Somewhere after Richmond, VA, the sun sets and traffic on the I-95 begins moving better. At long last. The four people in the burgundy Dogde Challenger have all already cycled through their driving shifts once and dare an impatient glance at the time left. Still more than 8 hours. More than 8 hours to reach this very special location at the Atlantic coast – Jekyll Island, Georgia. In the trunk of the car a jumble of coolers and a beach seine, buckets, air pumps, and hoses topped with the crumpled witnesses of roadside dining. This is no ordinary road trip.
We, that are Aryn and Nicholas from the Therkildsen lab of Conservation Genetics lab at Cornell University and James and Hannes from the Fish Ecology Lab here at UConn; we went on this road trip to catch live, spawning ripe Atlantic silversides from the southern edge of the species distribution. We then intended to bring these fish back to UConn alive, sample another population from the south shore of Long Island (Patchogue, NY) and produce genetic crosses of these populations.
The broad goal of our expanding collaborative efforts with our geneticist friends from Cornell is the creation of an annotated genome of this species, which will be an important milestone in deepening or understanding of the molecular and genetic responses of organisms to local selection regimes and marine climate change. Given the Atlantic silverside’s ecological importance as an abundant forage fish along the American east coast and it’s rich history as a model organism in evolutionary and ecological studies, the annotated genome is the next logical step.
Even at hindsight, the plan still seems a little insane. But it worked. We indeed managed to catch spawning silversides at the Georgia site and then transported them immediately back to our Rankin Lab, which involved another 17 hours of driving back. After securing samples from Patchogue, we indeed managed to cross single parents from each site to produce full-sib crosses that will later be used to produce what geneticist call a linkage map. Other across and within-population crosses will be used to study gene expression at two different temperatures or raise adults for producing an F2 generation.
The silverside larvae are currently well, feeding, and growing up nicely. We all cross fingers for this enterprise to end in good samples and a step forward for genetic studies on a marine fish.
The Jekyll crew Hannes, James, Nicholas, and Aryn (from left to right)
Andrew's Beach on Jekyll Island, GA, on 11 May 2017.
On the morning of 11 May 2017, our old beach seine is drying on the beach park of Jekyll Island, GA. After its last successful trip, the 9 year old gear has now been retired.
The daunting view of the road trip on 10 - 12 May 2017. 34h of driving and way too little sleep in just two days.
James Harrington carefully replacing water in the transport coolers for the fish. All fish survived the transport.
A newly hatched silverside larvae with a twist. It's a haploid specimen, produced by fertilizing eggs with UV-treated sperm.
Adult silversides from Jekyll Island, GA, swimming in our holding tanks in the Rankin Lab at UConn
NOAA sanctuaries just published a little blurb online, introducing sand lance and it’s importance to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, including a small section on the current research efforts funded by NOAA Regional SeaGrant.
“To that end, the team is collaborating with scientists from the University of Connecticut (UConn). UConn study members transport live-caught sanctuary sand lance to their lab, where further generations of sand lance are raised. The resulting larval sand lance are raised in high-tech rearing facilities that can be adjusted to mimic future ocean conditions.”
4th time’s the charm: sampling spawning ripe sand lance on Stellwagen Bank
Early morning on 2 December 2016, we left Scituate, MA, for the forth time this year, heading towards Stellwagen Bank in search of spawning ripe Northern sand lance (Ammodytes dubius), a winter spawning forage fish of great importance to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and the object of latest research efforts. While during the last three cruises in late October and November, we saw a progression of ripening in the specimens, up to now we didn’t actually find spawning ripe individuals. Today, though, things are different, and when the first sand lance appear in our beam trawl, we immediately know that today we’ve been at the right time and at the right place.
It seemed an ambitious dream not too long ago, but now we’re happy report that we’ve started an experiment on sand lance embryos in our lab. Thanks to Chris Murray, David Wiley, Mike Thompson, captain Steve and his deckhand Matt for the successful trip!
