At the LSU Museum of Natural Science we design outreach events that target various age groups, from K-12 children, to college students and beyond. Our mindset is that you can never be too young or too old to learn about the natural world around you. Several years ago our museum paired up with the Louisiana Master Naturalist Association as part of our respective efforts to educate the citizens of this state about the wildlife around them. Master Naturalists participate in a variety of classes before earning a certification that allows them in turn to train others in natural history, and one of these classes is about museum science. This last weekend we held one of these classes at the LSUMNS and gave tours of our various vertebrate collections, and I led the tour of the ichthyology collection. Our fish collection is one of the few collections that are not currently housed in Foster Hall (although that will change soon... more to come on that in the future), and even though the forecast for the day called for a deluge of rain we got lucky and I was able to take the tour over to see the full extent of the collection. Leading these tours is always a fun experience as the participants are full of intrigue and great questions. If you are interested in learning more about the plants and animals around you and you live in Louisiana, then I urge you to check out the Louisiana Master Naturalists Association. If you live in a different state, there are many other Master Naturalists Associations across the country, and one may be near you!
A lot has happened since my last post about visiting the University of New Mexico. Since then I have attended three meetings, traveled abroad, and participated in several outreach events – 2016 kept me busy, and 2017 isn't letting up. I decided I would write a short post summarizing some of the events I've attended. Soon after my last post I participated in the second annual "Our Finned Friends" at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum with LSUMNS postdoc Dr. Fernando Alda. I participated in the event last year as well, and it is always a good time. This year we brought a new set of fishes to show off to the public, which they seemed to like a lot. After that outreach event our lab quickly got into meeting mode for the summer. The first meeting that I attended was Evolution, which was held in Austin, TX. Evolution is always a great meeting, and in addition to several LSUMNS students and postdocs, the LSUMNS fish lab was represented by myself, and Fernando Alda. Everyones talks went well, and the meeting was a blast. I hadn't been back to Austin since I attended UT for my masters, and while a lot has changed, it is still the great city that I remember it being. Only a few short weeks after Evolution, the entire LSUMNS Fish lab attended the annual JMIH Meeting in New Orleans, LA. This is always one of my favorite meetings and this year was no different. It was a great time to see old friends, meet new ones, and find out what everyone was studying. Furthermore this was a special JMIH meeting in that it was the centennail meeting for ASIH. This resulted in many talks/events highlighting past meetings and even some talks projecting into the future. I look forward to what the next hundred years holds for the ASIH.
Later on in the fall I was fortunate enough to receive the Schultz fund for vising the ichthyology collections at the USNM. This award is named after the late curator, Leonard P. Schultz, who was a very influential curator at the Smithsonian. I had never seen the collections before at the Smithsonian, and had a fantastic time looking at the fishes that I study there. I also was trained in taking x-rays by Sandra Raredon, who takes some of the best x-rays I have ever seen. While mine were no where near her quality, they still revealed really exciting information that I hope will get published sometime in the near future. I can't express enough for fortunate and grateful I am to the staff at the Smithsonian who made this trip possible. Particular thanks goes out to Dr. Lynne Parenti and Sandra Raredon.
After the Washington DC trip there was a flurry of public outreach events, starting the the 2016 LSU Ocean Commotion event that I help out at every year. The stagering amount of kids that come in from all over Louisiana for this event always catching me off guard, but each year it turns out great. This year was no exception. Several weeks after Ocean Commotion, the LSUMNS held another event for the Louisiana Master Naturalists group. These events consist of tours of all of the collections, as well as information sessions about the history and functions of the museum. I love leading these tours because the attendents are always extremely attentative and ask wonderful questions. Towards the end of November the LSUMNS fish lab was involved in another outreach event that is new to the LSUMNS this year – the Night at the Museum series. This was the second ever presentation for this series, which occurs every couple of months. The first ever presentation was given in August of this year by the curator of ornithology at the LSUMNS, Dr. Van Remsen. Van gave an excellent talk where he highlighted his favorite 10 birds in the collection. Unfortunately for our event, curator of ichthyology Dr. Prosanta Chakrabarty was not able to attend, so the lab decided to collectively pick our favorite 10 specimens in the collection. The event went extremely well, and in addition to the main presentation we had several side booths where other graduate students, and undergraduate students in our lab, presented special fishes. We also had a behind the scenes tour given by Fernando Alda. These events are fantastic to attend, and I highly encourage everyone to attend next years Night at the Museum series.
