Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Fishes

These are long overdue, but here are a few pictures of the sticklebacks enjoying their home in the lab.

Limnetic male in breeding colors. Orange-red throat, blue eye, blue belly, and a bit of pink on his body.

Benthic male in breeding colors. Orange-red throat, blue eye, blue on body.

Limnetic male near his nest (bottom center of photo)

Side-by-side nest comparison. The left side shows a nest. A male buries bits of plants in the sand and then the male creates a tunnel through the nest. The right side shows the same nest outlined with arrows showing the entrance and exit holes.

Curious fish come to check out the camera. Fish are housed with the same species and sex until they are ready to use in the experiment.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

If you were a fish where would you live?

Alycia and I would love for you to write a story about how a fish species of your choice uses their environment to meet their survival needs!

I’m going to write an example to get your class thinking about different fish habitats. I can't wait to hear some of your own fish tales!

Remember that all animals need air, water, food, and shelter to survive.

For the first two survival needs, most fish use their environments in the same way:

Air- Fish breathe oxygen that is dissolved in water-just like salt can be dissolved in water. They use their gills to get the oxygen out of the water.

Water- Fish need to live in water! They don’t need any more water than what’s in their environment!

First a little background on the fish I chose to write about:

I study bluegill sunfish that are one year old.

These fish are still very small (2-3 inches) and need protection from predators. In order to be safe, they first have to survive from the time they were born until they are big enough to not fit inside their predators’ mouths.

The lakes and ponds that bluegill live in have different habitats. The open water habitat has a LOT of zooplankton that young bluegill can eat to grow fast. The areas with aquatic plants have insects and worms that bluegill can eat, but sometimes it gets crowded with other fish there. It can be harder to get lots of food in the plants.

I study how different bluegill use different strategies to deal with the predators in their environment. Let's follow Bruiser and Shyloh to see how they use their lake environment for food and shelter!

If I were a BOLD bluegill I would live…..

Some young bluegill are very risky. They have a “grow fast or bust” strategy. That means they are most concerned about getting lots of food to grow big as fast as they can.

Howdy, my name is Bruiser!

Food- I'll tell you a little about myself if you can keep up with me while I swim around looking for food. I use the open water habitat to find my food. In this open water habitat I will eat a lot of zooplankton! There won’t be as many other fish in the open water to compete with me. I will grow much faster and hopefully not fit in my predator’s mouth soon!

Shelter- ZOOOOOOM. There goes a largemouth bass! Hey you-what are you doing out there in the open! If you're going to swim with me, you have to be able to react to predators! Luckily we were both able to swim into the plants to escape him before he got us! There sure are a lot of predators out in the open water habitat! Sometimes I get so focused on eating food in the open water habitat that I barely see the predators in time to swim to shelter.

Hopefully I won’t fit inside his mouth SOON! Better get some more food! It's too dangerous for you out here- maybe you should hang out with my shy friends in the plants. Shyloh won't mind talking to you. See her? She's hiding in the plants.

If I were a SHY bluegill I would live…..

Some young bluegill are very aware of the predators in their environment. They are very cautious about looking for food and like to keep their eyes open for predators. They don’t mind growing slowly if it means they are safe.

Hi, my name is Shyloh,

Food- Hurry! Hide! If you promise to whisper I'll tell you a little about myself. Most of the time I try to eat insects and worms that I can find in this patch of plants. It's not so bad, I can find enough worms on the lake bottom or insects on the plants to survive. That is if all these other shy fish haven't already found them. The open water habitat is too unsafe for me so if I find a few worms or insects around me without looking too hard I am happy!

Shelter- Shhhhhh, don't move! I see a largemouth bass swimming into the plants to look for food (me!). If we sit still enough, he won't see us. It’s harder for my predators to see me move when I’m in the plants.

It might take awhile for me to be big enough to use the open water habitat, but I will do everything I can to make sure I survive!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

You guys had some great guesses! You really thought of a lot of different ways those shells could have gotten where they are!

The shells were likely piled there because of a bird that specializes on molluscs. Birds like to find a really good place to eat their food. You will often see this with other birds of prey like hawks. A lot of hawks find a perch that they have found to be good for sitting on after they catch their prey and return to that perch every time they catch their prey.

Back to the shells- notice they are all cracked open and there is no animal inside! This means something must have cracked it open to eat it.

We didn't see which species was cracking these shells, but I did some research and here's one possibility:

The black oystercatcher found along the Pacific coast from Alaska to northern California. They use their long strong bills to dislodge food and pry shells open.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Exhausted but home safe!

What a journey!
When we bring the fish back to MSU, we pack the fish into plastic bags, and then we place multiple plastic bags into the biggest coolers you buy. We duct tape the coolers closed and take them as checked bags on our flights.

This year, the airports caused us major headaches! For our flight from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Lansing, Michigan, the heat in the plane's cargo hold was broken. We were not allowed to take our fish on the plane because they would be exposed to temperatures below -10 degrees Fahrenheit. The fish would die from being at such cold temperatures.
We had to wait until the next morning to fly out, and I had to store my coolers of fish at the airport overnight. I was so nervous that the fish would not survive the wait!

Despite a lot of craziness, the fish finally got back to MSU, and they are happily swimming in their tanks. Females are developing eggs and males are getting brightly colored as they prepare for reproduction.

It will be a busy next few months as I run my experiments using these fish. One of my summer projects examines whether habitats help females pick the right mate. I will show females males of her own species and males of the other species, and I will change whether those males are in the "right" or "wrong" habitat. If females are better at picking males of her own species when those males are in the "right" habitat compared to the "wrong" habitat, then habitats are important for females when they are choosing mates.

