Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Biologists Try to Dig Endangered Pupfish Out of Its Hole

29.09.2014

Scientists estimate that fewer than 100 Devils Hole pupfish remain in their Mojave Desert home, but a conservation biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, is giving important guidance in the efforts to rescue them by establishing a captive breeding program.

Considered the world’s rarest fish, with one of the smallest geographic ranges of any wild vertebrate, the tiny pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) – about one-inch long as an adult – neared extinction in spring 2013 when populations dropped to an all-time low of 35 observable pupfish. While more recent fish counts showed some recovery, the species is considered critically endangered.


Photo by Olin Feuerbacher, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Devils Hole pupfish in the Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility in Nevada's Amargosa Valley. These individuals hatched from eggs removed from Devils Hole in November 2013. Males with the blue tint court the olive colored females. Eggs are deposited on the yarn "spawning mops."

The dire situation spurred the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to open the Ash Meadows Fish Conservation Facility, which is less than a mile from Devils Hole.

Previous attempts to establish refuge populations of pupfish have not fared well, either because the transplanted fish did not survive or because they cross-bred with other species of pupfish. Biologists from the agencies managing the pupfish captive breeding program wanted a risk assessment to determine which methods have the highest chance of success.

A risk analysis by Steven Beissinger, UC Berkeley professor of environmental science, policy and management, found that when it came to reducing impact on the wild population, it was better to transfer pupfish eggs to a captive breeding facility rather than adults, and that it was preferable to transfer fish in the fall, when the population tends to be larger, rather than in the spring.

In addition, Beissinger found that moving more than six adults per year for three consecutive years rapidly increases the risk of extinction. The results, published today (Tuesday, Sept. 9) in the open-access journal PeerJ, showed that the wild pupfish faces a 28 to 32 percent risk of extinction over the next 20 years.

“The study really puts out more empirically the risk of extinction for this fish,” said Kevin Wilson, an aquatic ecologist at Death Valley National Park who is working on the recovery of the pupfish. “These findings are providing us with very good tools for our toolbox.”

Tiny survivor in an extreme environment

The pupfish is found only in a limestone cavern in the Devils Hole geothermal pool, about 60 miles east of Death Valley National Park. Geologists estimate that the cavern, which is at least 426 feet deep, was formed more than 500,000 years ago. The pupfish are believed to somehow have gained access to the site less than 50,000 years ago when a roof of the cavern collapsed, possibly due to an earthquake, exposing the cavern and its water to the ground surface. The oxygen-poor water in Devils Hole stays a toasty 92-93 degrees Fahrenheit, around the upper limits of temperature tolerated by most fish.

A study published last month found that climate change is contributing to the warming of the water in Devils Hole, negatively affecting the ability of eggs to hatch and larvae to survive. Pupfish populations also may have declined due to reductions in food supply and genetic diversity.

“Some species are critical to conserve because they serve important functions in their ecosystems, and others are important because they might be sources of new medicines, or they may have unique biological features that could inspire human innovation,” said Beissinger. “We don’t know if the Devils Hole pupfish has or ever will serve any of these important functions, which seems unlikely as long as the species remains restricted to its single cavernous refuge. We do know that the pupfish, like all species, has a fundamental right to exist that is independent of its value to humans.”

The Devils Hole pupfish first was identified in 1930. In 1967, it was among the first species listed under the Endangered Species Preservation Act – which later became the Endangered Species Act – and thus became central in the arid Southwest water rights battles of the 1960s and ’70s. The pumping of groundwater by agricultural interests and land developers in the region lowered the water levels needed by the pupfish to feed and breed. A landmark 1976 U.S. Supreme Court environmental rights ruling favored the fish and other species in Devils Hole by requiring the maintenance of a minimum level of water, thereby curtailing groundwater pumping.

“The effort to save the pupfish resulted in the protection of aquatic ecosystems from the excessive pumping of groundwater throughout the Desert Southwest and inspired generations of conservationists,” said Beissinger.

California condor moment?

Beissinger also calculated that if the wild Devils Hole pupfish numbers become small enough, it may be necessary to remove the entire population into a captive breeding program, an extreme measure he called a “California condor moment” because such a controversial action was used to rescue the condor from extinction in 1986.

He noted that, unlike the slow-reproducing condor that does not breed until 5 or 6 years of age, the Devils Hole pupfish has the potential for faster population growth because it matures quickly and can reproduce multiple times in its first year of life.

“Somehow, this handsome little fish has heroically persisted in the harsh desert environment through thousands of years of drastic climate warming and droughts,” said Beissinger. “Should the human condition ever arrive at this point after another century of increasing carbon dioxide emissions and climate warming, we may need someone to help us out of our hole.”

The National Park Service helped fund this research.

Contact Information

Steven Beissinger, UC Berkeley
beis@berkeley.edu
510-499-5516 (cell)

Kevin Wilson, National Park Service
kevin_wilson@nps.gov
775-537-0787 ext.207

Steven Beissinger | newswise

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Upcycling 'fast fashion' to reduce waste and pollution
03.04.2017 | American Chemical Society

nachricht Litter is present throughout the world’s oceans: 1,220 species affected
27.03.2017 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Fighting drug resistant tuberculosis – InfectoGnostics meets MYCO-NET² partners in Peru

28.04.2017 | Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Wireless power can drive tiny electronic devices in the GI tract

28.04.2017 | Medical Engineering

Ice cave in Transylvania yields window into region's past

28.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

Nose2Brain – Better Therapy for Multiple Sclerosis

28.04.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>