Are these the deepest fish?

The Internet has been buzzing with reports of “the deepest fish ever recorded” this morning! And they look quite sweet to boot:

But are these snailfish really “the deepest fish ever recorded”?! Turns out, that’s quite a complicated question!

CNN writes: “Cruising at a depth of 8,336 meters (over 27,000 feet) just above the seabed, a young snailfish has become the deepest fish ever filmed by scientists during a probe into the abyss of the northern Pacific Ocean.”

As far as I have found, yes, this is the deepest fish ever filmed.

They also write: “Along with the filming the deepest snailfish, the scientists physically caught two other specimens at 8,022 meters and set another record for the deepest catch.”

This statement is wrought with controversy!

In the paper Fishes of the hadal zone including new species, in situ observations and depth records of Liparidae (2016), Linley et al. detail fishes that have been found deep in the ocean.

Abyssobrotula galatheae is generally considered to be the deepest-living fish at a depth of 8,730 meters, which is noteworthy as it was found below the fish sighted on video! However, this is a controversial finding. The specimen was likely collected with an open net, which means there is room for error and the fish could have been caught anywhere above the maximum trawl depth. So, it’s not something we can trust.

CNN: “Previously, the deepest snailfish ever spotted was at 7,703 meters in 2008, while scientists had never been able to collect fish from anywhere below 8,000 meters.”

In the same paper linked above, Linley et al. detail two snailfish species which maximally (as far as we know) live at 8,076 meters deep and 8,145 meters deep! So, the deepest snailfish was described in 2016.

However, the deepest fish Linley et al. actually trapped was found at 7,966 meters deep. So, excluding the Abyssobrotula galatheae specimen, the newly trapped fish(es?) can still be considered the deepest captured specimens.

This discovery is exciting, as the maximum depth for fishes was previously hypothesized to be around 8,200 meters deep (in Yancey et al. 2014)! The sighting of this little snailfish allows us to reevaluate that hypothesis!

I can’t wait to see what we discover next!

How does parental care relate to juveniles’ capabilities? (in biology!)

When most people think about parental care, they think about human parents! Human parents (and parental figures) tend to care for their children a lot–and for a long time!

That high level of parental care is an adaptation! Humans have adapted to provide a level of parental care that is uncommon among other animals.

For instance, many marine invertebrates and fishes have practically no parental care! Larvae are released out into the ocean–or initially grow in the ocean–and they are on their own!

Young lobster attempting to surf on a jelly (Pelagia flaveola) at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

These youngsters have to be able to survive a lot on their own! The capability to be out on their own so early in their lives is also an adaptation. Think about it–a newborn human is not going to be able to survive on their own without anyone taking care of them! We need people to help us through our childhoods until we become self-sufficient!

In that way, the adapted capabilities of young organisms are very closely linked to the parental care parents are adapted to provide. The level of parental care given has to match youngsters’ capability to survive!

If parental care did not match how prepared youngsters were, you would end up with one of two scenarios:

  • Parents who are providing too much parental care–that stifles the juveniles! They’re ready to go out into the world, but their parents are holding them back!
  • Parents who are providing too little parental care–that leads to unprepared juveniles! They are not ready to go out into the world!

Both of these options are not ideal–so, a species’ adaptations will eventually reach a balance where parental care matches juveniles’ preparation for the real world!

What are your thoughts on parental care? Do you have any questions? Let me know!

What do Cancer pagurus crabs eat?

My Master’s research in Wales has concluded & I have officially finished my dissertation work!

I was honored to be invited to give a Science Colloquium talk through my community college in Modesto all about my Master’s dissertation work. To answer the question “what do Cancer pagurus crabs eat (among a selection of three bivalve species)?”, click below to watch my recent presentation!

Thank you to the entire Science Colloquium committee for hosting me–it was so much fun!

An Open Letter to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Tentacles Exhibit

Dear (The Monterey Bay Aquarium) Tentacles (Exhibit),

I know you will be leaving us in just…really, a couple days, at this point. On September 5th, 2022, you will end your eight-year run. And I will narrowly miss my window of opportunity to say goodbye! I’m in Wales for several more weeks, so I won’t have the option to say goodbye in person, so this is the best I can do.

Tentacles had a knack for giving me my first real-life look at animals that ranked at the top of my favorites list…and welcoming me back year after year to revisit the little critters that stole my heart.

I remember the first time, way back in 2014, that I made my way to the aquarium to see Tentacles–at the time, the experience was complete with the cephalopod arms reaching out of the roof! At first, I thought the nautiluses were fake–it blew my young mind that these animals I’d heard so much about could actually be there, right in front of me.

And we hadn’t even gotten to the flamboyant cuttlefish yet!

