October 14, 2021

Member profile - Graham McMartin

I believe that most divers, who enjoy fish, have their favourite species. Looking at Australasian Fishes observations it is clear some members are passionate about seahorses, others about weedy seadragons, etc. Personally, I find the antics of blue gropers very entertaining, and will often stay longer in the water, watching them bully their neighbours, even after I have lost the feeling in my extremities from cold. Developing a passion for certain species is one of attributes of an iNaturalist user.
Another attribute is reciprocity. Richard Leakey, the famous archaeologist was once asked about the things which make us human, and he responded that it was reciprocity. When our ancestors decided to share food and skills, we started on the road to becoming humans.
Favourite species and reciprocity play a large role in successful citizen science too. While not necessary sharing food (sadly) we are sharing skills (photographic, scientific, taxonomic), creating a strong feeling of reciprocity, whereby, we feel grateful for those who assist us with difficult identifications, and we respond in kind.
This brief article is about a project member who combines both of those attributes, sharing one of their favourite species with citizen science and striving to improve iNaturalist’s data base, to ensure observations are VERY accurate. Australasian Fishes is regarded as one of the leading fish data bases in terms of accuracy of identification. Something which we should all be proud of and Graham McMartin (@grahammcmartin), illustrates why this is.
Graham’s current passion, however, is not for a particular fish species, although he is an active contributor to Australasian Fishes, but for a familiar and comical little hermit crab. This passion has taken him on a personal journey which will enrich iNaturalist and the value of the citizen science we perform.
In Graham’s own words, “I did my open water dive course at Little Beach in Nelson Bay in the early 90’s but was heavily involved in my main sport of 16ft skiff sailing and didn’t get serious enough about diving to buy my own gear for about a decade. A good dive buddy convinced me to take on the challenge of learning underwater photography in 2008, by gifting me his old Olympus C740 camera and housing, when he upgraded. Once I had worked out the camera basics, I suddenly found diving much more interesting as I had a visual record of everything I saw and everywhere I’d been, which could let me enjoy a good dive over and over. I might also say it also made me a technically better and more aware diver. I took that camera for a two-week trip to the President Coolidge wreck in Vanuatu in 2009 and was completely hooked.
Roll on 10 more years (and a couple of camera upgrades) and the same dive buddy, Matt Dowse (view Matt's profile), got me involved in iNaturalist. I had only posted a handful of images when Mark McGrouther popped up and invited me to be a part of the Australasian Fishes project. I was stoked to find a forum where all those images from past dives could be of interest and use to others. It has been a fantastic learning experience - I have learnt more about underwater life in the last two years, than in the twenty-two years before that! Key to this was interacting with all the great people who populate the site, both divers and non-divers, citizens and scientists, who willing share their knowledge and experience.
I might also say, it’s been great fun - working my way through images to post from some memorable overseas trips, such as Truk Lagoon, Rabaul in PNG and the Solomon Islands (yes, I’m also a wreck junkie). I have also re-visited some awesome dives over the years closer to home, such as Fish Rock Cave, Broughton Island and Bait Reef on the GBR. An observation I am most proud of though, came on a day of lousy viz in my own backyard- under Swansea Bridge, where I came face to face with a metre long Queensland Groper (view observation), well out of his backyard! He was definitely the largest fish I have encountered under the bridge and seeing his bulky outline appear out of the murk certainly got the heart rate up! He was decidedly unimpressed when my strobes went off right in his face and I used up most of the remaining 20 minutes of slack water, before the run-out tide became too strong, to get close enough to him for a second image.
My interest in Dardanus hermit crabs came about last year, as I began identifying Dardanus crassimanus as the predominant large hermit crab in Swansea Channel. They are very photogenic and seemed to be real characters! By appearance, the average diver would describe them as a ‘hairy red hermit crab’, but there are some obvious differences with ‘the’ Hairy Red Hermit Crab – Dardanus lagopodes - as presented on iNaturalist.
For my observations, the correct ID for both these species came from Kuroshio in Japan (both species are also found there) via Tony Strazzari (@tonydiver), who had posted many observations of them, before discovering their true identity. Dr Matt Nimbs provided an expert confirmation, as both these species are found together in his home waters at the Solitary Islands, near Coffs Harbour. I note from my research now that both Ian Shaw (@ralfmagee) and John Turnbull (@johnturnbull) had correctly identified D. crassimanus some years ago.
During our time in covid lockdown last year, I had identified a couple of hermit crabs for other iNat members and began to look at observations that had been posted in the past. I found many D. crassimanus observations from NSW waters were either incorrectly identified as D. lagopodes, or not identified at all. With my newfound ability to tell the species apart, I thought I may as well work on fixing this. As this work progressed, one fact became apparent - whilst both species are found together at the Solitary Islands, D. crassimanus, being a temperate species, does not appear to be found much further north than this (Qld border), whilst D. lagopodes, a tropical species, is not found further south.
Another development was my discovery of several unidentified iNat observations of D. crassimanus in South Africa by marine naturalist Georgina Jones (@seastung). Matt Nimbs followed up with some research and confirmed the species is known in these waters, according to the South African Museum. We have also been able to positively ID a couple of observations of D. crassimanus on the temperate Western Australian coast, close to Perth, demonstrating these hermit crabs certainly have a wide range, across two different oceans. I see my efforts as an interesting opportunity to do a bit of ‘citizen science’ that could improve the accuracy of identifications on the iNaturalist website and to contribute more than just my own observations.
The next thing I would like to achieve with this little project would be to get the ‘common name’ for D. crassimanus - as stated by the Queensland Museum, accepted for identifications on iNaturalist. The name – quite appropriately - Mauve-eyed Hermit Crab. Perhaps Harry can help with this!”
Thanks Graham, I am working on the slogan and rough T-shirt designs now. For a slogan, how about “Call them Mauve-eyed Hermit Crabs, but never late for dinner!” I too have benefited from Graham’s work in cleaning up the hermit crab data base, and I appreciate all the work and research which has gone into this project, by a citizen scientist.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on October 14, 2021 00:56 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 04, 2021

New Shrimpgoby record for Australia

Denise Jenkins (view profile) spent 3 years photographing fishes at Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia. All that underwater time culminated in the publication of her book Fishes of Ningaloo (view webpage), which contains over 1200 photographs of more than 500 species showing colour variations and life stages.
In late August 2011, Denise was snorkelling when she saw a goby she didn't recognise. She said that in order to photograph it quite a few trips up to the surface and back down again were required. She was concerned that the fish would dive into its burrow, so she tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. Her skills were rewarded with an excellent image of a Wide-barred Shrimpgoby, Amblyeleotris latifasciata, a new species record for Australia.
Until now, the species was known from the Gulf of Thailand, the Philippines and Bali (view the webpage for this species on Fishbase). Thanks to Denise's efforts we can now extend the distribution for the species to north-western Australia.
Thank you to goby expert Dr Doug Hoese for confirming the identification of the species from Denise's photo.
Posted on October 04, 2021 04:39 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

September 15, 2021

Research Paper: An overview of the history, current contributions and future outlook of iNaturalist in Australia

I have always believed in the power of New Year’s Resolutions. I have long been in the habit of marking the beginning of the year with at least one decision to do something different, and usually, I end up keeping resolutions, more or less. Part of the limited success I have had in this department, comes from picking the right resolution. Like everyone I started with nebulous resolutions like lose weight, exercise more, be happy, cure cancer, promote World peace, marry Jennifer Anniston, ride a unicorn, etc. They were doomed to fail, because they were far too lofty, and had elements which were out of my control. It is only when I decided to fine tune my resolutions, did I have a chance to keep them, for at least a year. Examples included: learn to dance, go camping more often and ride a smaller unicorn. Okay, forget the unicorn one, but I have enjoyed setting small goals and often meeting them. My resolution this year, aside from “Don’t catch COVID” was to read at least 4 scientific papers a year. Before retirement, I had to read (i.e. skim) such papers on occasion for my work, and while I have not made this resolution because I missed them, I made the resolution because it turned out I enjoyed the insight into science, research methodologies and scientific thought, which reading the papers provided.
Not being a scientist, I could never understand everything in the papers I read, there were always sections of advanced math and terminology with which I was unfamiliar, but even in the most dense papers I encountered, I always finished with a sense of the discipline and rigour which writing such papers requires and a slightly increased appreciation for science and the scientific method. This insight was more than what I obtain from reading books by scientists. The books are great for reviewing the “big ideas” of science, like anthropogenic climate change, but the papers provide insight into the actual mechanics of scientific enquiry. There is a great deal of understanding citizen scientists can obtain by looking into the methods by which professional scientists conduct their work and communicate with each other. You can learn a lot.
I know this does not come as news to many in the Australasian Fishes project, as I am aware we have both professional scientists and very dedicated citizen scientists who often read papers in their fields or areas of interest. This is often how project participants learn about the current issues in classification of sea life, the changes in the organisation of fish genus and why some of the names have been changing in our classification system. I have always been grateful for these updates, often found in the comments sections of project observations.
While this year, I am actually halfway through my annual objective of 4 papers, I find it personally pleasing when (1) one of the authors of the paper is someone I am familiar with, and (2) the subject of the paper is also something familiar. This has happed to me a couple of times, especially regarding the authors, as I enjoy learning more about my acquaintances, especially though their publications. Recently, I have come across a paper which meets both of the criteria above, which I recommend to all project participants.
Firstly, the paper is written by someone who many of us in the project are familiar with, Thomas Mesaglio (view Thomas' iNaturalist profile). Thomas, who was featured in an Australasian Fishes Project bio blurb, in February 2020, (view) is better known by the pseudonym thebeachcomber. He has 22,426 observations in iNaturalist and an astounding 171,924 identifications, 7,942 of which were for Australasian Fishes alone. I am very grateful for his IDs. In addition to supporting the project through his work in observations and identifications, Thomas has been the organising force behind several BioBlitzes on behalf of iNaturalist (see Spring BioBlitz Report) which has entered Australia in the competition of global locations for recording life on Earth, from backyards to oceans, all during a defined time period. Organising such events is very time consuming and the Australasian Fishes Project has been very happy to support such programs.
Secondly, as mentioned, I like to read papers about subjects which I am familiar with, whether it be a piece of fieldwork I worked on in the past or a project I was involved in at some stage. It does add a little extra enjoyment to the paper, if you know there are titbits which are familiar and enjoyable.
If you are interested in such a New Year’s resolution, I would like to nominate your first paper of the year, titled 'An overview of the history, current contributions and future outlook of iNaturalist in Australia' (view the pdf). The paper is published by CSIRO Publishing in their Wildlife Research section and we have permission to download copies. As you can see the paper features several of the aspects which makes reading scientific papers a little easier, one of the co-authors is someone we know and respect and it is about a project platform we all know: iNaturalist.
The paper explores the increasingly important role of citizen science in many disciplines of science and explores how popular platforms such as iNaturalist, play a key role in fostering this type of significant citizen science activity. The paper explores how increasingly accurate and, therefore, increasingly useful citizen science generated data have become over the years, providing reliable databases for scientific research, including modelling and statistical research. The paper zeros in on iNaturalist, as a tool for the creation of reliable scientific information. Of course, most of us in the project are aware of the history and power of iNaturalist, we have written about this unique platform in the past (see Australasian Fishes Journal post for May 2019 - Behind the power of iNaturalist), however, it is very refreshing to see these impressions expressed in the language of science which more clearly outlines the value of our work when we contribute images and identifications to our project. We always suspected our work was adding value, however, Thomas’s paper outlines that value in the larger picture of scientific knowledge and research. It is very rewarding to read that citizen science, and the work we do, does indeed matter.
While I think all citizen scientists will find the paper inspirational, there’s favourable mention in particular of Australasian Fishes. It is clear that our project has had an impact on how Australia has been regarded in the iNaturalist universe and the authors suspect that Australasian Fishes has been a catalyst for other nature observations and instrumental in increasing the take-up of iNaturalist in Australia. All of you in the project should be quite proud of that achievement. There is special mention of Mark McGrouther and the longevity of the project, and as well as comparative data on the distribution, volume and types of iNaturalist observations coming from Australia.
I do hope you will take the time to read Thomas’s paper, as each of you are deserving of the recognition it bestows on our project and iNaturalist. If your 2021 resolution is to read only one scientific paper, make it this one.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on September 15, 2021 01:32 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

September 05, 2021

A Rare Find!

The image, above, uploaded by Aalbert Rebergen - @aalbertrebergen (right image), shows a Slender Stargazer, Crapatalus angusticeps, washed up on the beach near Waikouaiti, New Zealand. The observation elicited an excited response from Zachary Robertson - @fiestykakapo, who stated that it is "one of my favourite species".
When I asked Zachary about his interest in this fish, he replied, "Crapatalus are typically very cryptic fish, often burying themselves in sand with only their eyes and mouth exposed. Crapatalus, like other members of Leptoscopidae, are ambush predators lying under the sand waiting for crabs, shrimp, worms, or small fish to wander by. Crapatalus inhabits shallow coastal beaches and occasionally river mouths and estuaries, and are capable of surviving 50+ metres. In New Zealand there are two species, C. angusticeps and C. novaezelandiae, to distinguish these species a good photo from the underside is needed. If the pelvic fin doesn't reach the origin of the anal fin the fish would be C. angusticeps, if the pelvic fin reaches past the origin of the anal fin the fish would be C. novaezelandiae."
Zachary also stated, "One reason for the rarity of the species on iNat is its cryptic habits, concealed in sand will make it almost invisible to the untrained eye. Its favoured habitat (open sandy beaches) isn't often explored which could be another reason this fish isn't observed often. Why this observation is particularly of interest for me is it gives me a good look at a freshly dead specimen, which I have not been able to find any online. I hope within the next year I am able to find some live specimens whilst snorkelling in estuaries or on sandy beaches, and get some nice images of live fish."
I really love the fact that an observation uploaded by Aalbert, who is "interested in everything that walks, hops or crawls" (note that 'swim' wasn't mentioned - we're onto you Aalbert!) sparked such enthusiasm in Zachary, a young aspiring marine biologist. It shows the power of iNaturalist and the Australasian Fishes Project community.
Thanks all for your interest in this unusual observation.
Posted on September 05, 2021 07:44 by markmcg markmcg | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 19, 2021

Is it an egg?

This wonderful photo, which shows White's Seahorses mating, was taken by Nicolas and Léna Remy.
They stated, "These 2 seahorses were mating and transferring eggs. Wondering if the pink dot next to the male's pouch would be an egg."
I replied according to my limited knowledge but as is often the case, there are experts in the Australasian Fishes community. At-tagging these people led to a very informative reply from Dr Dave Harasti, who wrote, "The pink dot on the female is definitely an egg being transferred into the male's flaccid pouch. Normally there is a 'chain' of eggs that can be seen during the transfer and they are always pink in H. whitei, not sure about the colour in other species."
Looking back through my file of noteworthy observations, I found this observationof a small male Bigbelly Seahorse with freshly deposited eggs, some of which are on the belly outside the pouch. These eggs are orange rather than pink.
So, here's the next challenge. Does anyone have images of other species of seahorses in the process of egg transfer? Let's see if we can document fresh egg colouration for other species of seahorses in Australia and New Zealand.
Thank you, Nicolas and Léna for uploading such an interesting observation. :)
Posted on August 19, 2021 06:46 by markmcg markmcg | 7 comments | Leave a comment

August 01, 2021

If 4000 people held hands...

Hi fish-fans,
I'm delighted to be able to inform you of another project milestone. Australasian Fishes now contains observations from over 4000 people.
I wanted to give you an 'on the water' analogy of how incredible this is. So, with your indulgence, I'll ask you to imagine all 4000 of us holding hands with our arms outstretched. In this friendly display of community, the Conger line (enjoy the pun!) would extend most of the way from Sydney Harbour Bridge to South Head, a trip that would take about 15 minutes on the ferry.
So, to each of you, thank you so much for your contribution. I hope that despite the tragedy of Covid-19, by this time next year, the Conger line will extend out of The Heads and depending upon your preference, either north towards the tropics or south into more temperate waters.
Posted on August 01, 2021 06:56 by markmcg markmcg | 6 comments | Leave a comment

July 22, 2021

Member profile - Lachlan Fetterplace

Perhaps the most famous invention of the 15th century was the printing press. Much is known about the use of the device for the early printing of bibles and psalters from the Gutenberg Press; however, few people are aware that another group quickly saw potential in this revolutionary invention. They were the early “scientists” of the day. Working across the known world at the time, including India, China, Greece, France, Germany, England and Austria, there were many people engaged in what today we might call science. Even though separated by great distances, these individuals did not always work in a vacuum, and many were highly interested in sharing their knowledge and results with others, as they experimented in areas as varied as turning lead in to gold to mathematics and astronomy. Usually writing in Latin, this community quickly found that using the printing press, they could publicise and share their discoveries within their community of like-interested individuals across many countries, who previously had to wait for handwritten books or manuscripts to be circulated. Such papers contained the experience of their contemporaries or outcomes of experiments. The printing press rapidly improved communication through the mass production of books and papers. This acted as a revolutionary catalyst to the early science community, these early publications eventually developed into the many scientific journals we have today.
More than 500 years later, another communication revolution acted as a further catalyst to scientific disciplines, the Internet. Through the digital universe, scientists, both citizen scientists and professionals found a means of instantaneous communication for the sharing of ideas and experiences. With the tools of the digital age, it suddenly was easier to find people, from anywhere on the planet, who shared your particular interest and with whom you could easily exchange ideas and information. Such tools also allowed the birth of modern citizen science, providing forums and platforms for an army of individuals online, joined together in common interests in furthering research and providing a resource to the professional scientific community.
Current examples range from the “low-key” Facebook special interest groups to very specific scientific forums for high level sharing of information, research techniques and results. An example of one such forum or blog can be found on the Home Page of the Australasian Fishes project called Fish Thinkers (https://fishthinkers.wordpress.com/). This site describes itself as “a collaborative effort by a group of aquatic researchers who among other things have an interest in fishing, surfing and the marine and freshwater environment in general. The blog covers current research, but also short articles, reviews and pieces about anything vaguely related to the aquatic environment.” While there appears to be nothing about turning lead to gold on the site, it demonstrates the simplicity and power of widespread scientific communication, through non-traditional channels in the digital age. Such sites provide a very wide-ranging, open source of communication where almost anyone, who has a scientific interest in fish, through the tools of cyber-space, can meet and share ideas. Thank goodness it is not in Latin.
One of the founders of Fish Thinkers is the subject of this Bio Blurb, Lachlan Fetterplace. Lachlan has conducted almost 1,000 identifications for iNaturalist (933 for Australasian Fishes) and although, as you will see, his schedule is extremely busy, still finds the time to support our project.
Lachlan graduated with a PhD in marine science from Wollongong University, in 2019. His PhD, he tells us was focused “on the ecology of soft sediment associated fishes and the implications for fisheries and marine protected areas (MPA) management – methods were mostly BRUVS and acoustic telemetry.” For those interested, through the Fish Thinkers website you can read an abstract of his thesis and request a copy or download directly from researchgate.net. Lachlan's thesis is titled "The ecology of temperate soft sediment fishes: Implications for fisheries management and marine protected area design.". During his academic studies, according to Lachlan, he also got distracted by lots of side projects on shark and ray biology and on human-shark interactions, amongst other things. As you can tell, Lachlan finds it hard to say no to anything to do with fish.
In 2017 Lachlan moved to Sweden and is now based at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, in the Department of Aquatic Resources (SLU Aqua). He is working in their fisheries stock analysis unit, acting as their marine ecologist. He estimates, only about 20% of his time is spent on stock analysis work with the remainder spent on numerous projects. He tells us such projects include, “Lots of camera-based monitoring research – from looking at marine mammal bycatch in small scale fisheries to recreational fishing effort around MPAs, to underwater video sampling of fish. I also have been working on reviewing recreational fishing regulations in Swedish MPAs, ecosystem-based fisheries management in the Baltic Sea and various other projects…a lot of projects with more on the way. I also just finished supervising my first Sweden based student, which was good fun.”
As indicated by the wide range of interests found on Fish Thinkers, Lachlan’s academic career was a little unconventional and reflected his various interests. He tells us, “I started Uni straight out of school, which was a complete waste of time on the academic front (but very fun, lol). I dropped out after 1.5 years and did other things…travelled and surfed a lot. In the end, I went back to Uni in my 30’s and loved it, I was lucky enough to do some work with the marine park authority (later DPI) in Jervis Bay and when I finished my degree I went straight into honours and then my PhD which were both in collaboration with NSW DPI.” At this time, he did a bit of free diving, and sometimes SCUBA. Lachlan explains, “I am not a super experienced scuba diver. I surf, fish, and explore…I like to puddle pirate too (dip a net the rock pools to see what is about) with people that don’t or can’t get out into the deeper water.”
Project participants will note that an increasing number of images in the project are the result of remote cameras. This is an area now familiar to Lachlan. “A lot of the research work I have been involved in uses remote video camera monitoring and I mostly film things, so my actual photography skills are pretty bad really. That being said, I have filmed many things using remote techniques that would never have been filmed or photographed otherwise, either because they are too deep or in spots people rarely dive. It’s not too hard for anyone to film in quite deep water these days so there is no reason people can’t send a camera system down to say 200m and take a look (and record the obs on the Australasian Fishes project of course) – we have a paper coming out soon that details how to build a cheap off the shelf remote system to do that actually.”
From reading past journal posts, (see Archives for May 2019 - Behind the power of iNaturalist) we have learned that the iNat software was actually born out of a university student project, not dissimilar to the origins of Fish Thinkers. When speaking about the early days of his blog, Lachlan says, “It is a science communication initiative that Matt Rees (another marine scientist from south coast of NSW) and I set up during our honours/graduate studies. The rough aim was to start conversations around sustainable fishing, ecology, natural history and research on these topics but to do it in a way that wasn’t purely academic or popular media – there are lots of people out there that are interested in research on fish for example but don’t want to read the papers but do want to learn and talk about the results and outcomes in more depth than you will get in a news site. On the flip side it was also a good way to collaborate on citizen science and get help and input from the wider public on lots of things. For something that has never had any funding and that we have had to squeeze in between work and study and family etc it has been surprisingly successful…it seemed to fill a niche and we have met, worked with, taught, collaborated and learnt from so many people through Fish Thinkers. It’s in a bit of a caretaker mode at the moment (though for some reason we still get 200+ hits on the blog a day) but I would like to spend more time on it and hopefully we can make time to get some more people involved at some point- it’s pretty good platform for early career researchers in particular to use as it goes directly to a targeted audience who are all interested in everything to do with fish.”
There is discussion in social media that blogging has gone out of fashion, however Fish Thinkers is clearly a way to apply the technology of the day to creating a simple forum which engages both professional and citizen scientists. Like the first printing press, it spreads experience and knowledge, rapidly across the globe. Unlike printed media, it is far more interactive, and will provide inspiration for additional such sites, as well as applications for future digital technologies. The best part, however, it is not in Latin.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Posted on July 22, 2021 04:20 by markmcg markmcg | 9 comments | Leave a comment

July 01, 2021

Lost fish found

Hi fish fans,
I am going to share an iNaturalist journal post that you really must see. It shows the power and potential of iNaturalist and its community of users.
On October 15, 2020, Damien Brouste uploaded an observation of what was previously thought to be an extinct fish. Damien’s photograph of a Dumbéa River Pipefish in New Caledonia. has meant scientists have re-discovered one of the fishes named in the Search for the Lost Fishes campaign
The journal post you must see is called ‘The Rediscovery of a Lost Fish on iNaturalist’. It discusses the significance of Damien’s observation and explains how the Dumbéa River Pipefish, which was described in 1981, slipped off of the conservation community's radar and was thought to be extinct.
If a species is believed to be extinct then all conservation efforts cease. Knowing the species still exists however allows conservation efforts to kick back into top gear. The rediscovery of the Dumbéa River pipefish will hopefully focus research on the species distribution, and potential threats. This information can help scientists assess the risk of extinction.
The post states that “Damien's sighting of the Dumbéa River pipefish is the perfect example of how iNaturalist can connect people and give their observations a global platform.” I couldn’t agree more.
The Australasian Fishes Project now contains over 126000 observations of more than 2700 species uploaded by nearly 4000 people. Please continue to upload your observations. Together we are building a comprehensive picture of the ichthyofauna of Australia and New Zealand and who knows, we may even rediscover our own ‘extinct fish’.
Posted on July 01, 2021 04:07 by markmcg markmcg | 9 comments | Leave a comment

June 17, 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.
Posted on June 17, 2021 04:57 by markmcg markmcg | 3 comments | Leave a comment

June 03, 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.
Posted on June 03, 2021 02:16 by markmcg markmcg | 5 comments | Leave a comment