Research News

[Field work] To Georgia and back in 48h – a special road trip for science

By H.B.

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.

[Field work] Our sand lance research in the news

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.”

Sandlance laughing gull
Seabirds, sharks, seals, whales and more rely on sand lance as a food source. Here, a laughing gull munches one of these eel-like fish. Photo: Peter Flood

The entire article can be accessed by clicking on the link below
http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/news/jan17/sand-lance-stellwagen-bank.html

[Field work] Sand lance spawning season has started

4th time’s the charm: sampling spawning ripe sand lance on Stellwagen Bank

scituate-sunrise
On 2 Dec 2016, the sun rises over Scituate, MA, harbor and the fishing trawler that will take us to Stellwagen Bank this time.
sb-chris-trawler
On 2 Dec 2016, Chris waits for the action to start, while the trawler is leaving Scituate Harbor
sandlance embryos
Sandlance embryos, 24h after fertilization. The embryo stage in this species can be up to two months!
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!
scituate-panorama-sunrise
Early morning low tide at Scituate Harbor on 2 Dec 2016. The calm is deceiving; outside of the harbor the sea is pretty rough

Check out some footage of the trip and the beam trawl operation on board of captain Steve’s fishing vessel

[Field work] Catching sand lance on Stellwagen Bank

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):



[New publication] Long-term growth consequences of acidification in Atlantic silversides

October 10th 2016 was a special day for our still young lab here at the University of Connecticut, Today, the ICES Journal of Marine Science published the paper of Chris Murray et al., which is the first of hopefully many publications of our experimental findings originating out of our new laboratory facility here at UConn Avery Point.
Chris and his co-authors report on a large-scale, quantitative rearing experiment on Atlantic silversides eggs, larvae and juveniles under contrasting CO2 conditions that took place between May – September 2015. This novel experiment was designed to address three critical issues lacking in previous ocean acidification research on fish. First, the study spanned several ontogenetic stages. Second, it used very large numbers of individuals to robustly characterize not just potential shifts in mean responses, but also changes in the distribution of length, weight, and condition factor. Third, it provided food at standardized, non-excess levels to prevent that potential metabolic costs of high CO2 exposure could be compensated by survivors simply by eating more food.
Overall the study demonstrated seemingly small but significant growth reductions due to high CO2 and identified a small number of fatty acids that were of significantly different concentrations in high vs. control juveniles.

murray-etal-ijms2016_fig3
Distributions of condition factor per 2mm TL interval for juvenile M.menidia reared for 122dph at control (a) and high CO2 conditions (b). Thick and thin black lines correspond to the 10th/90th and 25th/75th percentiles, respectively, while the red line depicts the median. Data below the 10th and above the 90th percentiles are depicted by black dots. Underlying grey bars show relative frequencies for each 2 mm TL class. Black and grey numbers correspond to numbers of individuals measured for both TL and wW, or for TL only, respectively.
murray-etal-ijms2016_fig4
Cumulative frequency distributions of (a) total length (TL) and (b) wet weight (wW), in juvenile M. menidia reared for 122 dph at control and high CO2 conditions.


Murray, C.S.*, Fuiman, L., and Baumann, H. (2016)
Consequences of elevated CO2 exposure across multiple life stages in a coastal forage fish.
ICES Journal of Marine Science (published online 10 Oct 2016)

[Lab news] Jake participates in the fall 2016 Massachusetts Bottom Trawl Survey

People_04
By Jacob Snyder
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!

[Lab news] Welcome to the team, Julie Pringle!

julie-pringle
Julie Pringle
In August 2016, Julie Pringle became the latest member of our lab by pursuing a Masters degree in Marine Science. Prior to coming to Avery Point, Julie graduated from Tufts University in 2014 and was a technician in the larval fish ecology lab of Joel Llopiz at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. At WHOI, she studied the trophodynamics of small pelagic fishes in the Western Atlantic. She will continue to work with forage fishes as a graduate student, investigating the growth and selective survival in Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia), using otolith microstructure analysis in combination with oceanographic data of our field site in Mumford Cove, CT.


Welcome to team the Julie, it’s great to have you.

NOAA announces funding for our research on sand lance


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.


Chris RV Auk Sediment grab
Chris Murray checking for sand lance caught by the sediment grab. RV Auk (Photo credit: Jacob Snyder)

[Field work] Extended monitoring in Mumford Cove!

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:


  • New Eureka Probe
    The new probe with a copper gauze protector against biofouling is getting deployed

[Talk] Chris & Jake present at the Feng Graduate Research Colloquium


On 12 May 2016, the Department of Marine Science hosted it’s 11th Biennial Feng Graduate Research Colloquium, during which graduate students of the department traditionally present findings of their thesis research and/or give a preview of their future plans.

This year, Chris presented the results of last years study on long-term changes in growth distributions in Atlantic silversides exposed to high CO2 conditions, whereas Jake presented a poster outlining his thesis research on long-term environmental and biological data collected by Project Oceanology.

In addition, Jake took his poster ‘on the road’ already and presented it at the 16th Long Island Sound Research Conference (13 May, Bridgeport, CT), while Chris will give his talk again at the 40th Larval Fish Conference in June 2016 (17-23 June, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, Solomons MD).


Murray et al Feng LFC talk


Jake poster