Florida, USA invasive fish, wrong name corrected


This 2014 aquarium video says about itself:

A pair of my ‘next generation’ Cichlasoma dimerus are guarding a huge number of fry . . . all from a female about 3″ SL.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Fish switch: Identity of mystery invader in Florida waters corrected after 20 years

January 8, 2020

Sometimes scientists make mistakes. Case in point is the chanchita, a South American freshwater fish that has been swimming in Florida’s waters for at least two decades, all the while identified by experts as another invader, the black acara.

Although the two species look strikingly similar, the black acara is tropical, a native of equatorial South America, while the subtropical chanchita isn’t typically found north of Southern Brazil. Because the chanchita is more cold-tolerant, researchers say it could have a more widespread impact in Florida than the black acara and could threaten native species in North Central Florida ecosystems.

“Even the professionals get it wrong,” said Robert Robins, Florida Museum of Natural History ichthyology collection manager. “The chanchita has been right here, right under our noses. It’s spread into seven different counties and five different river drainages in Florida, well beyond the Tampa Bay drainage where it appears to have been first introduced.”

Introduced by the pet trade, the black acara has been a well-known invader in the Miami area since the 1950s and is now common in South Florida. When a similar cichlid appeared in the waters draining into North Tampa Bay around 2000, scientists assumed the black acara was simply expanding its range or had been introduced a second time.

The misidentification was finally spotted by sharp-eyed amateur fish collectors as well as Mary Brown, a biologist who studies non-native fishes. Brown questioned Robins’ assertion that a specimen he brought home from holiday collecting near Tampa in 2017 was a black acara, Cichlasoma bimaculatum. Although the fish had the same general appearance, something wasn’t adding up.

“The body color and the pattern on the scales on its head just looked a little different,” said Brown, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey Wetland and Aquatic Research Center. “It wasn’t the same as the black acara I’ve come across while conducting non-native fish surveys in South Florida.”

Meanwhile Ryan Crutchfield, founder of the fish identification database FishMap.org, was getting feedback from amateur collectors that he’d misidentified a fish as a black acara for an article on the history of the species in Florida. Crutchfield, Robins and Brown took a closer look at the specimens in question, eventually identifying them as the chanchita, Cichlasoma dimerus.

“I don’t think anyone except for the amateurs who have an interest in fishes of Florida thought twice about whether or not these fish were black acara,” Robins said. “They’re out there collecting stuff while quite honestly a lot of us are stuck behind our computers typing emails.”

Because of their hardiness and bright colors, cichlids are often coveted by aquarists. But with about 1,900 species — 20 of which are invasive in Florida — and constant revision to the family’s classification, cichlid identification becomes tricky, Robins said.

Robins said that life color, or how a fish appears in its environment, was likely an essential indicator to amateur collectors the chanchita had found its way to Central Florida. Cichlids can change color according to their surroundings, temperament and time of day. But the colorful variations between species disappear in a laboratory setting, where they’re often preserved in alcohol and lose nearly all coloration.

“When we started going out into the field and collecting them and actually finding them in breeding condition or as dominant males, they’re stunningly beautiful,” Robins said. “I think that’s what the amateur community was keying in on. They’re the ones detecting life color, and that was really instructive in determining this was a different species.”

Once the researchers determined the Tampa invader wasn’t a black acara, it came down to microscopic differences in physiology to identify the species as the chanchita. They relied on CT scanning to zoom in on the number of teeth in the specimen’s outer lower jaw and tiny fingerlike structures along the fish’s fourth gill arch.

The Florida Museum’s ichthyology collection was instrumental in providing insight into the chanchita’s invasion timeline, with specimens dating back 20 years. These specimens had been incorrectly cataloged as black acara, but were key indicators of when the chanchita colonized Central Florida, where the species formed reproducing populations as early as 2000.

Brown said non-native fish species like the chanchita have the potential to impact Florida’s aquatic ecosystems by outcompeting native fishes for habitat and food resources.

“Locating and identifying non-native fishes requires an interdisciplinary approach and coordination with partners from across the state,” she said. “This finding is leading us to look at other non-native fish species — it’s possible that there may be other fish out there that are misidentified, and properly identifying the species is critical for proper management.”

Florida is a welcoming arena for invaders to compete with native species and one another due to the state’s intersection of tropical and temperate climates. Constant invasions pose a challenge to conservationists and can often threaten already-endangered native species. Robins said Florida waters could be the chanchita’s first chance at meeting the black acara — and what happens afterward is anyone’s guess.

“Will they hybridize? Would it matter other than just making things more confusing? Are there other species of acara that have been let loose and established populations? What’s actually happening in the environment?” Robins said. “Florida’s aquatic ecosystems are, in a nutshell, one big experiment.”

