After a year of pandemic induced delays, I finally have fish (and snails) in my lab! Yayyy! The fish species in the lab are Fundulus similis (longnose killifish) and F. grandis (gulf killifish). Both are known second intermediate hosts for the Euhaplorchis sp. A parasite, which is found on their brain. They are infected by free-swimming larval parasites called cercariae that depart the first intermediate host, Cerithideopsis scalariformis (ladder hornsnail). With both the first and second intermediate host in the lab, I will be able to do experimental infections of the killifish to determine how they response (either behaviorally or physiologically) to these infectious parasites in their environment. I studies a closely related system in California, and found that the killifish host wasn't happy when it encountered cercariae in their environment and am interested in testing similiar ideas here.
FUNDULUS! After a couple of failed missions to find Fundulus spp. killifish, I found the little buggers finally this past weekend. I worked with a related species in California, examining how parasites alter their behavior, and my goal is to develop a local system to continue that work. Step 1 was to find a reliable place to collect them, which I did last weekend at Spruce Creek in New Smyrna Beach, FL. Check! ☑️ First few fish already dissected with the my collaborator Chris Blanar and our students.
It took a few years but the last (and arguably coolest!) chapter from my PhD was published today in the journal Communications Biology. In this study, we tested how the long-lasting social bonds associated with familiarity impact anti-predator behavior (known as the fast-start response) in a schooling coral reef fish, Chromis viridis (pictured to the left, photo credit Amy Cox). In social animals living in the wild, individuals rely on their buddies to alert them if a predator is lurking, but they need to balance the risk of being eaten against the wasted energy of reacting to inaccurate information. So, individuals will alter their sensitivity to social information based on the level of familiarity in the group (and hence trust in the information’s accuracy). Through greater trust in social information, familiarity thus maximizes the benefits of group living, for example, by minimizing aggression, enhancing cooperation, and increasing lifespans. In this study, we showed that familiar groups react more quickly and with greater speed following a simulated predator attack than groups composed of unfamiliar individuals. These effects were driven by a combination of greater vigilance by the first fish to detect the predator (also known as the response initiator) and more effective information sharing with neighboring fish. As escape performance underpins survival of predator attacks, these results help us to understand why animals have evolved to prefer associating with “friends” rather than “strangers”, due to the implications for both individual and group-level survival in the wild. Check out the paper here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s42003-021-02407-4
I had a fun weekend up in Fort Pierce looking for some killifish (without luck). We caught LOTS of other stuff, but the killifish remain elusive. My goal is to establish the local killifish (Fundulus sp) and trematode parasite (Euhaplorchis sp) as a study system comparable to the one I studied in California (which was a different Fundulus-Euhaplorchis system). From what I hear, killifish populations in these more southern Florida localities have diminished progressively for the last 20-30 years. Time to head even further north to Cape Canaveral to see if the system is just moving further north with time (potentially with effects of climate warming?). On the plus side, I caught heaps of other social fish species that I can use for my behavioral studies in schooling fish. Plus, it was great to just get back out in the field and test out the waters for my first post-MS field work. Generally, it went well but learned a lot about my new limits and strategies for managing my health while still doing what I love. Especially in the heat, I need to rest in the shade intermittently, drink lots of cold water, and make sure to get a lot of sleep before, during, and after fieldwork.
This year, I got to celebrate an early World Oceans Day at the Frost Science Museum in Miami. We got the 3D printer whirring to make a ton of fish magnets to give away to kids. And they were a hit! But for next year, hammerhead shark magnets have been requested too... ;) It was great to finally get involved in some local outreach (not to mention in 3D!) here in south Florida and hope it is the start of lots more to come!
Left photo credit: World Red Eye and Frost Science
Right photo credit: Lauren Nadler
After five years away, it was great fun to give a research seminar (at least in 2D!) to the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University, discussing my research related to how global change impacts on fish behavior and physiology. Many thanks to my hosts, Jodie Rummer and Eva McClure, for organizing the seminar. I am looking forward to hopefully seeing you all in 3D some time very soon!
We are thrilled to have been awarded a National Science Foundation International Research Experiences for Students Track II grant to fund development of a field course in Australia for US graduate students in coral reef science. This course will focus on going beyond disciplinary boundaries, to train early career scientists in the transdisciplinary approaches that are desperately needed to solve the major challenges facing coral reefs globally. This course will take us to Australia for 3 weeks annually for 3 years, with 1 week at the School for Field Studies´ Center for Rainforest Studies in the Daintree Rainforest and 2 weeks at the Australian Museum´s Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef. We have an amazing bunch of collaborators from the US and Australia. I wish this course was around when I was a graduate student! Can´t wait to get started!
After an exceptionally nutty year, the students in my lab have been absolute troopers dealing with research in a 2D world. With the semester shortened due to no spring break, we are skipping an April lab meeting, making our March lab meeting (over Zoom) our last until Fall semester! Many thanks to all of these legends for making the best out of the unusual (pandemic) situation, doing some awesome science, and keeping smiles on their faces throughout. Hopefully, we will more 3D by the next time we have lab meeting! 🤞