I remember the very moment I saw them in their tank, in real life for the first time since practically memorizing the NOVA documentary “Kings of Cuttlefish,” which introduced me to their fascinating, tiny selves. My mother remembers seeing the flamboyant cuttlefish too…for a very long time, as she sat on the bench next to them waiting for me to be satisfied with my level of cuttlefish observation.

I would return to that bench years later, as a student at UCSC, to study for my physics final. I cannot properly communicate how many times I heard the pun “oh, cuttlefish! Do they like to cuddle?” as I sat there.

(SCC being the Science Community Center at my community college–a fantastic place to work!)

This isn’t even to mention all the adorable young generations of flamboyant cuttlefish I’ve witnessed…

I am eternally grateful that the gorgeous music of Tentacles is available on the Internet–as well as grateful to its incredibly talented creator, Douglas Morton. The amount of time I’ve spent listening to that music while staring at various cephalopods cannot be calculated, so it goes without saying that I have a deep attachment to the music itself. It never fails to bring a smile to my face and remind me of the precious cephalopods I’ve seen soundtracked to that music.

Reef squid!

I was sick for my birthday in 2017. We were going to go to the aquarium with my grandparents for my birthday, but that was definitely a bad idea because I was pretty substantially sick, so we waited it out a week. This turned out to be an excellent decision.

There had been whispers of a flapjack octopus at the aquarium that week and I hoped beyond hope that it would stick around until I was able to see it.

As per usual, the instant we got to the aquarium, I led the pack directly to Tentacles. I forged ahead, leaving everyone behind, just wanting to see if my favorite adorable cephalopod was there.

And it was!! There was a creature I’d only seen in videos, bathed in red light to keep it calm, having the time of its little life rising to the surface and sinking back down.

That little octopus would go on to grace my phone’s lock screen for over four years!

Thank you, Tentacles, for all the cephalopods you’ve shown me and all the memories you’ve left with me over the last eight years. I will miss you–you and your steampunk art, old movie clips, beautiful soundtrack…and most of all, your cephalopods.

~ Emma

Looking at Marine Biology through a Historical Lens

The history of the field of marine biology has fascinated me for my whole life. I chose to write an essay about Jacques Cousteau (marine filmmaker and inventor of the AquaLung) when I was eight. I read The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson (who saved the biosphere from DDT) multiple times when I was eleven. I devoured Between Pacific Tides by Ed Ricketts (marine ecology pioneer) when I was sixteen. One of my favorite websites to peruse is the Marine Ecology Family Tree!

It’s really no surprise that I created a course entitled Marine Biology Through History!

But, my interest extends beyond my pure fascination with the field’s history. I believe studying the history of marine biology (and ecology) gives us a valuable perspective, particularly for relative newcomers like myself and my students.

Learning about the history of our field contextualizes biological and ecological details. Exploring the rich histories of marine institutions, scientists, and vessels allows us to understand how the field has evolved throughout the centuries. Plus, we can learn when the field discovered something for the first time–which may have been earlier than we’d expect. I have been repeatedly surprised by how much accurate information I’ve read in publications from the 1900s and 1800s!

History can also teach us humility. Amongst the accurate information lives a treasure trove of past beliefs that turned out to be inaccurate. One of my favorite examples is the paper nautilus–scientists used to believe that females used their specialized arms not for building their egg cases but for sailing!

Although these misled beliefs can be extremely entertaining (particularly for students) they also remind us that, eventually, some of what we now believe to be fact will one day be proven wrong. As we continue to pursue knowledge, it is inevitable that we will discover more inaccuracies hiding in textbooks.

I’ve found that it can be beneficial to frame our collective knowledge base as ever-changing rather than fixed, especially in educational settings. During my courses, we often discover changes to scientific nomenclature or information together, cementing the fact that the field continues to evolve.

Perhaps most importantly, history can push us towards a more inclusive path. As was the case in many fields, marine biology was historically dominated by white, straight, cisgender men. That being said, many influential people in historically underrepresented groups overcame discrimination to contribute to our field. (A particularly poignant example is the life of Dr. Roger Arliner Young.) And it’s important to remember how indigenous groups were excluded from many conservation/natural history conversations and that their ecosystem functioning knowledge was often disregarded.

Marine ecologists often speak about the benefit of species diversity. What about human diversity?

Reading the stories of people who pushed through societal boundaries to further scientific knowledge motivates me to do all I can to make my field more inclusive.

I choose to highlight the accomplishments of people from historically underrepresented groups in Marine Biology Through History. I feel it is important for students to see themselves in the history of this field as we move forward. Although we have made progress, there is still plenty of work to be done.

As they continue in their careers, I want to make sure that my students know that people of all sorts of backgrounds and identities have contributed to this field in the past and still contribute to it now. Our diversity as a species is something we ought to embrace.

I think my fascination with the history of my field has become less of a hobby and more of a responsibility. After all, we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Isn’t it prudent to learn about who those giants were?

Ecology Explained: Settlement & Recruitment

Marine ecologists specializing in larvae often use two similar terms seemingly interchangeably: settlement and recruitment. What do these terms mean?

We use the word “settlement” to describe the transformation between the planktonic larval phase and the sessile/benthic adult phase. A settler is any organism that is no longer floating free in the water column–it’s now either physically attached to a habitat (like barnacles attaching to a rock) or metaphorically attached (like a fish settling around a particular coral colony).

On the other hand, we use the word “recruitment” to describe the addition of newly settled organisms into the population that scientists or surveyors have measured. So, a recruit is an organism that a scientist has seen in a settled form. Hypothetically, the number of recruits equals the number of settlers. However, this is rarely, if ever, the case. Post-settlement mortality, sampling bias, and other factors practically ensure that the measured recruitment number does not equal the actual settlement number.

I couldn’t find a good Settlement vs. Recruitment diagram on the Internet, so I made my own!

In this diagram, we start out with twenty barnacle settlers on this rock face (yes, they are orange in real life!). But time has passed before our surveyor comes along to count this year’s new barnacles. Some barnacles have died between settlement and recruitment recording. So, our surveyor only finds 13 barnacle recruits! The number of recruits does not equal the number of settlers.

Time is critical when measuring recruitment. The less time between settlement and recording, the better, as fewer new settlers have died. However, it can be very difficult to reduce the time between settlement and when we measure recruitment. Factors such as tides, weather conditions, and funding can reduce scientists’ ability to minimize this bias.

Plus, real life isn’t as simple as this diagram! It’s easy to miss a barnacle or two (or three, or twenty) hiding in a crevice or in the shadow of an adult barnacle while sampling. Or, the area measured may not be indicative of larger-scale settlement patterns!

In order to separate these two concepts, we use the terms “settlement” and “recruitment” to reduce confusion and more accurately describe what we’re talking about!

Do you have a lingering question about settlement and recruitment? Ask it in the comments section and I will be happy to help as best I can!

PSA: Bryozoans are awesome!

We just covered lophophorates in In-Depth Marine Biology, which was great fun for me (I love lophophorates!). I’ve noticed that, somehow, many people haven’t heard of these wonderful animals. So I tasked my class with creating Public Service Announcements to inform the public about these wonderful creatures.

One student, Maria C., wrote a whole song about bryozoans! Take a listen below–it’s very catchy! (the video has no visuals, just sound)

It’s been stuck in my head for a while now! Even more amazing: it’s the first song she’s written! Incredible job, Maria!

Ecology Explained: The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis

The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis is one of the staples of ecology, especially marine ecology. The Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis was first proposed by Connell, a well-known intertidal and general ecologist, in 1978 (See his article “Diversity in Tropical Rain Forests and Coral Reefs”). But what is it exactly? Let me explain!

Let’s start with this handy diagram from Wikipedia.

Source Link

As you can see, we have Level of Disturbance on the x-axis. That simply describes the level of disturbance present in the system. It could be any sort of disturbance…fires, hurricanes, waves, human or animal trampling, wind, sun, and so on. The level of disturbance increases from left to right. So, the area marked with I has less disturbance than area II.

Species Diversity on the y-axis is more of a general term. Sometimes this is “species richness,” which is a pure count of species present in the ecosystem. Sometimes this is actually referring to “species diversity,” which takes the number of species from species richness and combines it with how the species are distributed in the system. But that’s a subject for another blog post! All you need to know now is that species diversity in the system increases from the bottom to the top.

Now let’s look at those areas marked by Roman numerals.

Area I is first up. In that section, we have a low amount of disturbance, which results in an okay amount of diversity. Why is that?

Ecosystems typically have a successional pathway–a pattern across time of species that are present. Think about a forest directly after a forest fire. Early-regrowth forests are going to look totally different from established forests! Those established forests will most likely have one or more competitive dominants–the species that compete the best. That’s great for the competitive dominants because they do well in those established systems, but it’s not so good for diversity. The competitive dominants compete so well that there isn’t much room for other species.

(Sometimes you will see similar graphs that are a simple bell curve with Area I showing the same low, low diversity that Area III exhibits. This can also happen–if there is no disturbance in the system at all, the species diversity is going to be extremely low. But, from my perception, it’s probably not going to get as bad as Area III. It’s all up to interpretation.)

Area II looks great! There is an intermediate amount of disturbance and the maximum amount of diversity. In Area II, there is enough disturbance in the system to stop the competitive dominants from over-dominating. Organisms earlier in the successional pathway that are poorer competitors (but still play an important role) are able to survive. This results in the maximum amount of species diversity! Hence the name “Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis!” This area is experiencing an intermediate amount of disturbance, but not enough to push it to Area III.

