Archive for the ‘Research: Live from the Labs’ Category

Moss Landing Scientists Contribute Four New Shark Species

February 28, 2012

by Angela Szesciorka, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

One hundred and forty two new species were discovered last year. Four of those were deep-sea shark species discovered by Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ Dr. David Ebert and his colleagues. Their findings, as well as some interesting facts about the sharks, were featured in National Geographic among the new species found in 2011.

The previously unknown shark species they described included Pristiophorus nancyae, Etmopterus joungi, Etmopterus sculptus, and Squatina caillieti (does that last one sound familiar?).

Pristiophorus nancyae was named by Ebert and Dr. Gregor Cailliet after it was accidentally captured in a 490-meter trawl off Mozambique. This species, also called the African dwarf sawshark, is the seventh species of known sawshark. Like all sawsharks, P. nancyae has an elongated beak (rostrum) like a sword. It will swim with schools of fish, sideswipe prey with its rostrum, then snatch them up. P. nancyae was named for Nancy Packard Burnett because of her support for chondrichthyan (sharks and rays) research at the Pacific Shark Research Center at Moss Landing Marine Labs.

Pristiophorus nancyae (Photo: Dave Ebert)


Stillwater Cove Thesis Work – algae bracelets

June 19, 2011

The John Martin took us out to Stillwater Cove.

Stillwater Cove is one of the best studied kelp beds in the world.  Moss Landing Marine Lab’s very own Mike Fox is studying giant kelp growth in Stillwater.  The R/V John Martin took a group out to tag giant kelp in order to more easily locate them when they go reproductive.  Large blades called sporophylls cover the holdfast and make it difficult to see the tags, so we attached white lines to a nearby winged kelp algae.

Tag and line connecting this winged algae to giant kelp.

Mike Fox tagging kelp to be able to locate them after they get more reproductive.

A Rhodolith Thesis Defense: Thursday May 19th

May 15, 2011

Paul diligently sorting his samples in the lab. What was the point? Come hear his thesis to find out! (photo: E. Loury)

Congratulations to Phycology Lab student Paul Tompkins, who will be defending his thesis this Tursday, May 19th, at noon.  Paul’s thesis is entitled “Distribution, Growth, and Disturbance of Catalina Island Rhodoliths.”  What’s a rhodolith, you ask?  If you can’t come hear the scoop on Thursday, check out these photos belows, or browse around the Drop-In:

Rhodoliths are round, free-living corraline algae - kind of like ocean tumbleweeds (photo: P. Tompkins)

Unlike most seaweeds, rhodoliths are algae that have a hard skeleton made out of calcium carbonate.  The structure of a rhodolith bed creates a habitat for many types of organisms, like a mini coral reef or kelp forest.  Beds like the one shown below were the subject of Paul’s thesis.

A rhodolith bed at Catalina Island. (photo: P. Tompkins)

The Colors of Nature in Cancer Crabs and Stunning Sunsets

March 30, 2011

Straight from the fish's mouth: a juvenille red rock crab (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

This baby red rock crab (Cancer productus), only about an inch wide, still shows some of its bright patterning even after being digested in a gopher rockfish stomach.  Spending more hours than I’d care to admit sifting through fish guts may give one a slightly skewed perspective on the definition of “pretty,” but after identifying so many drab brownish crabs of other species, I found this little guy downright bedazzling.   The color variation in this species is captivating: check out its shocking-white color morph.

How charitable of nature to lend its best colors to both baby crabs and the evening sky.  After hours of staring through the microscope, nothing is more rewarding than stepping out on the back deck of the lab to soak up the amazing view.

photo: E. Loury

A Pack o’ Peanut Worms

March 25, 2011

photo: E. Loury

These little goobers are called peanut worms, or sipunculids.  Sipunculids are in their own phylum Sipuncula (that’s a pretty high level of taxonomic classification), so while their unsegmented bodies make them look like other marine worms (phylum Annelida), they are not directly related.

Sipunculids are pretty fascinating to watch because they can invert their long proboscis to bunch up (like the little peanut-look-alike on the far left), or extend it by essentially turning inside out.  These specimens were just some of the great diversity of critters I found poking around in a kelp holdfast.  Now the question remains: would you like those salted or unsalted?

My, What Big Teeth You Have

February 16, 2011

photo: C. Moran

While fishing over the rocky reefs of San Jose del Cabo in Baja California, Ichthyology lab student Clinton Moran caught himself a 45-pound Pacific dog snapper (Lutjanus novemfasciatus).  Clinton studies the mechanics of how fish feed – being the studious researcher that he is, he decided to clean and  reassemble the head bones of his catch to display the fish’s wicked chompers.  It’s easy to see where the common name comes from with those teeth that look positively canine.  Check out some more fish bone displays from Clinton and other Ichthyology students.

Can you envision what a dog snapper looks like based on its teeth?  Click here to see if you were close!

photo: C. Moran

Can I take him home to France with me?

February 14, 2011

photo: E. Loury

French international student and shark lover Marie Cachera cuddles a leopard shark from the MLML collection.  Marie conducted a diet study on the starry skate as part of her Master’s thesis while visiting MLML for five months in 2009. Despite our location in a podunk town, the caliber of research of Moss Landing Marine Labs has attracted scientists and students from all over the world.  Read an interview with MLML’s current international student Edem Mahu from Ghana.

