Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Pleasant Sunday Outing

Borden Creek. Photo by Bruce Stallsmith

Yes, I know it's Tuesday...but I found the time to talk about Sunday just today.

Sunday, January 31st was the last of our permit to collect in the Bankhead National Forest. Bruce, Taito, James, and I all headed out at 9 a.m. to collect out-of-breeding season Silverstripe Shiners (Notropis stilbius) for our regular brain studies. In this investigation we're quantifying N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptors (NMDAR) in a species that are sexually dimorphic—that is, you can tell males from females during breeding season—and a few species that aren't sexually dimorphic. NMDA plays a role in memory and visual acuity that we hypothesize is important to certain fish, especially Scarlet Shiners (Notropis fasciolaris) due to their wildly dimorphic behavior and coloration during the breeding season. We've quantified the flux of 11-ketotestosterone (11-KT) already in this species, and dominant males show an astounding 12-fold higher 11-KT concentration (pg/L) over non-dominant males, and an even higher concentration over non-reproductive females. Anyhow, for all of these studies we need to collect fish!

Notropis stilbius in my hands. (gloves for the cold!) Photo: B. Stallsmith

I've been involved with the Stallsmith lab now for four years—having started with basic collections during the first month of my freshman career. This has been a good experience for me—and has focused me in on exactly what I always thought I would end up doing with my life. Despite having to occasionally freeze my extremities in sub-zero weather, I almost always enjoy these fish collecting outings. This one was particularly fun. We've never collected from Borden Creek before, and I must say I was very impressed with the condition and sheer beauty of the site. I hope we can sometime return to this site for more collections. We started out seining in the fast, deeper water with limited luck—only managing to capture several small silverstripes and some darters (Etheostoma). This site harbors several poorly described species of darters that are in need of government protection due to their limited range and scarcity. We took extra care to quickly return any darters we collected to the water. After a dozen or so seine hauls, we managed to hone in on our species of interest, pulling in several larger specimens in the next four or five hauls. This is good, as it's very difficult to process small fish for our purposes. We have to remove the brains—optic tectum, telencephalon, and brain stem—intact from unfixed individuals. Freezing the fish makes the brains soft and difficult to remove even in large fish, and the ease this can be done attenuates linearly with size. We got in, got our fish, and got back to Huntsville before 2 p.m.

Whiteflies. Shamelessly stolen from Google

In the greenhouse, Dr. Ceske and I are planning on waging an all out war on white flies. We've tried several biological means of control, setting out parasitic wasps (Encarsia formosaI) to eat the whitefly larvae from the inside out. This, however, has not worked. We resorted to daily spraying of the plants (with water), but the white flies keep proliferating. In the last two months, they've gone from being a minor nuisance to majorly jeopardizing the research specimens. As such, we're resorting to chemical warfare. I've been spraying affected areas with Azatin, a relatively safe insecticide to reduce white fly numbers, and yesterday I prepped the greenhouse regions for bombing with Orthane Canisters. These babies should kill anything and everything buggy living in the greenhouse. After that, we plan to set out sticky cards and continue spraying the plants with insecticides until no flies remain. Hopefully after all is done, we can resume our proposed genetic studies on our Red Baron Cogengrasses. Leland just received a fairly major grant after some heavy debate and results are due this September. As such, I've become employed in performing some of the DNA extractions/Amplification/Isolation and Sequencing. I'm excited for this—these are some good skills to polish up on before I get started in Grad. School doing similar work. It will also be good since I have several samples of Cecropia that I collected from Monteverde, Costa Rica this last summer that I would like to extract and analyze for differences.

In other news, I've been accepted to Bemidji for a Master's track that should include a teaching fellowship. I also, sadly, received my rejection letter from Yale last week. I actually had very high hopes of joining the Near Lab, but I guess it just wasn't in the stars. I've got my interview at U of Iowa Feb 11 and 12th, so I'm excited for that. So much that I even forced myself out to get a haircut today (!).

Well, that's all for now. I've got to get to writing my Dactylogyrus manuscript.


1 comment:

haley said...

Break a leg in your interview! And I'm jealous about Yellowstone... That's one Ari and I really want to see, as well as Yosemite. (On a slightly related note, I'm currently trying to engineer Yosemite by pestering my dad into borrowing my grandma's time share condo. We'll see how that goes.)