Florida, USA winter birds


This 26 December 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Florida Winter Backyard Bird selection – a little slice of Backyard life. Blue Jays, Miss cardinal, Common Grackles and little Painted Buntings seem to be getting along pretty well this afternoon.

Florida, USA sea turtle babies, new research


This 27 July 2016 video from the USA says about itself:

Baby Sea Turtles Hatching at the Beach in Jupiter, Florida

I moved to Jupiter in 1988 and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this! It was around 8pm when they hatched and they all made it to the ocean!

From the University of Central Florida in the USA:

Where do baby sea turtles go? New research technique may provide answers

December 23, 2019

A team of Florida researchers and their collaborators created a first-of-its-kind computer model that tracks where sea turtle hatchlings go after they leave Florida’s shores, giving scientists a new tool to figure out where young turtles spend their “lost years”.

Nathan Putman, a biologist with LGL Ecological Research Assoc. based in Texas, led the study, which included 22 collaborators across Mexico, the southeastern United States, the Caribbean, and Europe. Co-authors include UCF Associate Professor Kate Mansfield, who leads UCF’s Marine Turtle Research Group, and UCF assistant research scientist Erin Seney.

“The model gives community groups, scientists, nonprofit agencies and governments across borders a tool to help inform conservation efforts and guide policies to protect sea turtle species and balance the needs of fisheries and other human activity,” Putman said.

The team’s simulation model and findings were published this week in the online journal Ecography.

The model is built to predict loggerhead, green turtle and Kemp’s ridley abundance, according to the authors. To create the model, the team looked at ocean circulation data over the past 30 years. These data are known to be reliable and routinely used by National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies. The team also used sea turtle nesting and stranding data from various sources along the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and Florida coasts. The dataset includes more than 30 years of information from UCF, which has been monitoring sea turtle nests in east Central Florida since the late 1970s. Mansfield, Seney and Putman previously worked together on other sea turtle studies in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The combination of big data is what made this computer model so robust, reliable and powerful,” Putman said.

The group used U.S. and Mexico stranding data — information about where sea turtles washed ashore for a variety of reasons — to check if the computer model was accurate, Putman said. The model also accounts for hurricanes and their impact on the ocean, but it does not take into consideration humanmade threats such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which occurred during the years analyzed in the study.

The computer model also predicts where the turtles go during their “lost years” — a period after the turtles break free from their eggs on the shoreline and head into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico and northwest Atlantic. The turtles spend years among sargassum in the ocean, and any data about that time is scarce. Better data exist when they are larger juveniles and return to forage closer to coastlines. What young sea turtles do in between hatching and returned to nearshore waters takes place during what is called the “lost years” and is the foundation of sea turtle populations. Understanding where and when the youngest sea turtles go is critical to understanding the threats these young turtles may encounter, and for better predicting population trends throughout the long lives of these species, said Mansfield.

This work was supported in part by a National Academy of Sciences gulf research program grant awarded to Mansfield, Seney and Putman to synthesize available sea turtle datasets across the Gulf of Mexico.

“While localized data collection and research projects are important for understanding species’ biology, health and ecology, the turtles studied in one location typically spend different parts of their lives in other places, including migrations from offshore to inshore waters, from juvenile to adult foraging grounds, and between foraging and nesting areas,” said Seney, who helped coordinate data compilation from the multiple locations. “Our extensive collaborations on this project allowed us to study the Gulf of Mexico’s three most abundant sea turtle species and to integrate nesting beach data for distant nesting populations that ended up having close connections to the 1- to 3-year-old turtles living and stranding along various portions of the U.S. Gulf coast. Without the involvement of our Mexican and Costa Rican collaborators, a big piece of this picture would have been missing.”

Prehistoric Floridans ate sea turtles, new research


This March 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Florida beaches are some of the highest density nesting sites for loggerhead turtles in the world. As such, they’re a major focus for conservationists looking out for this endangered species.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Ancient bone protein reveals which turtles were on the menu in Florida, Caribbean

November 4, 2019

Thousands of years ago, the inhabitants of modern-day Florida and the Caribbean feasted on sea turtles, leaving behind bones that tell tales of ancient diets and the ocean’s past.

An international team of scientists used cutting-edge technology to analyze proteins from these bones to help identify which turtle species people fished from the ocean millennia ago. This can aid modern conservation efforts by helping construct historical baselines for turtle populations, many of which are now endangered, and illuminate long-term trends of human impacts.

