[Lab news] The old swim flume coming back to life

4 April 2018. Today, Adelle Molina and Teresa Schwemmer from the Nye Lab at Stony Brook University visited us with a bunch of respirometry equipment in tow. We were trying to find out how to measure critical swimming speeds and oxygen consumption on individual silverside juveniles. This information, along with other individual traits such as growth, lipid content, and vertebral number will later be used in our new NSF-project examining the genetic underpinnings of local adaptation in this species.
One crucial piece of equipment to do this work is a swimming chamber, also called swim flume. The one we will use is almost 20 years old and has already been used for silverside work more than a decade ago. After a long odyssey through several labs and institutions in the US, we finally got hold of it again, gave it some serious TLC and now hope to resurrect it. Thanks to our pro’s from Stony Brook, the first tests were promising today! Thank you Adelle and Teresa.

Menidia swimming
A ~ 3 cm juvenile silverside swimming against the induced current in the swim tunnel
Swim chamber
An old lady, but still shiny and good to go!
Adelle and Teresa in the Rankin Lab

[New publication] No CO2 effects on silverside starvation

31 March 2018. We’re happy to announce that Marine Biology just published our latest study examining the starvation tolerance of silverside larvae and juveniles at contrasting CO2 conditions. We compiled observations from five separate experiments spanning different years, laboratories, temperatures, life stages, and CO2 levels. Contrary to expectation, we found that starvation rates were largely independent of the CO2 environment in this fish species.

One major set of data was produced by Elle Parks as part of her Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) in summer 2017. Well done, everybody!

Hannes shows Elle Parks (REU 2017), how individual screen with enumerated embryos are suspended into the replicate rearing containers. (Photo: Peter Morenus, UConn)
On 9 June, Elle and Julie strip-spawn Atlantic silverside females into spawning dishes covered in window screen for eggs to attach. (Photo: Peter Morenus, UConn)

M. menidia. (A) Relative cumulative starvation mortalities of early juveniles reared under ambient (grey line, diamonds) vs. high CO2 conditions (black line, circles). Symbols depict individual replicates, lines represent treatment means. (B) Total length of juveniles perishing during the experiment at ambient (grey diamonds) vs. high CO2 conditions (black circles). Lines represent the median(solid lines), 5th and 95th percentiles (dashed lines) of TL estimated with locally weighted, non-parametric density estimators. The initial TL distribution at the beginning of the experiment is depicted on day 0 as the median (white circle), 5th/95th percentiles (whiskers) and the minimum and maximum (white stars).

[Research news] Silversides in a CT scanner

26 March 2018. Today we got our first glimpse of an incredible new way of imaging the inner calcified structures of a fish body, particularly the ear bones (otoliths), of which every teleost fish has six, three on each side inside the skull. Otoliths are long known to fish ecologists for their properties to record and store information about a fish’s age, growth and habitat. With an adult Atlantic silverside, Hannes visited John Shepherd, facilities scientist and member of the Goldhamer lab at UConn, Storrs (Biology Physics Building), who showed us the use of a new, state-of-the-art micro CT-scanner (IVIS). Turns out, the system effortlessly imaged all six otoliths inside of the fish’s head. Later in the year, we will use the technique to image silversides reared at contrasting CO2 conditions to see whether they differ in their otolith size, volume, and structure. Thank you, John, for this truly inspiring demonstration!

CTscan Menidia

[Research news] New NSF grant to study silverside genes!

We are overjoyed to announce that NSF is funding a new and collaborative research project to look at the genomic underpinning of local adaptation in the Atlantic silverside! Check out below for a first glimpse of the project website.


NSF-OCE #1756751 The genomic underpinnings of local adaptation despite gene flow along a coastal environmental cline (2018-2021)

Principal investigators


Nina Therkildsen (Cornell)



Hannes Baumann (UConn)



Anna Tigano (Cornell)

Graduate students


Maria Akopyan, Callie Concannon



Aryn Pearce-Wilder

Oceans are large, open habitats, where it was previously believed that the lack of obvious barriers to dispersal would result in extensive mixing, thereby preventing organisms from adapting genetically to particular habitats. It has recently become clear, however, that many marine species are subdivided into multiple populations that have evolved to thrive best under contrasting local environmental conditions. Nevertheless, we still know very little about the genomic mechanisms that enable divergent adaptations in the face of ongoing intermixing.