Even though we (Melissa, me, and the fish!) are home safe, I still have some other stories to share from our travels. I'll continue to update the blog over the next couple of weeks with additional fish tales, and I'll keep you updated on how the fish in the lab are doing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Answers for Mrs. Renauldo's class

I received an email this morning from Mrs. Renauldo's 4th grade class in Delton-Kellogg, MI.

They are following the blog and had a few questions:

Do these fish only live in the six lakes in southwestern Canada?

These particular stickleback species only live in the 6 lakes in southwestern Canada. Their history is actually very fascinating! Their ancestors were marine (lived in the ocean)! There used to be glaciers over this part of Canada. When the glaciers started melting, the ocean level became lower. The marine ancestors got isolated (trapped) in little pockets of water on land. These pockets of water are now freshwater (not like salty marine water) and the stickleback species have adapted to this new habitat.

We also have stickleback species in Michigan! We have brook stickleback, threespine stickleback, and ninespine stickleback. Here is a website from the MI DNR about stickleback:

Are these species native or invasive?

These species are native!

Question for you!

We saw this pile of shells today along the shore when we were collecting stickleback. The pile was near a tree and some shells were in the water and some were on the ground.

Why do you think these shells are here?

Post a few guesses/hypotheses you have and we will post the answer at the end of our trip!

Monday, March 28, 2011

The never-ending travel day

Yesterday's travel was extremely long! We got up at 5am to catch our 7am flight from Lansing to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our flight from Lansing was delayed by about 1.5 hours, and we nearly missed our next flight to Vancouver. We had to run through the airport with our bags and just barely got to the plane before they closed the doors. Whew! So glad we made it.

Once in Vancouver, we met another researcher at the University of British Columbia, who helped us to pack up all the gear we would need on our trip. Some of things we packed included a yellow canoe, fish traps, nets, buckets, rain boots, and four big coolers that we will use to transport the fish from the lakes to the airport when we fly back to Lansing.

After we packed up our gear, we took 3 ferries up the coast of British Columbia (see map below). We finally arrived at our destination by 11:45pm Pacific time, which means we had been up for almost 22 hours!
Blue lines show where we took ferries. Red lines indicate our driving route.

This morning we got up early and put out fish traps at two lakes: Paxton Lake and Priest Lake (see map below). We caught some fish, but not as many fish as we were hoping to catch. Hopefully tomorrow will be even more successful.
The two lakes on Texada Island where we trapped fish today.


When you travel to Canada, you have to go through customs. You wait in a long line for a stern-looking officer to ask you to approach a booth and to present your passport and customs form.
When it was my turn to approach the booth, the officer asked what I was going to be doing in Canada.
I said, "I am traveling in British Columbia to study fish."
Then the officer asked me, "What specifically are you studying about fish?"
"I am studying the habitats and behaviors of two species of stickleback fish."
"Stickleback. They are small bait-sized fish."
"Why would you want to study them?"
"To understand what impacts biodiversity."
"Oh. Okay. Have a nice trip."

Just goes to show that you never know when you will need to explain your research to the public.

Celebrity homes!

Hello everyone, my name is Melissa and I am joining Alycia to help her with her field season this year. I have a lot of previous experience studying fish: I currently study juvenile bluegill behavior or "personality") and my degree in college was fisheries management. I love studying fish in lakes so when Alycia asked if I would help her I said yes!

Today was our first day in the field. I was so excited to get to see the lakes where these famous fish species live! I have heard many interesting facts about stickleback from researchers all over the country. These particular stickleback species are pretty famous in the field of biology so I felt like I was visiting the home of a celebrity! We set minnow traps in various habitats hoping to catch both benthic and limnetic species adults. We know these fish species have different habitat preferences but sometimes where we found them was not so obvious as to where they should be.
We found other cool things in the traps as well. The most fun were red-bellied newts! We also saw insect larvae of various types. Outside of the traps we have seen two bald eagles, three loons, deer, ducks, and MOSQUITOES (luckily they aren't biting us though)! Frogs are out and calling here as well! It feels like spring in British Columbia.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Welcome to Fish Tales!

Here I'll blog about my trip to British Columbia, Canada to collect stickleback fish for my research at Michigan State University. I'll travel with Melissa, another GK-12 teaching fellow and scientist, who will also contribute to this blog.

At the right is a picture of the two species of stickleback fish we will collect. These stickleback fish live in six freshwater lakes in southwestern Canada.

There are lots of differences between the two species. One difference you can notice from the picture is that benthic fish are bigger than limnetic fish. The species also live in different areas of the lake. Benthic fish are bottom-dwelling and limnetic fish spend their time in open water.  The species also have different diets. Benthic fish eat small worms and insects that live in the mud along the bottom of the lake. Limnetic fish eat small organisms called plankton that float around in the open water. Both fish in the picture are males. These males are colorful when they are ready to mate. Benthic males are black and limnetic males have red throats and blue bodies. Male sticklebacks make nests and court females to deposit eggs in their nests. Then males care for the eggs and the fry (baby fish) that hatch. Benthic and limnetic males typically nest in different habitats. Benthics nest in the plants and limnetics nest in the open.
Benthic males (black) nest in vegetation. Limnetic males (red and blue) nest in the open.

Melissa and I will travel from Lansing's airport to the airport in Vancouver, Canada on March 27th.

Click on the picture to view full size.

Check back soon for more updates on our travels and research experience!