The technique, known as collagen fingerprinting, allows scientists to visualize distinct chemical signatures in collagen, the main structural protein in bone, that are often species-specific. This provides a complementary alternative to comparing specimens’ physical characteristics and analyzing ancient DNA, two methods that can be unsuccessful for species identification in fragmented archaeological bones found in the tropics.

Applying collagen fingerprinting to more than 100 turtle samples from archaeological sites up to 2,500 years old, the researchers found that 63% of the collagen-containing bones belonged to green turtles, Chelonia mydas, with smaller numbers of hawksbill turtles, Eretmochelys imbricata, and ridley turtles, Lepidochelys species. Some specimens previously identified as sea turtles from their skeletal features were in fact bones from snapping turtles, terrapins and tortoises.

“This is the first time anyone has obtained species-level information using proteins preserved in archaeological sea turtle bone,” said Virginia Harvey, the study’s lead author and a doctoral researcher in marine biology and zooarchaeology at the University of Manchester. “Our method has allowed us to unlock ancient data otherwise lost in time to see which species of turtle humans were targeting thousands of years ago in the Caribbean and Florida regions.”

Globally, sea turtles have been exploited for millennia for their meat, eggs, shells and other products. Today, they face threats from habitat loss and disturbance, poaching, pollution, climate change and fisheries. Only seven species of sea turtle remain, six of which are classified as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered. Gaining a historical perspective on how turtle populations have changed through time is a crucial component of conserving them, Harvey said.

One of the research team’s initial goals was to discern whether any collagen still survived in ancient turtle bone remains. In an analysis of 130 archaeological turtle samples, the team was able to detect collagen in 88%.

“We were very impressed with the levels of protein preservation in the turtle bones, some of which are thought to be up to 2,500 years old,” said study co-author Michelle LeFebvre, assistant curator of South Florida archaeology and ethnography at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “The fact we were then able to use the protein signatures for species identification to better understand these archaeological sites was very exciting.” …

Using collagen fingerprinting to correct misidentifications based on physical characteristics was “a nice additional outcome of the study,” said Michael Buckley, senior author of the study and senior research fellow at the University of Manchester.

Susan deFrance, study co-author and professor in the University of Florida department of anthropology, said juvenile sea turtles are often misidentified because they are small and may lack the characteristics used to distinguish adult sea turtle bones.

“This is the first time we have been able to look so specifically into the preferred food choices of the site occupants,” she said. “At the Florida Gulf Coast site, they captured a lot of juvenile turtles. The positive species-level identifications of these samples could not have been accomplished without this collagen fingerprinting technology.”

At the same site, researchers found green turtle remains in both refuse heaps and mounds, but ridley turtle specimens were only found in mounds, suggesting they may have been reserved for feasting rituals, LeFebvre said.

“We knew these ancient people were eating sea turtles, but now we can begin to hone in on which turtles they were eating at particular times,” she said. “It’s no different than today — we associate certain foods with certain events. It’s how humans roll.”

The researchers are also eager to continue to apply collagen fingerprinting to other archaeological museum specimens, many of which have yet to be positively identified to the species level.

Harvey said she hopes the study inspires further research on sea turtles and other vulnerable and endangered animals.

“Now that this method is available, we hope that biologists, archaeologists and conservationists globally will continue this important work.”

Casper Toftgaard of the University of Copenhagen and Andrew Kitchener of National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh also co-authored the study.

Megalodon, glyptodon fossil discovery in Florida, USA


This 14 October 2019m video from the USA says about itself:

Finding a Megalodon Shark Tooth & Glyptodon (Giant Armadillo) Fossils in a Florida River!

The best of both worlds! In this video we got out for some Megalodon shark tooth hunting, but also found some incredibly nice Glyptodon scutes! Glyptodon is a giant armadillo-like animal from the Pleistocene (1.8 million to 10,000 years ago) the size of a Volkswagen Beetle! This was definitely an adventure as the water was very low and we had to drag the canoe all through the swamp.

Texas pumas saving Florida panthers


This video from the USA says about itself:

Florida Panther Encounter – 7/5/2014

There are only about 160 Florida Panthers in the wild, and we were fortunate to see this young one – on public lands from the front seat of our car. (This is the long, minimally edited version of our adventure.) Please support funding for environmental protection!

From Ohio State University in the USA:

How the Texas puma saved the Florida panther

Uncovering the genetic details of a conservation success story

October 3, 2019

Scientists have pieced together the first complete picture of the Florida panther genome — work that could serve to protect that endangered population and other endangered species going forward.

Florida panthers are the only documented population of pumas (Puma concolor) found east of the Mississippi River.

