For the past two weeks I spent my time at the picturesque Friday Harbor Labs (picture above) in the San Juan islands of Washington. I was visiting Adam Summers and learning how to scan fishes using a microCT scanner that he has in his lab. Adam has the ambitious goal to CT scan all fishes. However, with approximately 35,000 species of fishes currently described, doing them one by one would simply take too much time. Luckily, he has figured out a brilliant way to get around this: fish burritos. No, not a burrito that you eat, but a bundle of fishes wrapped together in cheese cloth that gets put into a custom 3D printed tube that Adam makes in-house for scanning. By scanning specimens this way, you can pack up to 20 species in a single scan depending on their size; a HUGE time saver. The resourcefulness and creativity in the lab is impressive, and luckily for me, Adam hasn't scanned many flying fishes yet (the focus of my postdoctoral research). So after a couple of emails back and forth with Adam I found myself making the trek out to Friday Harbor (which involved a flight, a bus ride, and a ferry ride to get on island). With the help of Adam and his postdoc Mackenzie Gerringer, I was able to use the CT scanner, and in 12 short days I managed to scan about 150 specimens. The scanner is impressive and runs 24/7, which is probably the only way that you could end up scanning all fish species in a timely manner. Even more impressive are the awesome projects that people are working on in the lab. Now I have an absurd amount of data to move forward with, so look for upcoming images of CT scanned fishes. A huge thanks to Adam, Mackenzie and all of the other fantastic people in the lab for all of the help and the good times while I was there. I certainly would not have been able to finish these scans without their help, and I hope to go out again in the near future. If you have some fishes that you want to scan, I highly encourage you to plan a trip out to Friday Harbor Labs to help Adam achieve his goal of scanning all fishes!
My last post was announcing my dissertation defense, and I have been silent since then. Well, I am happy to report that all went well and that I have successfully finished my PhD! Since that post I have tied up all of my loose ends at LSU, graduated, and moved away from the swamps of Louisiana. Finishing up at LSU came with a mixture of emotions, and I sincerely want to thank everyone at LSU who has been a friend, colleague, or mentor over the past six years. It has been a wonderful ride, and I hope to visit as soon, and as often, as I can. As always, geaux tigers.
What am I up to now? Well, it is with great pleasure that I can announce that I have officially started a postdoctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. This postdoc is one of a kind, as it was endowed by one of ichthyology's greats: Bruce Collette. I am the first Sara E. and Bruce B. Collette Postdoctoral Fellow in Systematic Ichthyology, and with this fantastic position I will shift the scope of my research for the next several years. My PhD and Master's degrees mainly focused on using molecular approaches to study biogeographic patterns in marine fishes. For my postdoc I plan to examine the morphological adaptations that allow for gliding in flying fishes. Flying fishes as part of the order Beloniformes, which is an order that Bruce personally knows well and has worked on consistently for decades. I am extremely fortunate enough to be able to work with both Bruce, and my postdoctoral advisor, Carole Baldwin, on this new project, and there is absolutely no better place to be than at the National Museum of Natural History. Look for more posts in the future about my progress with this work, and let the new work begin!
I will be defending my doctoral dissertation next Thursday, June 21st in the LSU Museum of Natural Science exhibit hall. If you're around campus, please come by and see what I've been up to these past several years. If not, you can watch a live feed of it on the LSUMNS Facebook page!
The LSU Museum of Natural Science Special Saturdays program is a long-running outreach series that targets young minds. Held once a month throughout the school year, this series aims to teach young children about science and the world around them. These events cover a plethora of topics and are led by researchers in a variety of departments at LSU, and each talk is followed by a fun, hands on arts and crafts activity. Recently I was able to contribute to this series and led a Special Saturday covering coral reefs and the fishes on them. I organized the talk into the theme of Disney's Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, which the kids absolutely loved. They asked fantastic questions, and were really interested in the topic. After the talk, I showed them museum specimens of the fishes we talked about, and then they proceeded to work on their arts and crafts project. The project was to make paper models of different fishes and the kids had some really creative designs. The parents also got involved and made some really cool fishes! Make sure to check out the pictures below to see what they made. A big thanks to Valerie Derouen, the LSUMNS outreach coordinator, who organized this event, and to Jessie Salter and Link Morgan for helping out with it as well. If you'd like to participate in one of these events make sure to contact Valerie Derouen at the LSUMNS.
Happy New Year! It's officially 2018 now and it's time for an update on how I ended 2017 and what I'm looking forward to in 2018. The last part of 2017 was especially kind to Prosanta and I, as we were able to attend the 10th Indo-Pacific Fish Conference in Tahiti, French Polynesia. On our way out to Tahiti, we had a long layover in Los Angeles and so we decided to get a cab over to the LA County Museum and meet up with Rick Feeney who showed us around the collection. It's always fun to visit that collection, so a big thanks to Rick for the great hospitality. From LA it was just one more flight to Tahiti. The IPFC only occurs every four years, and the last one we attended was in Okinawa, Japan right after I joined Prosanta's lab. It is always a great time, and the venue could not have been more beautiful. Tahiti and Moorea provided the perfect setting for a relaxed, fun meeting, with plenty of excursions to do in your free time. Highlights for me include diving with three large tiger sharks, making new collaborations, and seeing old friends. The next meeting will be in 2021, and will be in Auckland, New Zealand, and I really hope that I'll be able to attend.
But now that it's the new year, here are some things I'm looking forward to for 2018: First, I have several long-standing projects that are finally coming to fruition and that will hopefully be submitted soon. Second, I'm looking forward to starting new collaborations with several scientists that I met at meetings this last year. Third, I'm excited to see the directions that some of our newer projects will go. We have several exciting projects that are just gaining momentum, from large-scale ordinal level studies, to whole genome sequencing studies (a first for me). Watching these projects develop and seeing the directions they take is very exciting. Last, but certainly not leasat,I look forward to finishing my PhD this year, and hope to find a lab to join as a post-doc. 2017 was an interesting year, but now it's time to move on. Here's to 2018!
The LSUMNS Ichthyology Collection made the front page of LSU's 'The Pursuit' magazine with stunning cleared and stained fishes from Louisiana's coasts. The article in the magazine focuses on the intertwining cultures of art and science and highlights ichthyology postdoc Brandon Ballengée, who combines these two fields in a unique way to engage the public. In addition to an interview with Brandon, there are pictures of his work, as well as images showing a public outreach event last year in Grand Isle, LA. Our own star undergraduate, Link Morgan, even got his own picture in the magazine showing off a fish that he had personally cleared and stained. Great work from Brandon, and all who were involved. If you're on campus, go check out a copy and learn a little bit more about what we do, or stop by the museum and see some of the cleared and stained fishes in our collection!
Members from the Chakrabarty lab attended two main meetings this summer to give presentations on the research we've been doing this past year. Fernando Alda and I started off the summer by attending the Evolution meeting in Portland, OR, from June 23rd to the 27th. Right before that meeting, though, I was able to attend a BAMM workshop led by Dan Rabosky at the Oregon State Campus in Corvallis. The workshop was an immersive two days event, but I walked away with a greater understanding the theory, math, and implementation of BAMM (and other packages, like FISSE). Local host, Brian Sidlauskas, also managed to give some of us a quick tour of the Oregon State Ichthyology Collection as well, which was a real treat. Thanks to Dan, Brian, and all of the others that made that workshop possible. After leaving Corvallis, I headed back up to Portland for the meeting. There were a lot of LSU students, alumni, and faculty at the meeting, and it was great to see everyone give talks and to catch up with old friends. Strangely, there was a Walking Dead event going on at the convention center concurrently, and the center was filled with a strange mixture of scientists, and people dressed up as zombies, Walking Dead characters, or random characters from a number of other series. No zombies interrupted any talks, but it was difficult to tell apart scientists from zombies at times... Evolution is always a good meeting, full of inspiring talks and great people. This meeting was no different, and Portland is a great place to visit, with a lot of good bars, restaurants, and things to do. Thanks to all of the organizers of the meeting for pulling off another great meeting.
