This post is well overdue, being slightly over a year after my last post. At that time we were in a lull between the first and second COVID waves, so we were allowed back in the office. However, as we all know now, that was short lived and LA suffered terrible case numbers in the fall and into the winter. While cases waned in the spring as vaccines became more available, we are now seeing numbers rise once again due to the delta variant. This past year has been incredibly difficult on so many levels. Difficult for the community. Difficult individually. Difficult for morale and optimism. Nevertheless, we continue to push on.
The museum is back open to the public after a year with closed doors and empty exhibit halls. Due to the tremendous effort of so many staff members, our doors were opened in April. We started slow, with limited capacity and only a few days a week, but we got our feet back under us and are now open 6 days a week. It is such a great feeling to see visitors once again roaming the halls and to hear kids gasping with amazement when they see the dinosaurs towering over them.
This last year the Department of Ichthyology has been silently chugging along. While I usually write a post here for each publication that comes out, I've let them pile up this time. Since the last post, though, I have been fortunate enough to be included on four publications. Two of these are on anti-tropicality in fishes, a topic near and dear to my heart. The age old question for this strange latitudinally disjunct distribution is wether species crossed the tropics from one hemisphere to the other, or if they were widespread and then split by the tropics. This is the debate of dispersal vs. vicariance, a topic that has played out many times in the literature over the decades. In the first of the anti-tropical publications we put out last year, I examine this question using ecological niche models with Dr. Corinne Myers from the University of New Mexico. This was a novel way of looking at this problem that gave us insight into the history of this pattern that we couldn't get with previous approaches. Ultimately we find that it's a mixture of both mechanisms, and it depends on the fish in question. This project was a long time coming (there are blog posts about it on this website dating back years ago), and I'm thrilled to finally see it out in print. Working on that paper also got me excited to write more about this pattern in general, and shortly after that publication came out I published a review paper on anti-tropicality in marine organisms in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. This summarizes all the work that has been done on this pattern in the last 20 years or so, and points to a few forward moving directions the field could go. It's open access, so go check it out!
The last two publications were fun collaborations with current, and former, coworkers. The first was a publication led by NMHLA terrestrial mammal curator, Dr. Kayce Bell, is a call to action for depositing urban voucher specimens in natural history museums for current and future researchers to access and use. Without depositing these specimens we are only missing out on possible patterns and trends associated with our anthropogenic impacts on wildlife. That note came out in BioScience, so take a look if you're interested. The most recent publication that I was a part of was led by the talented Dr. Fernando Alda. This project was a fun collaboration of old LSU Chakrabarty lab members and used genomic approaches to look at the evolutionary relationships of neotropical cichlids. We then compared our data to another genomic dataset that had recently been published and found many similarities, but also determined why our results differed when they did. It comes down to inherent problems associated with each genomic marker type. This project was also a long time coming, and it's great to see it out. Check it out early view right now at Genome Biology and Evolution.
Over the last year we also adapted with our outreach and educational approaches. I lot of these included virtual talks with classrooms or clubs.I know zoom fatigue is a real thing now, but one of the more fun activities Ichthyology participated in was a collaboration between NHMLA and Nickelodeon. This ended up producing two series: the Science of Slime, and the Science of SpongeBob. Click on those links to check them out, as there are a lot of fun videos in both series. This last year also saw the return of in-person meetings. Last month I attended the Joint Meeting of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (JMIH) in Phoenix, AZ. While attendance was low and the conference was shorter than usual, it reminded me of how much I missed seeing my colleagues in person and chatting about fishes. The smaller crowd made the talks a lot of fun as everyone could stay in one room the entire time and see all the wonderful fish talks together. While I look forward to next year's meeting in Tacoma, WA, this meeting will stick in my memory for some time.
Last, but certainly not least, perhaps the most fascinating thing that occurred this last year was when a very special fish made it into our collection. Early on the morning of May 7th, 2021 a beach walker at Crystal Cove State Park in Orange County, CA noticed a strange fish that washed up onshore. What looked like a black ball of tar turned out to be a large female Pacific Footballfish (Himantolophus sagamius). This species is extraordinarily rare, especially of this size and in this excellent condition. After making quite a few calls, and with the help of CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, we were able to transfer this fish over the NHMLA. We are very fortunate to have this fish, and I'll post more about her in the future, but for now I'll leave you with this wonderful photo we took of her the day we thawed her out to preserve her:
A beautifully intact adult female Pacific Footballfish that was found on the beach at Crystal Cove State Park in May of 2021.