This week I had the chance to bring my Behavioral Ecology students out to Putah Creek Riparian Reserve for a night hike to have some firsthand exposure to the nocturnal behavior of animals native to the Central Valley of California.
Our activity revolved around three key activities 1) chorus frog calls and courtship, 2) owl communication, and 3) how to study animals that are hard to actually observe. I was fortunate to recruit a group of amazing biologists eager to talk about these topics with my students, and fortunately the animals cooperated (even if my camera didn’t).
Observing a Southern Alligator Lizard early in the evening.
Listening to chorus frogs and developing hypotheses about why they all were in this particular pool.
Discussing animal tracks and what we can learn about animals that are difficult to actually observe.
Thanks to Rob Blenk, Amelia Munson, Marcus Michelangeli, Justin Clause, and Heather Ligocki for sharing their expertise, helping out with the activity, and ensuring it went smoothly! Additionally, thanks to UC Davis Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, as well as the UC Davis Arboretum for logistical support and approval for this activity. The students loved it!
SICB 2019 wrapped up on Monday, and it was a great conference as usual!
This year three students I taught and mentored in a Field Marine Ecology course presented their research on joint territory defense in Dusky Damselfish (Stegastes adustus). They performed this work in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and they did a phenomenal job presenting the results of their study. SICB was a great first major conference for them, as they not only had the opportunity to discuss their work with veteran researchers who’d studied damselfish their entire career, but also hear about a wide range of interesting research topics they’d never been exposed to.
I spoke on an aspect of my postdoctoral work that was recently accepted in Aquatic Toxicology – through this study we identified changes in gene expression associated with exposure to a widely used pesticide (bifenthrin) in the western mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis). In spite of transcriptional changes in genes associated with reproduction and the stress response, we did not identify behavioral shifts as a result of exposure.
In addition to excellent presentations and great conversations with other scientists, Tampa was a great host city!
This past week the manuscript that was the product of an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) student I had the opportunity to mentor at Ohio State’s Stone Laboratory was published online in Behavioural Processes. Alex’s project focused on how dominance relationships form between round goby of varying sizes. It’s pretty well established in many species (including round goby) that larger individuals are socially dominant to smaller individuals. This means larger individuals generally have greater resource holding potential – whether that resource is food, shelter, or mates.
Alex predicted that this trend would hold true (its already been established in a number of studies on round goby), but was interested in how these relationships are established in more complex social settings. Do dominance relationships form between larger individuals before smaller individuals? Does the actual size difference between individuals influence how quickly the relationship is resolved? Do males and females differ in how they resolve conflict over dominance?
After 5 weeks of intense work while at Stone Lab, Alex set up many groups of three individuals of the same sex that varied in relative size. He then collected an impressive amount of data on these fish and groups, scored behavioral videos, and analyzed the results. He presented his preliminary findings at the end of the 5 week session, and after subsequent analysis of the data the manuscript is finally out!
Alex found that larger individuals establish dominance over smaller individuals quickly, and that smaller individuals in groups did not differ in their dominance score. Interestingly, there was no difference between males in females in their behavioral interactions.
Alex did a phenomenal job carrying out this experiment and completing this paper, great work!
I’ve always loved salmon. Not just eating them (I enjoy that too); I’ve found them fascinating for as long as I can remember. One of my fondest childhood memories was a family vacation to Lake Huron where I caught a pink salmon, Onchorynchus gorbuscha. At Wittenberg University, two classmates and I focused our senior Capstone paper and presentation on salmon and salmon fisheries. In my Introductory Biology course at Ohio State University, I developed a classroom activity focused on the impacts of salmon (and their migrations) in both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. While I’ve never done research on salmon myself, I’ve always jumped at opportunities to tag along with colleagues at UC Davis whose work does focus on them. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I was VERY excited to visit Goldstream Provincial Park on Vancouver Island during this year’s salmon run.
Goldstream Provincial Park boasts a large Chum salmon (Onchorhynchus keta) run. There are also Coho (Onchorhynchus kisutch) and Chinook (Onchorhynchus tskawytscha) salmon, but the vast majority of the spawning fish here are chum. Male chum develop vertical stripes, hooked jaws, and long teeth (which may explain their common nickname – dog salmon). Females develop a long dark stripe along their side during spawning.
Spawning is an aggressive event for chum salmon. Males fight aggressively with one another for access to mates; they also bite females in their attempts to mate. Eventually, females will dig into the streambed and lay eggs which will then be fertilized by the males. Shortly thereafter, the adults will die and become food for the many animals that depend on salmon runs for a late season nutrient boost. In fact, many terrestrial ecosystems depend on salmon as a source of nutrients that sustain these ecosystems, and salmon have been described as “keystone species” in these ecosystems (Willson & Halupka 1995, Cederholm et al. 1999) meaning they play a unique, critical role that other species would not be able to fulfill.
The rest of the year there may be less activity in Goldstream Provincial Park, but there are still young salmon growing up before heading out to sea, as well as the year round resident cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) and plenty of other wildlife! Below is a video I filmed at the same spot in Goldstream Provincial Park in June, 2018.
This week I had the opportunity to join Dr. Jennifer Smith’s Marine Biology course at Mills College in Oakland, CA. The students, Dr. Smith, and I spent the afternoon talking about how Game Theory can help us understand behavioral interactions in Marine Ecosystems. We had a great time playing “Fighting Eel – Displaying Eel” (Hawk-Dove game) and a Producer – Scrounger game based on algal farming in damselfish. In addition to hearing a lot about many cool marine organisms, the students also learned about Evolutionarily Stable Strategies, and how the costs and benefits impact the outcome of games. We also explored how the order of decisions in sequential games may influence the outcome of games depending on whether or not players have shared interests. On top of it all, we ate a lot of candy!
Dr. Smith has an amazing class. I was honored to get to meet and interact with such a bright group of young scientists and tell them about some of my work on cichlid fishes, as well as the research of several of my colleagues Julie Zill (University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa), Dr. Michael Gil (University of California, Santa Cruz), and research done by several of my undergraduate students from a Marine Ecology course I co-taught this spring!
The 2018 meeting of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology was a wonderful conference. In addition to hearing about lots of great research, I had the opportunity to catch up with a number of colleagues from current and past projects. I also finally met other researchers from around the world who I’d only known from their research. I got a lot of great feedback on my postdoctoral research, which will undoubtedly improve the forthcoming manuscripts on it.
Minneapolis was a great host city. The venue was convenient, the food was delicious, and we had a great time visiting the Como Park Zoo & Conservatory, the Bell Museum, and catching a Twins game.
Postdoctoral researcher position at Ohio State University
Since my NSF postdoctoral research fellowship ended in July 2018, I’ve begun a postdoctoral researcher position at Ohio State University working with Dr. Ian Hamilton in the Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology. Generally, we’re investigating the robustness and resilience of social networks facing perturbations. While working on this project I’ll be splitting time between Ohio State, UC Davis, and Lake Tanganyika in Zambia for field research on the cichlid fishes there. I spent a few weeks in Columbus following ISBE to meet and train new team members, and set up experiments that will be running this fall. I am now back in Davis until late November.
Team Gambusia Undergrads graduating!
In 2018 six members of Team Gambusia graduated. They’ve moved on to diverse career opportunities including working for government agencies in California, positions at UC Davis, and in industry as environmental consultants. Good luck to all of you!
Before they left, they developed and carried out an experiment of their own on mosquitofish anti-predator behavior. In their spare time are scoring behavioral videos and running hormone assays. They’re doing great work – look for their results in the not too distant future!