Check out some footage of the trip and the beam trawl operation on board of captain Steve’s fishing vessel
On 27 October 2016, Hannes, Chris and Julie joined researchers from the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (David Wiley, Anne-Marie Runfola, Brad Cabe, Michael Thompson), the USGS (Page Valentine, Dann Blackwood) and the crew of the R/V Auk (Dave Slocum, James Stasinos) to embark on our first of five total sampling missions in this enigmatic marine habitat. Our goal, catching live Northern sand lance, Ammodytes dubius, the so critical forage fish species that is referred to as the “backbone of the sanctuary”, because all kinds of marine predators from whales to tuna to seabirds gather on the bank to feast on them.
Our renewed efforts are part of our recently funded NOAA Regional SeaGrant Project to investigate the effects of ocean warming, acidification and low oxygen on sand lance early life stages.
As before, we first started by deploying a Seaboss sediment grab, which allows our colleagues from the USGS to characterize sediment types in association with the occurrence of sand lance. In addition, however, we brought a small beam trawl along for the first time to find out, whether we could more effectively catch sand lance and then transport them live to our seawater facility at UConn Avery Point. We are happy report that the efforts by all have paid off and that there are now ~ 180 adult ripening sand lance swimming in our tanks. Thanks all, see you again for the second survey in a few weeks!
Check out the video below, made from clips of no less than five different GoPro’s (if you listen carefully, around 2:40 into the clip you’ll hear the singing of some nearby humpback whales):
Seasonal dynamics in Atlantic Silverside abundance, spawning, and offspring sensitivity to low pH and oxygen
The Summer Undergraduate Research Fund (SURF) offers a summer stipend of up to $3,500 + $500 research. The Evolutionary Fish Ecology Lab offers a variety of suitable topics for undergraduates to work on.
Deadline for applications is January, 20th 2017.
Early mornings, long days, lots of sorting and measuring, short breaks for food, and almost no time to sit for much of the day. That’s science, and that’s exactly what it was like aboard the R/V Gloria Michelle during my four-day stint. Our original hope was to sample Cape Cod Bay and the backside of the Cape, but due to weather concerns we ended up in Cape Cod bay for two days, and then the third was in Buzzards Bay and the Fourth in Outer Vineyard Sound. Why was I aboard this research vessel? Twice each year the State of Massachusetts sends out surveyors and volunteers to sample the benthic fish and invertebrate population. They sample multiple depth strata, and the entirety of Massachusetts coastal waters (by way of a sampling grid). Our lab was particularly hopeful of getting Sandlance (Ammodytes dubius), which I would have sampled for GSI and histology. Sadly, since we didn’t make it out to the backside of the Cape we saw no Sandlance, but we did see plenty of cool fish! Some highlights? A spiny dogfish (my first on this coast), a 4.5’ smooth dogfish, a 48cm Striped Sea Robin (the largest I’ve ever seen!), a few Red Cornetfish, a handful of Atlantic Moonfish, and a few dwarf goat fish. I got a crash course in otolith removal from Haddock, Winter Flounder, Fluke, and Kingfish, as well as learned how to ID many fish I’ve never seen before. It was a wonderful trip, and something I highly recommend every Biological Oceanographer (or fish biologist) volunteer for!
On 15 September 2016, the bottom trawl net is emptied onto the R/V Gloria Michelle for the crew to sort, weigh and measure the catch
The R/V Gloria Michelle before leaving port on 14 September for the 2nd leg of the fall 2016 Massachusetts Bottom Trawl survey
On 16 September 2016, Jake measures skates on board the R/V Gloria Michelle
NOAA and Sea Grant fund $800,000 in research to understand effects of ocean changes on iconic Northeast marine life
The Ocean & Atmospheric Research program (OAR) of NOAA and Sea Grant just announced the winners of its most recent round of research funding to better understand the consequences of ocean warming and acidification on key marine resources in U.S. Northeast coastal waters. We are happy and proud that our proposed work on the climate sensitivity of Northern sand lance (Ammodytes dubius) was one of the four projects selected for funding. This is particularly good news for Chris Murray, who for his PhD can now expand his experimental rearing expertise to this important species.
