Archivos de Diario para junio 2021

03 de junio de 2021

Member profile - Joe Rowlett

There are few natural environments as varied and amazing as the marine environment. Its major attraction, located close and highly accessible for most of our project participants. This extensive variation and close proximity are key drivers in making the Australasian Fishes project such a success. That said, at the risk of being branded a heretic and drummed out of the Australasia Fishes project, I would like to point out there are other things underwater, than fish. If you are still reading, please bear with me for a few minutes before you commence boiling the tar and plucking feathers, to punish my heresy. I have not lost my passion for fish, however, from past bio blurbs it is clear many of us who spend time underwater find the environment itself enchanting on a number of levels. It is clear many project participants find beauty, enjoyment, adventure and relaxation while contributing to the valuable science in the project.
When I hear others speak about how much their time underwater means to them, in some ways it reminds me of friends who say similar things about their bushwalking or birdwatching activities. They love the scenery as well as the hazards the outdoors present. While the outdoors (especially underwater) can be uncomfortably wet and cold, they longingly seek the challenges found in going to a new area, learning the local conditions, navigating unknown hazards and possibly seeing something for the first time. In some ways, searching underwater, in the name of citizen science, is quite a bit like bushwalking. The sea offers a completely new environment, with new hazards and challenges, as well as unique vistas. On the other hand, while bushwalking in terrestrial environments, you can easily tell the difference between a plant and an animal. Even the least seasoned bushwalker would not confuse flora from fauna, as they walk through both familiar and unfamiliar terrestrial environment. There are no stories of vegetarian bushwalkers, searching for bush tucker and eating a cockroach or snake by mistake. The underwater environment is extremely different. Putting aside that you can’t breathe without mechanical assistance or that you can’t yell out a “coo-ee” when you’ve lost contact with your friends, another characteristic of the underwater world is that it is very difficult to tell the plants from the animals.
Thus, participating in our project, with the exception of the cryptic species, it is usually somewhat easy to tell what a fish is. However, it is also only natural that while underwater, looking at fish, that some of the other attractions draw your attention. We know this because looking at the observations of marine life, that many of the project’s participants record items other than fish, in different iNat projects. I confess, I too have photographed and submitted observations of things which are not actually fish and have found that the community which assists with identification appears to be smaller than the fish world. As a result, I have been extremely grateful to those experts who have provided identifications for these unique and fascinating sea creatures.
Of those who are acting as our guides to the non-fish aspect of the marine environment, the name of Joe Rowlett, AKA, Joe Fish, (https://www.inaturalist.org/people/630365) is a familiar source of identification support. Joe is the subject of this month’s bio blurb. By way of introduction, Joe’s online bio reads, “He is classically trained in the zoological arts and sciences, with a particular focus on the esoterica of invertebrate taxonomy and evolution. He’s written for several aquarium publications and for many years lorded over the marine life at Chicago’s venerable Old Town Aquarium. He currently studies prairie insect ecology at the Field Museum of Natural History and fish phylogenetics at the University of Chicago.”
Growing up in suburban Chicago, where he discovered, marine life is in tragically short supply, his earliest interests in the natural world were of the entomological sort, however, he describes himself as a bit of a schizophrenic zoologist, wherein much of his published research is in marine biology, his employment has been related to insect ecology. Joe describes his interest in the marine environment thusly, “I used to regularly write articles for aquarium blogs (reef builders, reefs.com). The subject matter tended to focus on obscure or challenging taxa of reef-associated animals, particularly as it relates to their speciation. My earliest IDs on iNaturalist were of the Chrysiptera parasema complex, for an article I was writing at the time, but many of the observations on here were misidentified and in need of curation. Most of my early efforts on here were focused on curating a few Indo-Pacific fish taxa that I had a particular interest in (Amphiprion, Canthigaster, Cirrhilabrus), but that shifted more towards corals as I was researching for my book. Despite being an entomologist, I haven't put nearly as much time into identifying insects.”
Joe’s research for aquarium blogs clearly showed him there's a lack of taxonomic expertise, especially for some coral groups. He reminds us, “Species are often known only from brief, antiquated descriptions that are difficult or impossible to apply. Take a group like Dendronephthya, which has something like ~200 taxa according to WoRMS, whereas the actual biodiversity in this group seems to be closer to 10% of that number. And many corals are challenging to identify without high-quality photos illustrating the necessary morphological traits—this is especially true for the stalked xeniids, which can't even be reliably determined to genus-level in most cases.”
It is possible to see how this need of improved taxonomic expertise developed into Joe becoming a leader in this area. For those of us, who have always wanted to write a book about our favourite aspects of the marine environment, Joe actually has done that, a definitive field guide for Indo-Pacific corals. He tells us that it was the culmination of two years’ work and the sourcing of over four thousand photos of soft corals, stony corals, anemones, sea pens and hydroids. Not only satisfied with classification and description, but Joe also used the opportunity to update traditional reef builders classification, based on the most recent genetic analysis. The end result was an 800-page coral guide, titled Indo-Pacific Corals (ISBN-13: 979-8686565975, see: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08KPXLYT5?ref_=pe_3052080_397514860 ). He notes, “On face value, it seems a bit preposterous for an entomologist from the Midwest (who has never even dived in the region) to attempt such a gargantuan project. The Indo-Pacific coral fauna has never had an adequate field guide covering it in its entirety, despite the considerable interest there is in the subject from divers, aquarists, researchers, etc. And there's also been a considerable need for a single publication featuring all of the changes to coral taxonomy that have appeared over the past couple decades.”
How does one approach a writing project on this scale? Joe says, “I was initially approached by a prolific diver and author, Andrey Ryanskiy, to help him in identifying corals for a book he was working on, but the project eventually grew in scope such that I ended up writing the book myself, over the course of about 2 years. My goal was to source photos of every genus in the region, which proved to be a monumental challenge. The book includes what are likely the first published in situ photos for many taxa (Clavactinia, Cladangia, Monoxenia, Sibogella, etc) and iNaturalist proved instrumental in pulling this off. I'm going to try to get a second edition out later this year which will include a couple more obscure taxa that I recently found photos of.”
Moving into his true discipline of passion, Joe tells us, “In recent years, I've been involved with an ongoing project at the Field Museum studying the changes that take place to the insect communities of restored prairies here in Illinois. It's a specialized fauna that has largely been wiped out over the last couple hundred years, due to agriculture and introduced species. I'm also working on a molecular phylogeny of the pseudocheilin wrasses with Mark Westneat at the University of Chicago, which should be wrapped up later this year. And I've got a review/reclassification of the Chrysiptera cyanea group currently working its way to publication (which relied heavily on iNaturalist observations).”
Joe’s contribution to iNaturalist has been impressive, with 50,950 identifications, made to grateful people like me, who have benefited from his expertise. He is also impressed with projects like Australasian Fishes, reminding us, “Aussies have done a great job of documenting their fish fauna, but the same can't be said for corals, particularly those from the subtropics. This is more a failing of the taxonomic community, as the divers on iNaturalist have now contributed many excellent observations, but much of the taxonomic work dates to the 19th or early 20th century. For example, Australopsammia aurea is a species that I reclassified in my book, based largely on the photos contributed by citizen scientists. It was described from Port Jackson in 1834, but it soon became confused with a superficially similar tropical species, Tubastraea coccinea. Thus far, it has only been documented from areas around Sydney, but it might occur elsewhere along the southern coastline (though it seems suspiciously absent from the well-documented waters around Adelaide). Like much of the marine fauna in this region, it is imperilled by climate change, which is why resolving these taxonomic issues is so pressing. You can't conserve a species if it isn't being recognized by taxonomists.”
Personally, I am very grateful to Joe for being kind enough to identify many of the non-fish images I post on iNaturalist and while researching this bio blurb, I now realise that I am one of many, divers, photographers, scientists and aquarium enthusiasts who have benefited from his generosity and spirit of sharing knowledge. He works in a very complex environment of taxonomy, the never-ending challenge of better defining life on Earth, which not only improve our enjoyment as we explore the marine environment but will also be crucial to future scientists and ecologists who try to understand the shifting of life in the sea and on the planet.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Anotado en 03 de junio de 2021 a las 02:16 AM por markmcg markmcg | 5 comentarios | Deja un comentario

