The LSUMNS Ichthyology Collection made the front page of LSU's 'The Pursuit' magazine with stunning cleared and stained fishes from Louisiana's coasts. The article in the magazine focuses on the intertwining cultures of art and science and highlights ichthyology postdoc Brandon Ballengée, who combines these two fields in a unique way to engage the public. In addition to an interview with Brandon, there are pictures of his work, as well as images showing a public outreach event last year in Grand Isle, LA. Our own star undergraduate, Link Morgan, even got his own picture in the magazine showing off a fish that he had personally cleared and stained. Great work from Brandon, and all who were involved. If you're on campus, go check out a copy and learn a little bit more about what we do, or stop by the museum and see some of the cleared and stained fishes in our collection!
Members from the Chakrabarty lab attended two main meetings this summer to give presentations on the research we've been doing this past year. Fernando Alda and I started off the summer by attending the Evolution meeting in Portland, OR, from June 23rd to the 27th. Right before that meeting, though, I was able to attend a BAMM workshop led by Dan Rabosky at the Oregon State Campus in Corvallis. The workshop was an immersive two days event, but I walked away with a greater understanding the theory, math, and implementation of BAMM (and other packages, like FISSE). Local host, Brian Sidlauskas, also managed to give some of us a quick tour of the Oregon State Ichthyology Collection as well, which was a real treat. Thanks to Dan, Brian, and all of the others that made that workshop possible. After leaving Corvallis, I headed back up to Portland for the meeting. There were a lot of LSU students, alumni, and faculty at the meeting, and it was great to see everyone give talks and to catch up with old friends. Strangely, there was a Walking Dead event going on at the convention center concurrently, and the center was filled with a strange mixture of scientists, and people dressed up as zombies, Walking Dead characters, or random characters from a number of other series. No zombies interrupted any talks, but it was difficult to tell apart scientists from zombies at times... Evolution is always a good meeting, full of inspiring talks and great people. This meeting was no different, and Portland is a great place to visit, with a lot of good bars, restaurants, and things to do. Thanks to all of the organizers of the meeting for pulling off another great meeting.
Not too long after the Portland meeting, Fernando and I found ourselves at another meeting, this time joined by the entirety of the Chakrabarty lab (AJ Turner, Diego Elias, and Pam Hart). The meeting was the JMIH 2017 annual meeting in Austin, TX, commonly referred to as the ichs and herps meeting in near-Austin, TX. This was because the meeting was in the very northern reaches of the city, and quite far from downtown Austin. Despite this, the meeting was still a blast and there were still enough nearby restaurants and bars to keep people busy and happy. I was blown away by many of the student talks at this meeting, which were the highest caliber I've seen yet. So many good studies, with fantastic visuals provided by the wide-spread adoption of CT scans that many people are doing now. It even got a genomics guy like me excited for fish morphology. Overall it was a busy summer, but a lot of fun. I still have an upcoming meeting this October in Tahiti, so stay tuned for a posting on that.
Over the past three years, my advisor, Prosanta Chakrabarty, and I have traveled to the Middle East to sample fishes from the Persian Gulf (also called the Arabian Gulf there). We have visited Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates twice each and have always had a good time on these trips meeting new friends and learning new fishes. These trips began at the invite of LSU museum associate Jim Bishop, who works at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR). Jim has always been the most gracious host, and KISR has provided excellent facilities for us when we visit Kuwait. During our last visit to Kuwait in 2015, Jim, Prosanta, and I were discussing places we've been, field work we've done, and exchanges funny field stories. While we were talking we began to realize some common themes in the places we've been and experiences we had, and as we talked more we came up with some strange similarities (and differences) between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. These two seas were created by the same geological events, but are quite distinct. However, it was when we were discussing this that I began to relate our discussion to field experiences in the Gulf of California that I had as an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona. There are some striking similarities between the Gulf of California; some aspects were more similar to the Red Sea, but certain areas were complementary to the Persian Gulf (especially the northern regions). This eventually led to a publication comparing the marine biodiversity of these three seas that was recently published in the journal Marine Biodiversity. This publication wouldn't have been possible without the initial invitation out to Kuwait by Jim, or without the hard working efforts of my co-authors, including an undergraduate in our lab, Link Morgan, who gathered the majority of the data for this study. It is always a pleasure to publish with friends, and this publication will always remind me of our visits to the Middle East. If you're interested in the article, please click the link below, and if you have any questions or don't have access to the article please don't hesitate to send me an email. Enjoy!
A quantitative and statistical biological comparison of three semi-enclose seas: the Red Sea, the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, and the Gulf of California
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.