Learn more …

This project focuses on the Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia), a small estuarine fish that exhibits a remarkable degree of local adaptation in growth rates and a suite of other traits tightly associated with a climatic gradient across latitudes. Decades of prior lab and field studies have made M. menidia one of the marine species for which we have the best understanding of evolutionary tradeoffs among traits and drivers of selection causing adaptive divergence. Yet, the underlying genomic basis is so far completely unknown.We will integrate whole genome sequencing data from wild fish sampled across the distribution range with breeding experiments in the laboratory to decipher these genomic underpinnings. This will provide one of the most comprehensive assessments of the genomic basis for local adaptation in the oceans to date, thereby generating insights that are urgently needed for better predictions about how species can respond to rapid environmental change. The project will provide interdisciplinary training for a postdoc as well as two graduate and several undergraduate students from underrepresented minorities. The findings will also be leveraged to develop engaging teaching and outreach materials (e.g. a video documentary and popular science articles) to promote a better understanding of ecology, evolution, and local adaptation among science students and the general public.

The project is organized into four interconnected components

Part 1 examines fine-scale spatial patterns of genomic differentiation along the cline to a) characterize the connectivity landscape, b) identify genomic regions under divergent selection, and c) deduce potential drivers and targets of selection by examining how allele frequencies vary in relation to environmental factors and biogeographic features.
Part 2 maps key locally adapted traits to the genome to dissect their underlying genomic basis.
Part 3 integrates patterns of variation in the wild (part 1) and the mapping of traits under controlled conditions (part 2) to a) examine how genomic architectures underlying local adaptation vary across gene flow regimes and b) elucidating the potential role of chromosomal rearrangements and other tight linkage among adaptive alleles in facilitating adaptation.
Part 4 examines dispersal – selection dynamics over seasonal time scales to a) infer how selection against migrants and their offspring maintains local adaptation despite homogenizing connectivity and b) validate candidate loci for local adaptation.


[Research feature] Our multistressor NSF project in the spotlight

This research feature makes the case for multistressor research to a broad general audience and introduces our NSF project and its participants. Download the feature by clicking on the pictures or the link below.


[Research news] Are sand lance embryos particularly sensitive to high CO2?

This article has been cross-posted at news sites of Connecticut SeaGrant, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, and the Early Life History Section of the American Fisheries Society.

By Hannes Baumann

On this dimly lit November afternoon, rain mercilessly drenched scientists and crew on board the R/V Auk as it slowly navigated the waters of Stellwagen Bank. A world like a wet sponge. Sky and ocean, indistinguishable.

Thanksgiving, the next day.

Despite the circumstances, the team’s mood was nothing short of elated. Our small beam trawl had just spilled hundreds of silvery fish on deck, wriggling like eels. They were Northern sand lance (Ammodytes dubius).

Running ripe adults.


Apparently, they like Thanksgiving, too.


As the ship docked back in the Scituate, Mass., harbor that day, the rain thinned to hazy darkness.

“Let’s get a coffee and then on the road,” mumbled Chris, who led the team, “the real work of the experiments has just begun.”

Chris RV Auk Sediment grab
Chris Murray, a member of the research team, checks the contents of a sediment grab for sand lance. Photo: Jacob Snyder / Red Skies Photography

The RV Auk in early morning, getting ready for another sand lance sampling trip to Stellwagen Bank. Photo: Hannes Baumann
Stellwagen Bank, the National Marine Sanctuary just north of Cape Cod, is a true hotspot for some of the Atlantic Ocean’s most iconic creatures: whales, seals, tuna and seabirds, who all share a particular appetite for this one fish – sand lance. Some experts in the sanctuary’s ecosystem call this species its “backbone.” Others consider it a classic forage fish, responsible for transferring massive amounts of energy from lower to upper levels on the food chain.

Sand lance have a few interesting and rare characteristics. They alternate between schooling and foraging in the upper water column and extended periods of being almost completely buried in sand. For that, they rely on sand of a particular grain size and with very little organic content. It’s the kind of sand that defines large areas of the Stellwagen Bank.

Surprisingly little is known about the ecology and ecosystem importance of this sand lance species, although research on its European relatives (A. tobianus, A. marinus) is more advanced. In particular, experiments on early life stages of Northern sand lance have been lacking, save for some pioneering work on rearing methods of the related A. americanus (Smigielski et al. 1984). One question that was of particular interest to our lab involved the potential sensitivity of this fish species to carbon dioxide (CO2). That’s due to two other interesting and rare characteristics of sand lance. They spawn in late fall and winter in cold (and still cooling) waters, which is why their eggs and larvae develop extremely slow compared to other, more typical spring and summer spawning species. In addition, the species is found not in nearshore, but offshore coastal waters, where smaller seasonal and daily CO2 fluctuations more closely resemble oceanic conditions. Could sand lance offspring be particularly sensitive to higher levels of oceanic carbon dioxide predicted during the next 100 to 300 years as climate change effects intensify?

Sand lance caught on Stellwagen Bank in November 2014
Adult sand lance, shown here, is the favorite food for whales, seals, tuna and seabirds. Photo: Hannes Baumann
Early results suggest that sand lance larva, shown in closeup, are particulary sensitive to higher levels of carbon dioxide. Photo courtesy of Hannes Baumann

Over the past two years (2016-17), we successfully found and sampled spawning ripe sand lance on Stellwagen Bank during a narrow window in late November. Eggs and sperm from adults were removed on board or after being transported live to our laboratory at UConn Avery Point. We reared newly fertilized embryos to hatch and to the feeding larval stage, under different sets of temperature and CO2 conditions, measuring survival and growth traits along the way.