In addition to meetings and outreach events, 2016 ended with an opportunity for me to go out to the Middle East again. This was the third year in a row that I've traveled out to the Middle East, and my second time visiting the United Arab Emirates. I was invited out by Dr. Rima Jabado, who is working for the Environmental Agency in Abu Dhabi. The UAE has been conducting trawling surveys in the Arabian Gulf over the past year, which was bound to turn up some really interesting fishes because trawling is normally banned in the UAE, and many of the other Gulf countries. I was invited out to help them identify their fish, and also to help them set up a reference collection. There aren't too many reference collections that are maintained in the Gulf region, so this was spectacular opportunity to help in the creation of one. It was a very busy trip, but successful. In the end we processed over 500 specimens, including some very rare sepcies, which is a wonderful start to a collection.
After all of that for the later half of 2016, the year ended on a very good note for me. I received this years Outstanding Graduate Student Award at the LSUMNS, which was presented at our anual holiday party. To make things even better, I was notified right at the end of the year that my NSF DDIG has been funded. Receiving a DDIG has been a goal of mine for a long time, and I cannot express how happy I am to receive one.
I started 2017 by attending the International Biogeography Meeting in Tucson, AZ, which was a fun meeting for me to attend because Tucson is where I grew up. I had never been to one of these meetings before, and the talks were very different from the meetings that I usually attend, but it was good to see what other directions people are working in. Soon it will already be time for this summers meetings. Coming up is Evolution in Portland, OR, followed by ASIH in Austin, TX. It had been too long since my last post, I realize, so I'll do my best to keep this updated more frequently in the future.
This last week I visited Dr. Corinne Myers at the University of New Mexico to continue working on a collaboration we have started. Cori is a niche modeling expert, and while she focuses mainly on modeling paleo invertebrates, we have started a project together examining the mechanisms behind anti-tropical distributions in fishes, which is a central theme to my dissertation. The geology department at UNM has great facilities for us to use, and Albuquerque is always a fun place to visit. We managed to get a lot done on this project in a short amount of time, so hopefully in the near future I'll be posting more about it. For the meantime I'll leave you with a couple of screen shots of the project. Stay tuned for more.
Since my last post we have been very busy in our lab here at LSU with outreach and collecting events. Right after I got back from Panamá I participated in the 'Our Finned Friends' event at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum in downtown Baton Rouge. The event included a free pass for the maritime museum and a free tour of the USS Kidd. We set up an exhibit booth with a couple of things from our collection to show the visitors some of the remarkable fishes they can find in Louisiana. Families would stop by our booth after creating arts and crafts fishes and the booth next to ours, and see some fishes that they have never seen before. It was a great time, and if you ever find yourself in downtown Baton Rouge you should check out the memorial and museum. It's definitely a good place to spend an afternoon.
Not too long after that outreach event I found myself on another plane headed to Brazil with my advisor, Prosanta Chakrabarty. We had a two week long trip ahead of us, with the plan to spend one week in the field collecting samples on the Amazon, and one week in Guarujá at the 2015 Evolution meeting. Our first stop was Santarém, which is a city located where the Tapajós river intersects the Amazon. The plan was to help James Albert and his lab from University of Louisiana Lafayette collect knife fish samples (Gymnotiformes), among other things, for several projects they are working on. It was the wet season while we were there, and the water level on the river was extremely high. The first night we stayed at a hotel on the river, and the entire road in front of the hotel was flooded! The rest of the nights we slept in hammocks on a boat that we had hired to help us collect. Despite a sudden storm one night that sent the boat rocking, it was some of the best sleep I've had in a while. The collecting went well, and we got a lot of great samples which will eventually be deposited at the LSUMNS. We also got to see a lot of great wildlife while on the river too, including monkeys, a variety of toucans and other birds, and the infamous river dolphins. The area around Santarém is very cool, and I enjoyed walking around the city too. After collecting we headed back towards São Paulo, where we caught a bus that took us to Guarujá, which is a "sleepy" beach town just a couple of hours outside of the city. We spent the last week there walking up and down the beaches, checking out the local aquarium, and listening to great scientific talks at the Evolution meeting. Prosanta gave a poster presentation, and I gave a talk on some of my dissertation work, which were both well received. It was great to meet some new friends, and see how people are pushing the boundaries of science at the meeting.
