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.
Come on out and see me give my entrance seminar to the department today from 1-2pm in the LSB Annex auditorium. I will be talking about what I plan to do for my dissertation, and showing a lot of cool fish pictures.
This last weekend was our annual LSU Museum of Natural Science fishing trip. Each year the curators and graduate students all head down to Grand Isle, Louisiana where we rent a cabin for the weekend. These trips are always relaxing and everyone has a lot of fun. Many of the curators bring their boats down, and everyone goes fishing along the marshes in search of redfish (Sciaenops ocellatus), southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma), and speckled trout (Cynoscion nebulosus). Although it was extremely windy on Friday, the weather behaved all day Saturday and Sunday and our catch was good. We feasted like kings on Saturday night on a large haul of redfish, which helped distract us from the LSU Alabama football game that night. I can only hope that the fishing is just as good next year, and I can't wait for the trip to roll around again.
For more than a decade, LSU has put on the Ocean Commotion event. What is Ocean Commotion, you ask? Why, it's only the most hands on, interactive, and thrilling way for local Louisiana children to learn about their coasts. This year there were over 3,000 children, varying in age from kindergarteners to high school students who came from all over the state. These students spend the day walking around and visiting more than 60 booths which have displays or hands on activities aimed at teaching these kids something about the coasts in their state. Luckily, the ichthyology lab was able to participate this year, and brought out interesting fishes from all over the world that the students could touch and see. The vast majority of them had never seen most of the fish we brought out, and never imagined how diverse fish were. While some children were hesitant to touch some of the fish, our booth was completely packed all day long, and we always had intriguing questions and comments. A huge thanks goes out to Louisiana Sea Grant Education Coordinator, Dianne Lindstedt, for organizing this event. I can't wait to help participate in next years Ocean Commotion.
Literally two days after getting back from Japan this summer I boarded another flight to Albuquerque, NM for this years Joint Meeting of Ichthyology and Herpetology. The conference was hosted by the University of New Mexico and the Museum of Southwestern Biology, and was held at the Albuquerque Convention Center. It was interesting to see back to back how this meeting differed from the Indo-Pacific Fish Conference in Okinawa that I attended just a couple weeks before. While the two meetings had completely different feels to them, each was excellent in their own way, and both were a lot of fun.
Valerie, Rachel Arnold and Ted Pietsch
The entire Chakrabarty lab attended the meeting this year. Both Prosanta and I gave similar talks to those that we gave in Japan just a couple weeks beforehand. My lab mate Caleb McMahan gave a talk on Heroini cichlids, and Valerie Derouen (a masters student in our lab) gave a poster presentation on the phylogeny of batfishes (Ogcocephalidae). All of our talks and poster presentations went well, and it was great to catch up with old friends and see what people are working on. A big thanks goes out to the meeting chair, Tom Turner, the planning committee, and the event coordinator, Heide Burke, for all of their hard work in planning and organizing this years meeting. I look forward to next years ASIH meeting in Chattanooga, TN!
This summer Prosanta and I decided we needed to cross the Pacific yet again. The destination this time was Okinawa, Japan for the 9th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference (http://www.fish-isj.jp/9ipfc/). Both Prosanta and I gave talks at this meeting; Prosanta talking about the most recent results of our Ostariophysi phylogeny using ultra conserved elements (UCEs), and I gave a talk about the surgeonfish genus Prionurus which I'm working on. This trip could not have possibly gone better, both in terms of the meeting, and in terms of the host country. The level of talks at this meeting was stunning, and I look forward to seeing all of these studies published in the near future. The talks were both inspirational and extremely motivating for my own research, and it was good to see where the field is progressing and what new approaches people are taking. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits throughout the whole meeting and there were many nights of meeting up with colleagues over dinner and drinks, discussing future projects, collaborations, and exploring Okinawa. After how this meeting went, I cannot wait until the next IPFC, which has been decided to be held in Tahitit (who can resist a trip to Tahiti).
Amphiprion frenatus. Photo by Alejandro Perez-Matus
In addition to the meeting I managed to find some time to travel around Okinawa and the rest of Japan. The very first day after arriving I was luckily able to squeeze in a day of diving in Okinawa with my old lab mate Moisés Bernal, Amanda Ackiss from Old Dominion, Alejandro Perez-Matus from the Coastal Marine Research Station of the Catholic University of Chile, and Giacomo Bernardi and his PhD student Kim Tenggardjaja from UC Santa Cruz. It was a fun day of diving, where Giacomo later tallied up more than 100 fishes that we saw throughout the day. I also got to sample some notorious Okinawan foods throughout the trip such as awamori, Okinawa soba noodles, the local pork and the infamous taco rice.
Two men examining some bluefin before the auction
After the conference there seemed to be a migration of many scientists to Tokyo to explore the many cultural differences between mainland Japan and the Ryuku Islands. While in Tokyo Prosanta and I explored the different districts, ate a lot of ramen, and also went to the Tsukiji fish market to collect some fish for the LSU museum. We managed to wake up extremely early to see the bluefin tuna auction, followed by breakfast at the market before scouring through the fish they had. Overall we managed to collect some fishes that we did not have in our collection, as well as tissue many other fishes for future studies. Prosanta had to then leave and I decided to spend my last couple of days in Japan traveling to the island of Hachijo-jima, which is a 12 hour ferry ride off of Tokyo. While on this island I got to do more diving (in much colder water this time), where I got to see representatives from all the main groups that I've studied in the past. The visibility was extremely good, and the dives were absolutely fantastic. While on this island I also got to relax after diving with a traditional japanese onsen (natural hot springs that bathing houses are built around). This is highly recommended after a day of diving in cold water. After this I had another 12 hour ferry ride back to Tokyo, followed directly by a 13 hour flight back to the states (after one extra night of getting in some of my favorite foods in Tokyo). Overall I could not have asked for a better trip. Japan is an amazing country, and I will certainly be going back in the future to explore more, and hopefully dive more to see their wonderful fishes.
Over the winter holidays I spent my time in my hometown of Tucson, Arizona. One of my favorite places to show people who have never been to Tucson before is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum, which I consider more of a zoo, highlights local desert animals and how they have adapted to living in the Sonoran Desert, and every exhibit is very well thought out and executed very tastefully. This is not exactly the type of museum you would expect to see many fish at, let alone marine fish. As your calendars switched over to 2013, though, the Desert Museum opened their first new exhibit in over a decade: the Warden Aquarium. This aquarium not only showcases local Arizona native freshwater fishes that are threatened and endangered, but also has a large marine component including many reef fishes from the Gulf of California and other parts of Mexico, especially Cabo Pulmo. I was extremely excited to see this new exhibit, and very happy to see the Mexican fishes present, because Arizona is in the perfect location for collaborative studies on Gulf of California fishes (the closest beach to Tucson is on the Gulf of California in Mexico, not San Diego as many assume). Unfortunately I only had my phone on me to take pictures so you'll have to deal with dark photos here. The exhibit also educates the public on marine conservation issues, and freshwater desert fish conservation. Overall it was a great exhibit, and just another reason to visit this amazing museum if you're ever in Tucson.
The crew sorting samples from the benthic skimmer
This past weekend I managed to fit in a quick sampling trip out on the Gulf of Mexico with Darryl Felder and his lab from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. This trip was designed to make up for some days that we lost on an earlier trip this year due to hurricane Isaac's path. Fortunately for us, this trip wasn't full of the suspense of an impending hurricane, so we were able to sample at all of our planned field sites. We left from LUMCON on Wednesday night, and traveled through the night to our first field site. We sampled at this site, and all subsequent sites, using a benthic skimmer at depths up to 1,800m. This always results in the collection of unique and interesting specimens that don't get seen often. These trips also serve the purpose to monitor species diversity and abundance at sites that could have been impacted by the deepwater horizon oil spill. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to serve on several of these trips in the near future, as they are always a fun time.
Back in July, Prosanta Chakrabarty and I were invited to participate in the comprehensive marine biodiversity workshop in Singapore hosted by the National University of Singapore. This workshop was to be a collaborative effort, bringing in professionals from all over the world to examine everything from fishes and shrimps, to marine mites and nematodes. After figuring out all of the logistics I found myself boarding an extremely long flight to Singapore last month. Although I wasn't exactly sure what to expect out of the workshop, I can happily say that I think the workshop was overall a success, as we found and cataloged a large variety of species along the Singapore coastline.
Prosanta at Chek Jawa
The focus of this particular workshop was the Johore Strait, which borders the northern part of Singapore and separates it from Malaysia. While most of Singapore is a developed metropolis, we were fortunate enough to stay on the island of Palau Ubin for the duration of the workshop, which is a smaller, forested island with little development. On this island there is an Outward Bound School that graciously let us use their dorms and provided us with adequate lab space, and also fed us during the trip. It was also the perfect launching point for all of our excursions around Palau Ubin and the coastline of of Singapore adjacent to the Johore Strait.
The fish people involved on this trip included myself and Prosanta Chakrabarty from LSU, goby expert Helen Larson from Australia, and Ng Heok Hee, Tan Heok Hui, Zeehan Jaafar and Kelvin Lim Kok Peng from the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research at NUS. Throughout the trip we sampled in mudflats, mangroves, sandy beaches, seagrass beds, and also trawled and dredged the deeper parts of the strait on the RV Galaxea to cover as many habitat types as we could.
Hollow-cheeked stonefish (Synanceja horrida). Photo credit Arthur Anker
Each day we would split up and sample different sites to maximize our coverage of the area. Everyone would then later meet up in the lab to identify and sort the samples. Samples were then photographed by shrimp expert and macro photographer Arthur Anker (check out his Flickr account), tissued and preserved for museum collections either at Raffles, in Australia, or here at LSU. Overall we collected over 200 different fish species and added approximately 600 tissue samples to our LSU collection. I cannot thank enough all of the amazing people that made this trip possible, and would like to extend my thanks to all of the organizers, volunteers, and other workshop participants that helped me during this excursion. Hopefully one day soon I'll be able to re-visit Singapore and explore the surrounding oceans again for more fish.
Prosanta and I are headed off to Singapore at the end of this week. We will be collecting as part of the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey of Singapore workshop, and plan to spend around 3 weeks total over there. Stay posted for plenty of pictures and stories when I get back at the beginning of November.