Friday, March 30, 2012

Wading In Estill Fork Today, Catching Darters

We went out to Estill Fork today to collect darters to begin a project examining the coevolution of darters with their gill parasites, especially looking at tennessee snubnose darters. This will be based on sequencing parts of both host and parasite DNA, and comparing hosts from different areas who are putatively different species. Anyway, we're just starting with fish from Estill Fork as a pilot project. Today was a good day to get out, since it was in the 70s F and water temperature was 15 deg. C; we were able to wade without waders which is hugely convenient compared to dragging waders there and back. The first photo below is my colleague Luciano, who is new this year at UAH and has never gone darter dancing. I think he had a pretty good time helping to chase fish into the net.

The male darters were all in peak breeding color today. Especially fun was finding a whole bunch of blueside darters who were, indeed, lit up with electric turquoise blocks down their sides. But we didn't take any of them. Below is a male rainbow darter in peak coloration, and he's as big as any rainbow I've ever seen. It's a down and dirty shot without the fins spread out, but I hope you can appreciate his colors.

And here's a shot looking upstream with Luciano partially in the left, then Robert, and Jeremy in his new 2012 Science Olympiad t-shirt. Robert successfully defended his thesis four weeks ago, so you know he's in a good mood!

I talked to Casper from Chatt this morning. He asked me to look for edible morel mushrooms along the bank, since a friend of his collected some from nearby Hurricane Creek earlier this week. We looked along the bank but didn't see any morels. I think they prefer more undisturbed woods along a stream, and this part of Estill Fork isn't totally pristine in terms of land use (even though it's pretty good). But I will continue to look, even though they're probably going by.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

I'm Back In To The Game

I've been distracted for the last 6 weeks or so, and I think I'm about to recover. I co-chaired a faculty search committee and that's like leaving your life behind; we haven't even filled the position yet, which is of course a long, twisted story.

But... Research stuff is going well. Robert defended his Master's thesis last Tuesday on gill parasite infection in tennessee snubnose darters. We've tentatively named a new species of dactylogyrid that is the parasite present: Aethycteron simoterum. We still have to sharpen our description of its traits, but I think we can call up the digital images he's made and use the confocal's software to precisely measure the length of the various haptor hooks, etc.

Brian defended his thesis on Wednesday, on the niche partitioning of the most common darter species in the Flint River at Three Rivers, and in Estill Fork of the Paint Rock River downstream from the Methodist Church. He has a very impressive work-up of seasonal shifts of habitat use of various substrates, flow rates, and depths. At the Flint, the three species examined -- banded, black and redline darters -- have a very strong partitioning, with blacks in shallow, slower water over sand; the bandeds in deeper water over boulders; and the redlines in fast, relatively shallow water over cobble. The community at Estill Fork, with five species, is more complicated partially because it's a smaller, shallower stream. We found rainbow and tennessee snubs in much the same habitat, which is a little weird, and redlines in the habitat where rainbows "should" be -- faster water over cobble. But I'll save the details for the paper when it comes out.

We survived the tornados yesterday, several went along the northern edge of the city of Huntsville but we saw little wind, and surprisingly little rain in south Huntsville. But the Flint River's level and volume are way up because many of the most intense storms ran over its upper basin, the river gauge showed a meter rise and over a tripling of volume between noon yesterday and today. Luckily we weren't planning to go out this weekend.