NSF funding “Library of Fishes” featuring thousands of specimens from remote locations; CSU scientist’s study shows Bats’ hibernation is all that keeps Rabies virus alive and Bats from becoming extinct; and Rabies reports from Colorado, and New Jersey.

Phil Hastings with specimens to be incorporated into the Scripps collection. Courtesy SIO.

California 06/07/11 nsf.gov: National Science Foundation Press Release – The stories they could tell, these fishes that once swam the ocean deep and are now in jars and bottles. In the 1960s and ’70s, Richard Rosenblatt, a marine biologist at California’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), set out on field expeditions to remote places to study the fishes of the Pacific Ocean. During trips south to Mexican waters, Rosenblatt and other scientists retrieved hundreds of specimens of various species.  Most were incorporated into the Scripps Marine Vertebrate Collection (MVC), a fish archive used by scientists around the world. The collections formed the basis of studies on the systematics of marine fishes by Rosenblatt and others. But due primarily to a lack of space at SIO, much of the treasure trove remained unsorted. These and more recent collections of fishes now number more than 400 inside containers big and small.

A decade ago, the MVC moved to a new location on the SIO campus, providing the needed space to process the samples. “Each of these containers could include a couple of different species, or dozens in some cases, but from a collection or a scientific perspective, we don’t know what’s in those jars,” said marine biologist Phil Hastings, who took over as curator of the fish collection from Rosenblatt in 1999. “They potentially provide new data on the diversity, distribution and abundance of fishes throughout the region, but until they are fully processed they are of limited scientific value.” He’ll soon find out what’s in those jars. Thanks to an award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Hastings and colleagues have begun opening the mysterious containers.

Grant Galland. PhD Candidate.

“This unique collection from historical and remote locations may hold insights into understanding biodiversity and ecosystem changes in the ocean’s pelagic zone,” said Anne Maglia, program director in NSF’s Division of Biological Infrastructure, which awarded the grant. A pelagic zone is any water in a sea or lake that is not close to the bottom or near to the shore. “By rescuing and digitizing these irreplaceable specimens,” Maglia said, “the data they hold will become available to researchers around the world studying systematics, biogeography, and environmental change.” Scripps graduate student Grant Galland, for example, will use the specimens to further his research on historical changes in fish communities in the Gulf of California. Galland has conducted field work in many of the same areas as Rosenblatt’s historical expeditions, and will compare how today’s marine environment has changed over the past 40 years or more. Also through the NSF award, SIO staff members will scan and post in the collection’s online database catalog records and handwritten field notes made at the time specimens were gathered in the wild.  These often provide information about the habitat, environmental conditions at the time of capture, other species observed in the area, and descriptions of freshly caught fishes.

Phil Hastings and Grant Galland on SIO research vessel Sproul with specimens collected off San Diego. Courtesy SIO.

The NSF award also will allow Hastings to archive more than 27,000 fish specimens from remote areas of the ocean. The specimens, collected by scientists working across 2,000 locations in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, were recently acquired as “orphans” from the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, part of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. The NSF award also will boost the technological capabilities of the Marine Vertebrate Collection. A high-tech X-ray machine will generate digital files of specimens to allow fish scientists from near and far to study detailed anatomical features, such as the number of fin rays and vertebrae and details of bone structure of the specimens. “When [pioneer Scripps ichthyologist] Carl Hubbs made film-based radiographs here at Scripps in the 1950s, he had to wait for the film to be developed to see if the image turned out,” said Hastings. “This new machine gives us that same information in about 30 seconds and at a much higher resolution.” Students will work on sorting, identifying and cataloguing fishes. “They’ll be studying not only the taxonomy of fishes,” said Hastings, “but experiencing how a natural history collection works.” And, on a larger scale, how the ocean itself functions.

Big brown bat.

Colorado 06/07/11 physorg.com: by Deborah Braconnier – In a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, infectious disease biologist Dylan George from Colorado State University reports that a bat’s hibernation is what keeps the rabies virus alive and does not wipe out the bat before the virus can spread. George conducted a five year field study looking at big brown bats from Colorado. Using data from the study and a mathematical model, the team looked at the incubation period of the virus and the bats hibernation period and determined that three main factors play a role in the survival of the bats. The three factors are a long viral incubation period, the bat’s hibernation, and a large supply of newborn bats in the spring and summer.

According to the study, an infected bat will enter into hibernation. This hibernation period slows the body’s metabolism and thus slows the progression of the rabies. This insures that the bat and the virus do not die during this period of time. When spring arrives and hibernation is over, the bats then roost and give birth to their young. This takes place in large colonies, creating a breeding ground for the virus. With numerous bats in one area grooming and nipping at each other, it creates a perfect environment for the virus to spread. When compared to data provided from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on rabies peaks and juvenile deaths in the summer, the teams model seems to hold true. The model also shows that if hibernation were to be taken out of the picture, the virus and the bats would go extinct. ( For more information: Host and viral ecology determine bat rabies seasonality and maintenance, PNAS, Published online before print June 6, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1010875108 )

Colorado 06/07/11 cbslocal.com: Two bats have tested positive for rabies in Boulder. The first bat was found June 2 outside a building on 20th Street. The second was found the next day outside a store on 9th Street. Health experts say people are often exposed to the potentially deadly disease when they pick up a bat or try to remove one from their house. Anyone who has been in contact with a bat should seek medical attention immediately.

New Jersey 06/06/11 centraljersey.com: by Victoria Hurley-Schubert – A rabid raccoon was captured near Johnson Park School last week, prompting health and wildlife officials to urge residents to be cautious and take preventative actions. Mark Johnson, animal control officer, captured a raccoon that was reported to have symptoms consistent with rabies on June 2 in response to a call from Johnson Park School officials. ”It wasn’t acting right,” said David Henry, Princeton Health Officer. “It seemed to have neurological symptoms. School officials didn’t think it was acting right and since it was 9 o’clock in the mooring school officials called animal control for an assessment. After checking with the local and state health departments, the animal was sent for testing, said Mr. Henry. Animal control then talked with school officials to ensure there was no contact with the animals. ”We wanted to make absolutely sure there was no contact with any of the students,” said Mr. Henry. The New Jersey State Department of Health & Senior Services confirmed the next day that the raccoon, an adult female, tested positive for rabies. With the rabid female, a nursing mother, officials are concerned the baby raccoons could be diseased as well. ”If the mother was, I can guarantee the babies were,” said Mr. Johnson. “If they don’t have rabies now, they will shortly.” All residents should steer clear of any raccoons, especially babies. ”People would approach a baby raccoon before an adult,” added Mr. Johnson. “This is a concern, especially with kids.” He is asking parents to tell children not to approach any wild animals, adult or baby. ”It might look cute and cuddly, but the consequences behind it are not,” he added. This is the third rabies case in the Princetons this year. There was a rabid bat caught by animal control and a fox caught and killed by local dogs that tested positive earlier this year. (For complete article go to http://www.centraljersey.com/articles/2011/06/06/topstory/doc4ded5132549aa418491376.txt )

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