17 de junio de 2021

What fishes live at my dive site?

Let’s say you dive or fish regularly at a particular location. One of the terrific features of iNaturalist that may be of interest to you is the ability to produce a list of the fishes that have been observed at that location, or indeed any location. To give you a quick example, let’s take the Kurnell region in Sydney. Just enter “Kurnell” in the Location search box (see red ellipse on the left image above) and over 1800 observations of 153 species are retrieved. You can view these observations as a grid of photographs, a list of species, or as points on a map (see orange ellipse). The data can be easily downloaded as an excel file by clicking on the Filters button then choosing Download.
Retrieving observations by locality and displaying a grid of individual species photographs can make identifying a fish much easier. Again, an example would be instructive. Suppose you have photographed a butterflyfish you didn’t recognise while diving at Lord Howe Island. Simply enter “butterflyfishes” in the Species search box and “Lord Howe Island” in the Location search box (right image above), then click the orange Go button. Finally click on the species tab which will display a gallery showing an image of each butterflyfish species observed at Lord Howe Island. Of course, this gallery only shows butterflyfish species for with the Australasian Fishes Project has observations. Your photograph might show a species that has not been recorded from the region, in which case please upload it. 😊
A powerful feature of iNaturalist that you may not be aware of is the ability to create your own ‘Places’. Many Australasian Fishes Project members regularly upload observations of fishes washed up on particular beaches. They might find it useful to define their own places on which they can search. To do this, first check that your area of interest doesn’t already exist by typing the name of your place of interest into the Location search box. If it doesn’t appear, you can define your own place by clicking on “Places” (see left image below), then clicking on the "Add a New Place" button. Finally, draw a polygon that encloses your area of interest and give it a name. The right image below shows a polygon drawn around Exmouth Gulf, Western Australia. Feel free to set up your own personal places, perhaps for your favourite dive location, angling spot or even your research locality.
Anotado en 17 de junio de 2021 a las 04:57 AM por markmcg markmcg | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario