darters of interest. Here's a view of the tools of the trade after we've put away the fish.

Everyone stands in the old ford, with the bridge in the background. If you look in the upper right of the photo you can see the high water wrack line from recent floods; at least one of them almost reached the bottom of the bridge. The stream was still moving pretty fast yesterday.

This is the Baptist church seen from the bottom of the ford road. They were holding service as we pulled up, playing piano and singing.

I Know Where To Find Blueside Darters

Well, so do other people. But we netted a surprising number of Bluesides yesterday in Estill Fork, more than I've seen before. We're not using them in our current study of darter parasites, and so we were keeping Tennessee Snubnoses, Fantails, Stripetails, Rainbows and Redlines. The Baptist Church site has fast-flowing water over sand and gravel which of course is exactly what the species likes. It's a Tennessee River endemic, and Alabama is where the species is hanging on especially in the Paint Rock River system, and Little Bear Creek in Franklin County. It's biology hasn't been closely studied, so that's something we should maybe do in the near future.

Our power is coming back on in Huntsville this morning, luckily. We were sneaking in and out of the Shelby Center yesterday to pick up and return equipment for our Estill Fork trip. There's one major weakness in the electronic door security system, and lucky for me it's still a weakness so I can get in easily. Hopefully others don't know about it...