Not too long after the Portland meeting, Fernando and I found ourselves at another meeting, this time joined by the entirety of the Chakrabarty lab (AJ Turner, Diego Elias, and Pam Hart). The meeting was the JMIH 2017 annual meeting in Austin, TX, commonly referred to as the ichs and herps meeting in near-Austin, TX. This was because the meeting was in the very northern reaches of the city, and quite far from downtown Austin. Despite this, the meeting was still a blast and there were still enough nearby restaurants and bars to keep people busy and happy. I was blown away by many of the student talks at this meeting, which were the highest caliber I've seen yet. So many good studies, with fantastic visuals provided by the wide-spread adoption of CT scans that many people are doing now. It even got a genomics guy like me excited for fish morphology. Overall it was a busy summer, but a lot of fun. I still have an upcoming meeting this October in Tahiti, so stay tuned for a posting on that.
Over the past three years, my advisor, Prosanta Chakrabarty, and I have traveled to the Middle East to sample fishes from the Persian Gulf (also called the Arabian Gulf there). We have visited Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates twice each and have always had a good time on these trips meeting new friends and learning new fishes. These trips began at the invite of LSU museum associate Jim Bishop, who works at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR). Jim has always been the most gracious host, and KISR has provided excellent facilities for us when we visit Kuwait. During our last visit to Kuwait in 2015, Jim, Prosanta, and I were discussing places we've been, field work we've done, and exchanges funny field stories. While we were talking we began to realize some common themes in the places we've been and experiences we had, and as we talked more we came up with some strange similarities (and differences) between the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. These two seas were created by the same geological events, but are quite distinct. However, it was when we were discussing this that I began to relate our discussion to field experiences in the Gulf of California that I had as an undergraduate student at the University of Arizona. There are some striking similarities between the Gulf of California; some aspects were more similar to the Red Sea, but certain areas were complementary to the Persian Gulf (especially the northern regions). This eventually led to a publication comparing the marine biodiversity of these three seas that was recently published in the journal Marine Biodiversity. This publication wouldn't have been possible without the initial invitation out to Kuwait by Jim, or without the hard working efforts of my co-authors, including an undergraduate in our lab, Link Morgan, who gathered the majority of the data for this study. It is always a pleasure to publish with friends, and this publication will always remind me of our visits to the Middle East. If you're interested in the article, please click the link below, and if you have any questions or don't have access to the article please don't hesitate to send me an email. Enjoy!
A quantitative and statistical biological comparison of three semi-enclose seas: the Red Sea, the Persian (Arabian) Gulf, and the Gulf of California
At the LSU Museum of Natural Science we design outreach events that target various age groups, from K-12 children, to college students and beyond. Our mindset is that you can never be too young or too old to learn about the natural world around you. Several years ago our museum paired up with the Louisiana Master Naturalist Association as part of our respective efforts to educate the citizens of this state about the wildlife around them. Master Naturalists participate in a variety of classes before earning a certification that allows them in turn to train others in natural history, and one of these classes is about museum science. This last weekend we held one of these classes at the LSUMNS and gave tours of our various vertebrate collections, and I led the tour of the ichthyology collection. Our fish collection is one of the few collections that are not currently housed in Foster Hall (although that will change soon... more to come on that in the future), and even though the forecast for the day called for a deluge of rain we got lucky and I was able to take the tour over to see the full extent of the collection. Leading these tours is always a fun experience as the participants are full of intrigue and great questions. If you are interested in learning more about the plants and animals around you and you live in Louisiana, then I urge you to check out the Louisiana Master Naturalists Association. If you live in a different state, there are many other Master Naturalists Associations across the country, and one may be near you!
A lot has happened since my last post about visiting the University of New Mexico. Since then I have attended three meetings, traveled abroad, and participated in several outreach events – 2016 kept me busy, and 2017 isn't letting up. I decided I would write a short post summarizing some of the events I've attended. Soon after my last post I participated in the second annual "Our Finned Friends" at the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial & Museum with LSUMNS postdoc Dr. Fernando Alda. I participated in the event last year as well, and it is always a good time. This year we brought a new set of fishes to show off to the public, which they seemed to like a lot. After that outreach event our lab quickly got into meeting mode for the summer. The first meeting that I attended was Evolution, which was held in Austin, TX. Evolution is always a great meeting, and in addition to several LSUMNS students and postdocs, the LSUMNS fish lab was represented by myself, and Fernando Alda. Everyones talks went well, and the meeting was a blast. I hadn't been back to Austin since I attended UT for my masters, and while a lot has changed, it is still the great city that I remember it being. Only a few short weeks after Evolution, the entire LSUMNS Fish lab attended the annual JMIH Meeting in New Orleans, LA. This is always one of my favorite meetings and this year was no different. It was a great time to see old friends, meet new ones, and find out what everyone was studying. Furthermore this was a special JMIH meeting in that it was the centennail meeting for ASIH. This resulted in many talks/events highlighting past meetings and even some talks projecting into the future. I look forward to what the next hundred years holds for the ASIH.
Later on in the fall I was fortunate enough to receive the Schultz fund for vising the ichthyology collections at the USNM. This award is named after the late curator, Leonard P. Schultz, who was a very influential curator at the Smithsonian. I had never seen the collections before at the Smithsonian, and had a fantastic time looking at the fishes that I study there. I also was trained in taking x-rays by Sandra Raredon, who takes some of the best x-rays I have ever seen. While mine were no where near her quality, they still revealed really exciting information that I hope will get published sometime in the near future. I can't express enough for fortunate and grateful I am to the staff at the Smithsonian who made this trip possible. Particular thanks goes out to Dr. Lynne Parenti and Sandra Raredon.
After the Washington DC trip there was a flurry of public outreach events, starting the the 2016 LSU Ocean Commotion event that I help out at every year. The stagering amount of kids that come in from all over Louisiana for this event always catching me off guard, but each year it turns out great. This year was no exception. Several weeks after Ocean Commotion, the LSUMNS held another event for the Louisiana Master Naturalists group. These events consist of tours of all of the collections, as well as information sessions about the history and functions of the museum. I love leading these tours because the attendents are always extremely attentative and ask wonderful questions. Towards the end of November the LSUMNS fish lab was involved in another outreach event that is new to the LSUMNS this year – the Night at the Museum series. This was the second ever presentation for this series, which occurs every couple of months. The first ever presentation was given in August of this year by the curator of ornithology at the LSUMNS, Dr. Van Remsen. Van gave an excellent talk where he highlighted his favorite 10 birds in the collection. Unfortunately for our event, curator of ichthyology Dr. Prosanta Chakrabarty was not able to attend, so the lab decided to collectively pick our favorite 10 specimens in the collection. The event went extremely well, and in addition to the main presentation we had several side booths where other graduate students, and undergraduate students in our lab, presented special fishes. We also had a behind the scenes tour given by Fernando Alda. These events are fantastic to attend, and I highly encourage everyone to attend next years Night at the Museum series.
In addition to meetings and outreach events, 2016 ended with an opportunity for me to go out to the Middle East again. This was the third year in a row that I've traveled out to the Middle East, and my second time visiting the United Arab Emirates. I was invited out by Dr. Rima Jabado, who is working for the Environmental Agency in Abu Dhabi. The UAE has been conducting trawling surveys in the Arabian Gulf over the past year, which was bound to turn up some really interesting fishes because trawling is normally banned in the UAE, and many of the other Gulf countries. I was invited out to help them identify their fish, and also to help them set up a reference collection. There aren't too many reference collections that are maintained in the Gulf region, so this was spectacular opportunity to help in the creation of one. It was a very busy trip, but successful. In the end we processed over 500 specimens, including some very rare sepcies, which is a wonderful start to a collection.
After all of that for the later half of 2016, the year ended on a very good note for me. I received this years Outstanding Graduate Student Award at the LSUMNS, which was presented at our anual holiday party. To make things even better, I was notified right at the end of the year that my NSF DDIG has been funded. Receiving a DDIG has been a goal of mine for a long time, and I cannot express how happy I am to receive one.
I started 2017 by attending the International Biogeography Meeting in Tucson, AZ, which was a fun meeting for me to attend because Tucson is where I grew up. I had never been to one of these meetings before, and the talks were very different from the meetings that I usually attend, but it was good to see what other directions people are working in. Soon it will already be time for this summers meetings. Coming up is Evolution in Portland, OR, followed by ASIH in Austin, TX. It had been too long since my last post, I realize, so I'll do my best to keep this updated more frequently in the future.