Monday, September 10, 2012

A Year of Ichthyology Expeditions in Central America.

by Caleb D. McMahan (Feb 2011)

2011 was quite a busy year for fieldwork in the Fish Section here at the LSU Museum of Natural Science. In 2011, LSUMNS ichthyologists have done extensive fieldwork in Costa Rica, Panama, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Honduras. All were highly successful and productive expeditions. While primarily interested in certain target species (e.g. cichlids), we made collections of numerous other groups of fishes that will play a huge role in helping to untangle the biogeographic history of the region.

Post-doctoral researchers Wilfredo Matamoros, Matthew Davis, and I spent March 30th to April 14th of 2011 collecting fishes throughout Panama. We first flew into the capital, Panama City, rented a vehicle and drove east to the Darien Province. As you travel towards the Darien in Panama reaching the Río Bayano and Río Tuíra drainages, you begin to see a fairly drastic transition in the diversity of fishes, with higher diversity of primarily South American groups (e.g. armored catfishes, tetras). We then traveled to western Panama, as well as Bocas del Toro. From May 29th – June 13th (2011), Wilfredo and I traveled to El Salvador. The primary purpose of this trip was to fill in some taxonomic gaps for cichlids that are part of ongoing morphological and molecular systematic studies in the Chakrabarty lab. The trip was a huge success and we were able to collect specimens of nearly every species of freshwater fish in the country.
    In addition to fieldwork, Wilfredo led a small class on statistics for students at the University of El Salvador. I was asked to lead a workshop with ichthyology students at the university on proper museum techniques for preservation and storage of specimens of fishes. Parker House (an undergraduate researcher in our lab finishing up his senior year) joined Wilfredo and me from the 31st of July to August 17th for fieldwork in Nicaragua. After flying into the capital of Managua, we boarded very small planes and flew to the jungles of La Moskitia. In Puerto Cabezas we hired a couple of guides and left the coast by boat. We went down the coast until reaching the mouth of the Río Prinzapolka. We spent many days traveling throughout the lower reaches of this river, as well as adjacent drainage, the Río Wawa. Many of the specimens we collected comprise
Paraneetroplus maculicauda
the vast majority of available material for fishes from this region. One of the target species for myself was Paraneetroplus maculicauda, a widespread species of cichlid I am currently studying. The trip was very productive and I was able to collect enough material for my anatomical and genetic studies. After leaving La Moskitia we collected around Managua and throughout the Nicaraguan Lakes, home to some endemic species of cichlids. Parker had to return to LSU for the start of classes; however, Wilfredo and I flew from Nicaragua to Honduras and spent August 17th to September 29th
collecting throughout the country. After first arriving to Honduras, Wilfredo and I were invited to attend a meeting and workshop of environmental officials for Honduras. Wilfredo was asked to discuss some of his ecological work and to lead a statistical workshop using R. I was asked to give a seminar on my research on the Mountain Mullet (Agnostomus monticola) – a freshwater species common throughout Honduras. After the meeting our first trip was to Copán and the Río Motagua drainage. This area is geologically very important for understanding historical biogeography of biota in this region. We were primarily after Theraps microphthalmus, a riverine cichlid species part of a group I have been working on. From Copán we traveled back to Tegucigalpa to collect different species of fishes. After collecting in several localities throughout the Pacific drainages of Honduras, we traveled to La Ceiba on the Caribbean coast. We spent quite a bit of time in the Río Cangrejal collecting specimens of Theraps wesseli, a species Wilfredo is actively studying. We also visited the town of Trujilo. While Wilfredo went off looking for freshwater species (cichlids, guppies), I spent two days working with local fishermen in Laguna Guaimoreto. We collected numerous species (e.g. snook, catfishes, anchovies, silversides, cichlids, guppies, stingrays).
      This was just a very brief summary of a busy – but highly successful – year of fieldwork for LSUMNS ichthyologists! In total, we added roughly 100,000
new specimens to the LSUMNS Fish Collection, and over 2,000 tissue samples to the Fish Tissue Collection. 2012 is off to a great start with Wilfredo taking another LSU undergraduate, Justin Kutz, to Honduras for additional fieldwork for most of January. There is little doubt the Fish Collection at the LSUMNS now has one of the better holdings of specimens and associated tissues of neotropical fishes.

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