In the mid-1990s, Florida panthers were facing desperate times. Their small numbers (fewer than 30 in the wild) made inbreeding inevitable and that brought the usual health troubles that emerge when any animals, including humans, mate with partners of a similar genetic background. Heart failure, undescended testicles, pathogenic diseases and parasites were common among the animals. So biologists introduced eight female Texas pumas into South Florida, hoping that genetic variation would help shore up the Florida panthers’ future.

In the new study, researchers used advanced computer techniques to analyze the genomes of Florida panthers, Texas pumas and their offspring to better understand how the mid-1990s introduction program contributed to Florida panthers’ genetic diversity.

Among their findings: Genetic diversity tripled.

“Florida panthers were in trouble because of inbreeding depression. It’s like royalty in human history, where mating with close relatives increases the risk of manifesting harmful DNA mutations and reduces the ability to survive and reproduce,” said lead author Alexander Ochoa, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology at The Ohio State University.

The study appears online in the journal G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics.

Five of the pumas introduced in the 1990s produced at least 20 offspring. Today, upwards of 230 known individual panthers — many the descendants of this introduction program — roam southern Florida, many in Everglades National Park and Big Cypress National Preserve.

Ochoa and his collaborators examined the DNA of 10 animals — a mixture of Florida panthers and Texas pumas and their immediate offspring. They compared the animals’ genetics, looking for patterns that would tell them what happened during the mixing of the populations.

“This tells us a lot about the genetic underpinnings of this iconic conservation success story. The genetic diversity we found was much greater than some scientists previously thought, and likely contributed to the recovery of Florida panthers after the introduction of the Texas pumas,” Ochoa said.

In the mid-1990s, about 21 percent of Florida panthers had a heart problem called atrial septal defect, and more than 60 percent of the males had undescended testicles, a serious threat to the survival of the population. In recent years, those numbers have dropped to 7 percent and 3 percent respectively.

Ochoa and his colleagues also identified 17 genes that were linked to the refinement of sensory capabilities in pumas, most notably to improved vision. They also found that the number of genes linked to the animals’ sense of smell decreased.

“We believe there’s a tradeoff between the development of genes related to the sense of smell and the development of genes related to vision, because pumas are nocturnal hunters,” Ochoa said.

The researchers hope this work will serve to help conservationists understand how genetic diversity can impact at-risk animal populations, and that the genetic details they discovered could potentially help those working in veterinary and human medicine, he said. For the Florida panther population specifically, the genetic blueprint offered in this research could help in the detection of harmful DNA mutations.

“It’s possible you’d want to intervene in a way to decrease the frequency of these mutations so that there isn’t a resurgence of traits that are harmful to the population,” Ochoa said.

His next study will focus on the specific contributions of the Texas pumas to the Florida panther gene pool, work that should clarify which introduced genes were beneficial and detrimental to the population.

“Introducing Texas pumas made sense as they were geographically the closest living population of pumas and they carried potential for restoring Florida panther genetic variation, but this activity also could have presented some risks due to the mixing of individuals with adaptations to particular environments. We want to better understand what happened to the Florida panthers on a genetic level.”

Other researchers who worked on the study were Melanie Culver of the University of Arizona, Robert Fitak of the University of Central Florida (previously of Ohio State), David Onorato of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Melody Roelke-Parker of Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc. and the Frederick National Laboratory of Cancer Research.

Seagrass, essential for marine life


This December 2016 video says about itself:

They are an ancient species of flowering plants that grow submerged in all of the world’s oceans. Seagrasses link offshore coral reefs with coastal mangrove forests. Today, these “prairies of the sea”, along with mangroves, are on the decline globally. Scientists fear the diminishing vegetation could result in an ecosystem collapse from the bottom of the food chain all the way to the top. Changing Seas joins experts in the field as they work to restore Florida’s important mangroves and seagrasses.

Known as “hotspots of biodiversity”, seagrasses and mangroves attract and support a variety of marine life. However, worldwide damage and removal of these plants continue at a rapid pace. Changing Seas travels along Florida’s coastline to get a better understanding of the significant roles mangroves and seagrasses play within the state. Can biologists prevent a negative ripple-effect throughout the marine food web before it’s too late? How will rising sea levels impact these plants as well at the communities that depend on them?

Learn more at www.changingseas.tv or facebook.com/changingseas.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Seagrass meadows harbor wildlife for centuries, highlighting need for conservation

October 2, 2019

Summary: Seagrass meadows put down deep roots, persisting in the same spot for hundreds and possibly thousands of years, a new study shows. Researchers used modern and fossil shells from seagrass-dwelling animals to estimate the age of these meadows, showing that, far from being transient patches of underwater weeds, they are remarkably stable over time.

Seagrass meadows put down deep roots, persisting in the same spot for hundreds and possibly thousands of years, a new study shows.

Seagrasses, crucial sources of shelter and food for thousands of species, are threatened globally by coastal development, pollution and climate change. While scientists have documented the health of seagrass meadows over several years or decades, assessing these habitats at the scale of centuries or millennia has been a much greater challenge.

University of Florida researchers used modern and fossil shells from seagrass-dwelling animals to estimate the age of these meadows, showing that, far from being transient patches of underwater weeds, they are remarkably stable over time.

They also found that seagrass meadows were home to a much richer variety of animals than bare sandy seafloor, highlighting the importance of seagrasses as critical long-term reservoirs of biodiversity in coastal ecosystems.

“This is one more reason to advocate for seagrass conservation and preservation,” said the study’s lead author Alexander Challen Hyman, who conducted the research as a master’s student in UF’s School of Natural Resources and Environment. “This study highlights how vital seagrasses are as habitats. Not only are they hotspots of biodiversity, but they’re enduring and stable hotspots over time.”

Seagrass meadows transform their surroundings by slowing wave energy, improving water quality and clarity, storing carbon and stabilizing the seafloor. By tempering outside forces, the meadows attract a variety of fish, birds, marine mammals, invertebrates and algae. In Florida, they provide nursery habitats for an estimated 70% of the fish that Floridians catch and eat and are also the dietary staple of manatees and green sea turtles.

But seagrasses are some of the planet’s most threatened ecosystems. A 2009 study revealed that mapped seagrass meadows have decreased globally by an estimated 29% since records began in 1879, and the rate of loss is accelerating.

To understand how meadows have changed over time, scientists turned to the emerging field of conservation paleobiology, which adds the fossil record to research of modern ecosystems.

“We don’t have a time machine to visit coastal regions of the past and verify that seagrass was there,” said Michal Kowalewski, Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the study’s principal investigator. “But we can use shells as a way of glimpsing how these habitats functioned before the Industrial Revolution and whether they persist over time or pop up and then vanish.”

Ecologists can often assess the health and biodiversity of today’s marine ecosystems simply by studying the local mollusk community — animals such as snails, slugs, oysters and mussels. For paleontologists such as Kowalewski, however, the fossil shells of mollusks can also be a portal deep into an ecosystem’s past.

“Mollusks are abundant, diverse, ecologically important and very well represented in the fossil record,” he said. “They can often be identified to species just from their shells. The dead are powerful storytellers about what previously lived in an ecosystem.”

The team collected and identified more than 50,000 shells from seagrass meadows and open sandy areas in Florida’s Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast, one of the most pristine coastal ecosystems in the U.S. The shells represented both living and dead mollusk communities. Radiocarbon dating showed that 40% of the shells were more than 500 years old, with the oldest shell being nearly 2,000 years old.

By comparing the abundance and type of old shells with living species, the team could get a sense of whether a particular habitat had changed. If the two communities mirrored one another, the modern and ancient habitat likely did as well. But if researchers saw a mismatch, they would know the habitat had shifted over time.

“If you’re in a desert, surrounded by snakes, cacti and coyotes, but you dig down and find whale bones, you would assume there had been a large change in habitat,” said Hyman, now a doctoral student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences. “This works on the same principle.”

The researchers found that living and dead mollusk communities in seagrass meadows matched one another, suggesting that the seagrasses they sampled have grown in the same location for centuries or longer, Kowalewski said.

“The patchwork of open sandy bottoms and seagrass meadows that we see today is not a transient, ever-shifting mosaic,” he said. “Our data suggest that seagrasses are not dramatically shifting around and changing location.”

Mollusk communities were also much more consistent from meadow to meadow compared with communities in open sandy areas, which differed widely according to place and time. Hyman said that while seagrasses provide structural stability, sandy areas are far more vulnerable to storms or unusual shifts in local conditions, making their communities more variable.

“Sand cannot buffer physical extremes the way that seagrasses can,” he said. “The stability of seagrass meadows likely contributes to their biodiversity and productivity.”

The study’s findings have profound conservation and management implications, said Florida’s Chief Science Officer Tom Frazer, who co-authored the paper.

“If we are unable to prevent seagrass loss in a particular area, we may not be able to make up for that loss by trying to establish a new meadow elsewhere,” he said. “This realization only heightens the need for immediate action aimed at improving water quality in estuaries and coastal waters around the state.”

“Meadows have deep historical roots,” Kowalewski added. “If that’s the case, there’s something priceless about the location, not just about the seagrass itself.”

UF’s Charles Jacoby and Jessica Frost also co-authored the study.