Area III is not a good place to be. Area III exhibits a very high amount of disturbance and a low amount of diversity. It’s pretty easy to understand why! Think of a coral reef that’s constantly being battered by huge hurricanes or a forest that has repeated, huge fires. The succession pathway barely even gets a chance to begin before another huge disturbance sweeps through. This will result in very low diversity.

So, the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis shows us that with an intermediate level of disturbance we can expect a high amount of diversity. With low and high levels of disturbance, not so much!

Do you have a lingering question? Ask it in the comments section and I will be happy to help as best I can!

The beginning of the academic year is upon us!

The beginning of the academic year is always exciting for me because it signals my return to two of my favorite activities: learning and teaching! I’m offering three courses through Athena’s Advanced Academy in the beginning half of the semester: Marine Mammals, The Rocky Intertidal Ecosystem, and In-Depth Marine Biology.

I love teaching all of my courses, but I am particularly excited to teach In-Depth Marine Biology. For one, it’s a year-long course–the first I’ve ever taught! We’re going to cover some of my favorite topics under the umbrella of marine biology. Plus, my students are wonderful and are already diving deep into the material!

I wanted to share a couple of my students’ work from the first week of In-Depth Marine Biology with you from a taxonomic classification assignment. Students were tasked with pretending that everyday objects were organisms and creating their own taxonomic system to classify these “organisms.”

I am pleased to report that students took this idea and ran with it! We had writing instrument classification…

By Aria (who correctly noted that she wouldn’t be able to tell if one of these organisms were a mimic! She created a whole timelapse video showing her experiment! This is a still from the video.)

Two different candy classifications…

By Bridget (who grouped candy in Genera and pointed out that we are missing observations over time–very thoughtful!)
This student went another direction with the taxonomy of candy (and included an amazing spreadsheet detailing each step!)

LEGO brick classification…

By Jonathan V. (who not only did a fantastic job showing the narrowing of his groups, but also arranged the taxonomic tree in the shape of a bearded anglerfish!)

And even pasta!

By Kai S. (who not only sorted by different morphological characteristics & ingredients, but also created this beautiful artistic depiction of Kingdom Pasta!)

And guess what?! There were more submissions too! The other submissions just had text, so they wouldn’t fit well in this format. But rest assured that they were all wonderful and creative too. As a class, we developed taxonomic classifications for board games, tea, and more!

I am so looking forward to seeing what my students create over the next academic year!

Gorgeous Geniculated Coralline Algae

I’ve been busy lately! My final year of my undergraduate degree wrapped up this spring, which has opened up time for a lot of awesome projects. I’m helping my local community college by scanning in the best examples of their algae collection with my mother’s awesome scanner! (Plus, I’ve been updating the labels so they’re more up-to-date!)

I just got to the coralline algae section of the collection and it is so cool to see these specimens in such detail.

Edit: The image is so good that WordPress can’t handle it! See the zoomed-in image below!

I actually need to create a new label for this one at some point. The name listed on the label for this species is Corallina gracilis f. densa, but this name is now a synonym of Corallina vancouveriensis. The need for a label update is not all that surprising since this specimen was collected in 1967 and scientific algae names change often!

The WordPress picture size limit doesn’t quite allow you to see how amazing these scans are, so here’s a close-up:

Awesome scanning power!

As you can see, coralline algae doesn’t have the typical slimy, floppy look that most algae forms have. That’s because coralline algae are calcifying algae! Just like reef-building corals, coralline algae use calcium carbonate to beef up their tissue and create a sort of “skeleton,” hence the name “coralline,” meaning “coral-like.”

This particular coralline algae species is geniculate–hence the title of this blog post! Geniculate corallines refer to coralline algae that has “joints,” which enable them to have some mobility, unlike coral skeletons. This term comes from the word root for knee!

Here’s a close-up under a microscope:

Those pink parts are called intergenicula, as they’re between the genicula. The intergenicula are the parts with calcium carbonate deposits. You can actually see a geniculum quite well in this picture–it’s the yellow stringy stuff between the first and second intergenicula from the left. There’s none of that tough calcium carbonate present in the genicula so they can bend!

This specimen is a different species, although I’m not sure which. This one has been bleached a little–a lot of the pink color has left. Like coral, coralline algae usually looks white when it’s been dead for a while. Bright pink samples were most likely collected from live organisms.

Here’s a stained slide of some genicula and intergenicula:

The blue parts are intergenicula and the pink parts are genicula!

That same stringy genicula texture persists here!

These genicula are very important for the coralline algae, since it enables them to grow tall without being inflexible and brittle. One problem with coral is that it is rather susceptible to waves and storms–the wave energy can smash the immovable coral. Geniculate coralline algae has the ability to move with the waves, reducing its susceptibility to wave energy.

One thing’s for sure: coralline algae is more than a pretty pink color!