Our experiments are still ongoing, and rearing protocols are being improved.

The preliminary findings, however, are stunning. Survival to hatch was dramatically reduced under elevated and high compared to baseline CO2 conditions. It was severely lowered at higher (10°C or 50°F) compared to lower temperatures (5°C or 41°F). Our second experiment this year appears to repeat this pattern. If these results continue, that would mean sand lance is one of the most CO2-sensitive species studied to date.

General interest in sand lance goes beyond its sensitivity to carbon dioxide. Given the species importance for the ecosystem and coastal economy, there are now increasing efforts to better understand sand lance feeding ecology, distribution and relationship to the rest of the food web. In this regard, funding of our project by the Northeast Sea Grant Consortium proved prescient and a seed for subsequent grants from MIT Sea Grant and the Bureau of Energy Management (BOEM) to continue the work. Surely, the groundswell of interest in sand lance is commensurate with its importance and will enable insights into better management strategies for sensitive ecosystems like those along the U.S. Atlantic coast.

This graphic shows survival to hatch rates of Northern sand lance embryos reared at three carbon dioxide levels and two temperatures. Graphic: Hannes Baumann

Collaborators on this project are: D. Wiley of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary; P. Valentine of the U.S. Geological Survey; and S. Gallagher and J. Llopiz, both of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

[Lab news] Live, feeding sand lance larvae

17 January 2018. Since November 2017, we have ongoing experiments with offspring of Northern sand lance (Ammodytes dubius), a winter-spawning forage fish of ecological importance along the North-American Atlantic coast. The clip below shows larvae almost two months after fertilization, developing nicely in 5C water and feeding actively on live rotifers. The experiments, led by Chris Murray for his PhD research, study the CO2 sensitivity of this species in our factorial larval rearing system. To our knowledge, this is the first time that this particular species has been reared that far under experimental conditions. Have a look!

Feeding sand lance
Sand lance (Ammodytes dubius) larvae feeding in green water on rotifers

[New publication] Mothers matter for the CO2 sensitivity of fish offspring

28 November 2017. The Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology just published the latest study by our group looking at differences in the CO2 sensitivity of Atlantic silverside offspring stemming from different mothers. Congratulations to Jacob Snyder for his first peer-reviewed publication.

Among the highlights of the study:

  • Offspring produced by different females varied in their sensitivity to high CO2 conditions.
  • Specific fatty acids in eggs were correlated to the log-transformed CO2 response ratio of embryo survival and hatch length.
  • Maternal provisioning might be an additional determinant of CO2 sensitivity in fish early life stages.


Snyder, J.T.*, Murray, C.S.*, and Baumann, H. (2018)
Potential for maternal effects on offspring CO2 sensitivities in the Atlantic silverside (Menidia menidia).
Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 499:1-8

Fig2 - dancing men
M. menidia. Responses to high CO2 conditions among replicates within and among females: (A) embryo and larval survival; (B) overall survival; (C) SL at hatch; and (D) final SL (16 dph). Patterns of larval growth were nearly identical to panel D and are therefore omitted. Ambient and high CO2 treatments are denoted by red and blue colors, respectively. Small symbols depict replicate survival (A,B) or replicate average size (C,D), while large symbols depict CO2 treatment averages for each female. Black lines connect average response for each female. Asterisks represent significant differences (P < 0.05) between CO2 levels within offspring of each female (Bonferroni adjusted t-test). Letters denote to females A to E.

[Lab news] Chris and Hannes attend ICES Annual Science conference

ASC 2017 poster

On 19-21 September 2017, Chris Murray and Hannes Baumann traveled to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to attend the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) Annual Science Conference in order to present our ongoing NSF and NOAA funded research on potential ocean acidification effects in Atlantic Silversides and Northern Sand lance. Due to Hurricane Irma, which had impacted all of Florida just a week earlier, it was a great relief that the conference could actually be successfully held.

Together with Chris Chambers (NOAA), Ian Bradbury (DFO, Canada), and Richard McBride (NOAA), Hannes convened a theme session titled “Patterns, sources, and consequences of intraspecific variation in responses of marine fauna to environmental stressors“.

Chris gave a talk and a poster during this session, which was well received and thus a worthwhile exposure for Chris and our lab’s research.

  • Murray, C. S. and Baumann H. 2017. Growth costs of high CO2 environments in a marine fish: importance of feeding methodology. Talk.
  • Murray, C. S., Wiley, D., and Baumann H. 2017. A preliminary study testing the effects of high CO2 on the early life stages of the northern sand lance Ammodytes dubius. Poster.