A Method to Algae Madness… How to Measure Miniscule Growth

December 1, 2010

Rhodoliths (photo by Paul Tompkins)

Jasmine Ruvalcaba

by Jasmine Ruvalcaba, Phycology Lab

edited by Brynn Hooton

We’ve all heard the giant kelp Macrocystis can grow up to one meter per day.  So, how do phycologists, people who study seaweeds, measure growth of different species of algae?  With most, you can use a ruler of some sort.  For instance, Dr. Graham, advisor of the phycology lab,  has a National Science Foundation grant going right now to look at effects of climate change on intertidal and subtidal species.  One factor he looks as is algal growth.  To do so,  we punch holes in the vegetative blade with a regular, run of the mill one-hole puncher near the base of the seaweed, and then each month go back to the same plants, and punch a new hole.   We  measure from the base of the blade to new the punch, from the new punch to the  old punch, and the old punch to the tip of the blade. Wow, sounds like a lot to do underwater, right?  Practice makes perfect.

This is a kelp called Laminaria sinclarii. The arrows show the different hole punches, which show how much the kelp has grown. This one has grown 11 millimeters. (photo by Jasmine Ruvalcaba)

That method is great for species that are fleshy and can grow centimeters per day, but how do you measure growth with calcified species, that grow very slowly?  That’s what Paul Tompkins and I, Jasmine Ruvalcaba, are doing as a part of our thesis research.  Paul studies rhodoliths, which are calcified red algae that form “beds” over soft sediments all over the world.  I am studying their relatives, the articulated species.  In a nut-shell, we soak our plants in stains anywhere from 5 minutes to days, depending on what type of stain we’re using, and let the stain mark the alga’s outer cell walls.  After the plant is stained, we then put it back in clean seawater and let it grow.  Any new parts of the plant that have grown after we took the plant out of the stain should be visible, and we know how long it’s taken to make this new growth.  So, here is what we see…..

This is Calliarthron sp., an articulated coralline species. This photo was taken under UV light, because the particular stain that was used on the algae lights up, or shows up under UV light. (photo by Jasmine Ruvalcaba)

This is a close-up of the articulated coralline branch tips. The arrows show where the stain stops. The white tips, that aren't stained, are growth of the coralline algae that occurred after we stained it. We measure from where the stain stops to the tip of the plant. This particular individual has grown 1.2 millimeters in 1 month. (photo by Jasmine Ruvalcaba)

Keep in touch to read about my future adventures with coralline algae!

Mr. Fish Bones: Some Spooktacular Skeletons

October 29, 2010

Brynn Hooton and Kelsey James assemble a rockfish skeleton for Ichthyology class (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

Skeletons are not just the stuff of Halloween at a marine lab – bones galore grace these halls of science year round.  Although being surrounded by dead things can lead to some unfortunate stereotypes of mad scientists with macabre fetishes, getting up close and personal with bones is one of the best lessons in basic anatomy.

That’s why in Spring 2008, many of us set to the task of cleaning, taking apart and putting together fish skeletons for our Ichthyology class to  better understand how the skeletal structures of these fish “work.”  In honor of Halloween, check out some of our bone creations – I mean, preparations (affectionately known as “bone preps”):

Wolf Eel, prepared by Megan Winton and Jenny Kemper (photo: E. Loury)
Pacific Haliut, prepared by Clinton Moran (photo: E. Loury)
Pacific Halibut, prepared by Clinton Moran (photo: E. Loury)
Vermilion Rockfish, prepared by Katie Schmidt and Kristin Hunter-Thomson. (photo: E. Loury)

Learning bones can have some practical bearing for research as well.  While going through the stomach contents of my gopher rockfish, I have had to try to identify little fish prey items from their bones.   As an example of cool cross-disciplinary collaborations, I and some other diet students have enlisted the help of Crisite Boone, an archaeologist from UC Santa Cruz who is an expert in fish bones from her study of California Indian middens.  Who knew that identifying fish from bits of bone pieces could be a transferable skill?

Here’s a look at one of the more unique skeletons I found, that of a prickleback of some kind.  Note the really robust spines on its back – looks almost…prickley, wouldn’t you say?

Mind the spines! Prickleback skeleton found in gopher rockfish stomach (photo: E. Loury).

Happy Halloween!!!

Happy Octopus Day from MLML: Eight-armed babies and fish octo-snacks

October 8, 2010

One for the octopus baby album! (photo: S. Ainsley)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Icthyology Lab

Put your tentacles up – it’s Cephalopod Awareness Days 2010, everyone!  Fellow marine scientist blogger Danna Staff (a cephalopod enthusiast and newly-minted Ph.D. from Hopkins Marine Station) is hosting this week’s festivities at her Cephalopodiatrist blog.  I figured it would be fitting to celebrate October 8th, Octopus Day, MLML-style with a tale of two Erins and their eight-armed encounters.

The first is a repost about Erin Jensen’s octopuses. Erin defended her thesis in April, titled “The Effects of Environmental Enrichment and Problem-Solving on the Brain and Behavior of Octopus rubescens.”  While she spent most of her time stumping octopuses with mazes and food puzzles, and subsequently dissecting their brains, she also moonlighted in octopus husbandry – or at least, attempted to.  When one of her octopus test subjects wiggled its way out usefulness in her experiment by promptly laying eggs, Erin realized there was little she  could do but enjoy just how goshdarn cute they were. While none of the babies survived past a few days, we did get some video of them doing their bouncy thing – check out the full post here.

And then there’s me, the second Erin.  We in the fish community can appreciate cephalopods as much as anyone.  Even fish love cephalopods – they make great snacks!  Here’s a photo straight from the gopher rockfish gut files, aka my thesis on gopher rockfish diet.  Though true octopus lovers may shed a tear at this assortment of consumed critters, consider that an animal’s ecological role is also worthy of celebration.  So here’s to a tasty link in the food chain!


Delicious and nutritious: little octopods from the guts of gopher rockfish. (photo: E. Loury)



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