After Brazil we have had a couple more outreach events here at the museum. The Louisiana Master Naturalists of the greater Baton Rouge chapter came by and got a very personal tour of the museum. Their tour included short presentations by all of the curators in the morning, followed by hands on experiences in all of the collections. While many of our tours at the museum are focused on younger school children, it was a great change to give tours to older adults who express an interest in Louisiana wildlife. Many already knew many of the local fishes we had in the collection, and they were all excited to see some of the more exotic specimens that our collections hold. They had excellent questions, and it was a great time. They have more tours planned in the future, so I can't wait to help show off our collections to more master naturalists next year!
The latest outreach event that we have done is the annual Ocean Commotion event that I have participated in the last two years. I absolutely love this event because schools from all over the greater Baton Rouge area come to LSU and learn about the coastal environment of their state. This year there were over 2,500 kids! As usual, we put out a variety of our strange deep sea fishes that the kids are always shocked to see. This year we decided to include a blob fish that we recently obtained from the University of Washington. It was amazing to see how many of the children already knew what the blob fish was, and how excited they were to see it in person. I really want to thank all of the people who organize Ocean Commotion every year, because it is one of the largest, and most exciting outreach events that I have ever participated in. I can't wait to help out for Ocean Commotion next year.
The month of May saw the LSU ichthyology lab collecting in drastically different places on the globe. Prosanta and I finished up our Middle East collection at the beginning of May, and shortly after I found myself traveling with Moises Bernal, University of Texas graduate student who is completing his research at the California Academy of Science, to his homeland of Panama. The trip was funded by the American Museum of Natural History Lerner Grey Grant and the LSU Museum of Natural Science, and while we collected a variety of species, our main goal was to collect the sawtail surgeonfish, Prionurus laticlavius, for one of my dissertation chapters. The hot and dry conditions we experienced in the Middle East had no resonance in the wet, humid, tropics of Central America. Our trip was brief, leaving us a limited number of sampling days for the Pacific coast of Panama. However, rough sea conditions arrived with us, resulting in the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) halting all marine operations for several days. Luckily the weather did stay too long, and with the hard work of STRI boat organizer Reinaldo Tapia and STRI dive safety officer Raul De Leon we got several days of diving through STRI at Isla Taboga, near the STRI Naos lab, and in Las Perlas Archipelago. To get back some of the days we lost due to weather, Moises and I decided to dive throughout the weekend and got in touch with Guillermo Schuttke at Coral Dreams dive shop on Contadora Island in Las Perlas. Guillermo was a tremendous help, and used his decades of experience in Las Perlas to help us find the fish we were looking for quickly. Overall it was a great trip, and I hope to return to Panama in the near future for more collections. Thanks to everyone who helped us get our fish.
During the last half of April this year Prosanta and I headed back for another trip to Kuwait. Last year we had visited LSU Museum associate Jim Bishop, who works at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), and brought back around 500 specimens for LSU that Jim had helped collect over the years. This year we were invited back out by KISR to teach an intensive short course on ichthyology for research scientists and government employees from the Arabian peninsula. The course was titled "Taxonomy and Identification of Fishes from the Arabian Gulf", and had around 20 students enrolled. Each day of class started with a lecture in the morning regarding systematic ichthyology, followed by an afternoon in lab where students got hands on experience identifying fishes that were caught in trawls earlier in the week. We showed the students how to differentiate between the common families in the area, and what to look for to determine the species they had. I taught a lecture on the geology and historical biogeography of the region, and Jim Bishop gave an excellent lecture on the history of ichthyology and collecting in the Arabian Gulf, which included him showing the class plates from his original prints of Forskal. It's not too often that you get to see original prints from a book that is several hundred years old, and everyone in the class was enthusiastic to see that. Overall the class went well, and in the future might be offered every several years. In addition, the specimens that were collected for the course were packed up and will be housed at the LSU Museum of Natural Science, further increasing our collection of fishes from the Arabian Gulf.
