First Fieldwork in California

L.A. is huge. There is no Swiss comparison. Zürich or Geneva are little villages compared to it. San Francisco and the whole Bay area are also bigger than Switzerland and overpopulated. When you drive during the night it seems like the whole world is artificially illuminated. Thousands of cars, houses and signs are flashing. It is hard to believe that 150 years ago none of these people were here. This was a wild place with whales, sharks, condors, mountain lions and even golden bears. If you want to get a glimpse of the past you should go to the Angelo Coast Range Reserve. This is a reserve that is run by the University of California, Berkeley.

http://angelo.berkeley.edu/

We drove up the coast the night before fieldwork and slept at Fort Bragg. We had dinner with the locals. A bar full of sailors, butchers and carpenters – us in the middle with the kids. And all these rough men turned soft and playful. Challenging Linnea in dominos and watching Donny feed Jacoby. Anyways, early in the morning we drove into the reserve and I helped Suzanne collect some data for her doctoral thesis. Donny stayed at the station during the day and I followed Suzanne into the woods. Climbing up the creeks against the flow and catching rainbow trout until it got dark. The mountain lions saw us but we never saw them. Suzanne caught her fish with electro shocks. While she administers current underwater we were trying to catch all the stunned critters with hand nets. We caught lots of salamanders (Dicamptodon spp.), frogs (Foothill yellow-legged frog / Rana boylei), crabs, and even a lamprey (Lampetra tridentate). And lots of rainbow trout, maybe some steelheads. Suzanne collected scales, tissue, wrote down sizes, weights, and stuck little PIT tags into the fish. She reminded me of myself working on my PhD. She is great and it seems she has it all under control. I am looking forward to collaborate with her next summer. We want to collect lots of juveniles and sample their gut microbes and at the same time we decided we should also have a look at the gut contents.

Linnean’s name for the rainbow trout is O. mykiss. In the South Fork Eel river watershed, where I went to visit Suzanne, O. mykiss individuals exhibit two different life-forms. Some individuals stay for their whole life in the river pools. These are the ‘actual rainbow trout’. Their counterparts swim down the river as juveniles and live for part of their lives in the Pacific Ocean. They come back as much bigger fish to spawn. These individuals are called ‘steelheads’. I want to find out if the gut microbes of juvenile rainbow trout and steelheads (before they leave) from the same river pools differ. My hypothesis is that their symbiont bacteria are different. I think that bacteria help the steelheads during the process of smolting – when they prepare to swim away.

Suzanne made me familiar with the typical fieldwork that is required to sample wild O. mykiss. We were crawling up and down the creeks with all the material. I really enjoyed the reserve and its wilderness. Most of the sampling techniques (sampling tissues and scales, measuring the fish) I already knew well. I was impressed how easy it seems to tag the fish with PIT tags and then how to scan them and recognize individuals. My task before next summer is to learn how to get stomach content samples from wild fish without hurting them. I am also thinking about getting ‘stool’ samples simultaneously.

Lucky, as I am, I joined the Eisen group right after the annual STAMPS course.

https://stamps.mbl.edu/index.php/Main_Page

Holly and Guillaume took that course this summer and devoted the last three lab meetings on summarizing the most important bits from the course and sharing it with the rest of the group. I got all the course slides about the latest advancements and conclusions how to analyze microbial genomic data. It feels like I made the right choice of groups for my project. With Suzanne and the other people at ESPM I was deeply impressed about their expertise in ecology. In Jonathan’s group I met a bunch of people who are totally specialized on the analysis of microbial communities from different angles. Needless to say again that the Lake Arrowhead conference just blew me away. Hence, both aspects of my project, the host system and its symbionts are nicely covered.

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into the wild

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yellow legged frog

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our van and home

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giant salamander

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giant rainbow trout…

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giant lamprey

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