This work will be conducted collaboratively with colleagues from NOAA (David Wiley), USGS (Page Valentine), Boston University (Les Kaufman), and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Scott Gallager).
You can read the official announcement as it appeared on 6 September 2016 on NOAA’s News site.
On 19-20 July, our lab temporarily transformed into a genetics laboratory, as Nina Therkildsen and her post-doc Aryn Pierce Wilder visited us from Cornell University (Therkildsen Lab). Their lab also shares the fascination for the Atlantic silverside as a model organism and has set out to eventually assemble the fully annotated genome of this species.
During their visit, they could accompany us for our bi-weekly beach seining in Mumford Cove, where we collected juveniles born this year as well as the last few spawning ripe adults at the end of the season. It was a great summer morning and fun for everyone.
In the lab, Nina and Aryn went on dissecting different types of tissue (muscle, liver, spleen, gills, fins) from a few specimens destined for genetic analyses. In the Rankin lab, we tried a novel procedure on this species, i.e., making haploid embryos by fertilizing strip-spawned eggs with sperm that was UV-radiated before.
Thank you for visiting, Nina and Aryn, and we will see you back in fall, when Nina will give a Friday seminar on 11 November 2016. We’re looking forward to what she will have to report!
On 20 July 2016, Aryn prepares samples of silverside tissues for genetic analyses
On 19 July 2016, Nina dissects different tissues from adult silvesides for genetic analyses
On 19 July 2016, Nina and Hannes pull the first of two seines in Mumford Cove
On 19 July 2016, our lab took Nina and Aryn beach seining (left to right: Chris, Aryn, Wes, Hannes)
Juvenile and adult silverside captured by beach seine in Mumford Cove on 19 July 2016
Atlantic silversides from Mumford Cover swimming in a bucket
Hannes placing a bucket with water to collect silversides live
Some eggs could be fertilized with sperm that was UV-radiated before in order to make haploid embryos
Chris and Aryn prepare to take the beach seine to the water
On 19 July 2016, Chris and Aryn pull the beach seine ashore, while Wes and Hannes prepare for retrieving the bag
A careful squeeze of a silversides belly reveals whether a male or female is in spawning condition
On a balmy July 1st the lab returned to Mumford Cove excited at the prospect of seining without dawning waders for the first time this year! Chris and Rafeed conducted the first seine while Jake remained on the beach and photographed the experience. On the second seine, Hannes accompanied Rafeed while Chris weighed the first sample. As expected the species richness and diversity of the seines were less than that of previous excursions. The abundance of silversides was down, while their sex ratio was skewed towards females. Despite a decline in mature silversides, several juveniles were caught, indicating a budding cohort. Perhaps more young silversides will find their way into the lab’s net in the future. Only time will tell!
On 6 June 2016, Charlie, Jake and Hannes set course again to the nearby Mumford Cove to retrieve our pH/oxygen/temperature probe (Eureka Manta Sub2) after over six weeks of deployment. Thanks to a newly purchased larger battery-pack that extend the probe-life to more than twice its previous time, the probe continuously recorded conditions every 30 minutes, thereby extending our time series to now over 14 months.
Plus, it was a great, balmy day on the water, and working in the field beats the desk hands down 😉
Check out a selection of the great pics Jake took during the trip below:
Charlie Woods helps Hannes retrieving the pH/DO/temp probe beneath the subsurface float after being deployed for six weeks
A panorama of Mumford Cove from the South on 6 June 2016. To left, the cove is part of the Bluff Point State Park.
The new battery pack allows the probe to continuously record data every 30 minutes for over six weeks
Hannes preparing a small bongo net to sample copepods and fish larvae on 6 June 2016 in Mumford Cove, CT
The new probe with a copper gauze protector against biofouling is getting deployed