After the course concluded, Prosanta and I travelled to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates to visit with an acquaintance
of Jim's and collect more fishes. We met up with the lab of Dr. John Burt at New York University Abu Dhabi. John graciously showed us around town to the fish market and let us use his lab space for our work. The NYUAD campus is brand new, and was extremely nice. There are some species that you don't see in Kuwait that are found further south in the gulf by UAE, so it was good to get collections of these species too. While in UAE we also managed to take a side trip for a day to Dubai, where we got to go up the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. That was a real treat to see, and it's always good to have a day off in the field after working for a couple of weeks straight. Overall it was a very successful trip to the Middle East. It would not have been possible without the help of Jim Bishop, KISR, John Burt and his lab, and NYUAD. So a HUGE thanks goes out to those people. Hopefully we'll get to go out to this area of the world again in the near future.
It's that time of year again for LSU to host Ocean Commotion, which is an outreach event aimed at kids aged from kindergarden to high school. This is a great event where the kids get to walk around and interact with scientists and educators from all over the state, who teach them about the marine resources that Louisiana has. Just like last year I was fortunate enough to help represent the LSU Museum of Natural Science with fellow LSUMNS graduate student Valerie Derouen, and LSU Biology post doc Melissa DeBiasse. The theme of our booth was monsters from the ocean, and we got to show off some of the stranger fish specimens that we have in our collection. It was a great time filled with shocked faces from the kids when they saw fish that looked strange to them. I can't wait for next years LSU Ocean Commotion event.
Last month I was fortunate enough to go on another research cruise to the Gulf of Mexico with Dr. Darryl Felder and his lab from the University of Louisiana Lafayette. This trip was similar to our previous trips where we were using a custom made benthic skimmer to get deep sea crabs and fishes. Unlike previous trips, however, this was our most ambitious yet. We sampled from Louisiana all the way to the Straights of Florida, and also attempted to sample deeper than we ever have before, down to 3,425 meters! Sampling at those depths takes a lot of time and also comes with its whole suite of problems you must be cognizant of. Unfortunately our deepest samples didn't come up with much, as one snagged on an unmarked wreck and the current was too strong on another one for our skimmer to reach the bottom. However, we still got a ton of great samples from other sites that weren't in the 3,000m range, like the Chaunax suttkusi pictured above and the Steindachneria argentea below. Some of these samples are new representatives for our museum, and they will all be available through the Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science to any interested researchers. There were rumors that this was Darryl's last research cruise, but hopefully that isn't the case. In fact, I hope there are many more in the near future because they are always a great time. Thanks to Darryl, his lab, and all the people on the boat for making this last quick trip a great success.
About a week after getting back from my Kauai trip in the previous blog post my advisor, Prosanta Chakrabarty, and I were getting on another flight. Our destination for this trip: Kuwait. We had been personally invited by Jim Bishop, a scientist at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR), and also an LSU alum who has close ties with the LSU Museum of Natural Science. Jim is an excellent naturalist and has donated many specimens to the museum over the years and also visits whenever he is stateside, so when Jim invited us to visit and collect fish we couldn't say no! Our trip was quick, and started with Jim picking us up from the airport and graciously showing us around Kuwait city. We visited the fish markets (pictured above), collected specimens from beaches and mudflats, and also sorted through a lot of specimens that Jim has collected over the years during the process of other studies KISR has done. This included a great variety of species from all over Kuwait, including a couple specimens of Kuwait's only freshwater fish, Aphanius dispar. Jim also got us a behind the scenes tour of the Kuwait Aquarium at The Scientific Center where we got to see a lot of great fish and even a couple caracals. In the end it was an extremely productive trip where we got a great variety of fish. None of it would have been possible without the help of Jim Bishop, though, so a huge thanks goes out to him, and hopefully we will get to visit Kuwait again in the near future.
After Kuwait, it wasn't long until I was on the road again. This time I travelled to California where I did a mini road trip to look at some museum specimens for one of my dissertation projects. I visited three museum on my trip, starting with Scripps Institute of Oceanography, where I was lucky enough to visit the exact day that a giant school of anchovies (the largest in 30 years) was passing in front of the pier. This was an awesome sight to see. From there I drove up to San Francisco and visited the California Academy of Sciences, where I also got to catch up with some of my old lab members from the Rocha lab. I also managed to squeeze in a couple of kelp forest dives while I was in Northern California, which is a bit colder than the usual dives I do. From there I made my way back to southern California and made one last stop at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. Overall I got to examine more than enough samples of the Prionurus surgeonfishes that I was interested in, and it was a fun trip. A big thanks to Dr. Phil Hastings and H.J. Walker at Scripps, Dr. Luiz Rocha and David Catania at CAS, and Dr. Christine Thacker and Rick Feeney at LACM, for without all of their assistance and permission to look at the collections this trip would not have been possible. My summer travels ended with the 2014 JIMH meeting in Chattanooga, TN. There were a ton a great talks at this years meeting, and I'm excited to see some of the publications that will come out from them. In the end it was a busy, but extremely fun and productive summer, and I look forward to more traveling in the future.
Since April I have been traveling every couple of weeks, and have gone on two international collecting trips, and three domestic trips. The first trip of this busy traveling season was a collecting trip to Costa Rica with my fellow lab mate Caleb McMahan. Even though he studies freshwater fishes and I study marine fishes, a convenient choice of study species brought both of our attention to Costa Rica. We planned our trip to be short and productive, staying in Costa Rica for only one week. Both of our study species are found in the same general area, the Pacific northwest of Costa Rica in the province of Guanacaste, allowing us to go in and collect everything very quickly. We flew into the Liberia airport with no difficulty and met two graduate students from the University of Costa Rica named Arturo Angulo and Carlos Garita. Caleb had already collected with both Carlos and Arturo in previous field expeditions, and their knowledge of the region helped us both tremendously in finding our fishes. We rented a 4x4 Toyota Hilux, and were soon off to our first field site. Caleb was interested in finding a rare livebearer, Poeciliopsis santaelena, which is only found in the Rio Potrero Grande in el Parque National Santa Rosa. April is the end of the dry season in that part of Costa Rica, and unfortunately when we first got there we were told that we might not be able to sample in the park because of several wildfires in the area. Luckily, none of the wildfires ended up being close to our collection site, and after meeting with several park employees and the director we had a personal escort through the park to our collecting site. During the dry season the river doesn't flow at all, and water is restricted to isolated pools in most areas of the river drainage. This made collecting quite simple for this species. Also the Toyota Hilux came in handy during this part of the trip, as there are not many roads in the national park and we had to go off roading the entire day to get to our field sites. We started sampling near the headwaters of the Rio Potrero Grande, and eventually made our way down to where it met the Pacific, collecting along the way (the picture above was taken close to where the river meets the Pacific Ocean). Not only was Caleb successful in getting his fish, but we also managed to document all of the other species that were found with it, and even film some swimming together in the deeper pools.
On the marine side of things I was in search of two sawtail surgeonfishes, Prionurus laticlavius and Prionurus punctatus, which overlap in their distributions in northwestern Costa Rica. After we collected Caleb's fish in the national park, and spent a couple days collecting in other nearby freshwater streams, we spent a couple of days collecting along some of the rocky beaches of Costa Rica. Luckily we were able to get both species I was after without too much difficulty and even managed to get some specimens off shore with the help of a local to the area, Minor Lara Victor, who has helped researchers in the past. In the end it was an extremely productive trip due to all the help we had from Arturo and Carlos, and also all the staff at the Parque National Santa Rosa.
Only a few short weeks after Costa Rica I was traveling again in search of a different fish. The destination for this trip was Kauai, with a very brief stop in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona right before the trip. While in Tucson I managed to stop by and visit Dr. Peter Reinthal and the ichthyology collection at the University of Arizona, my alma mater. It was great to be able to catch up with my former ichthyology professor and to get a chance to examine the Prionurus specimens they have in the collection. After that brief stop in Tucson I travelled on over the Pacific to Kauai. For this trip I was after Microcanthus strigatus, more commonly known as the stripey. For my dissertation I am examining anti-tropical distributions in reef fishes (fish found on both sides of the tropics, but not within), and the stripey is extremely interesting because this species is only found in four main areas: Hawaii, Japan, and both sides of Australia. It is not very common for a single species to have an anti-tropical distribution (usually it results in two sister species distributed on both sides of the tropics), so the stripey is a great opportunity to examine this distribution within one species. Unfortunately, this trip did not go as well as the Costa Rica trip. On the very first day of being in Kauai I was able to find the stripey in a small protected pool at Lydgate State Park (see picture). There is no fishing allowed in this pool, however, but it was nice to see the fish I was after on the first day. I spent the remainder of my trip trying to find this fish in a location where I could collect it, but was unable to find it for the entire trip. Field work doesn't always go as planned, and sometimes you just have to play the cards you're dealt. However, I cannot complain about these two trips, because successful or not, both were extremely fun trips. I am sure that I will be searching for the stripey again sometime in the near future.