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Science as Leisure

Liz Marchio

I am a trained ichthyologist interested in what gets people interested in natural history, biological sciences, and science careers. My passion is to find out what fuels curiosity for the natural world.

Biology-related serious leisure activities can impact people's interest in ecology, biology, and natural history. Do these activities promote biological understanding? If so, how does that progress and to what level does it progress to? 

If you're interested in a starting a dialogue, please feel free to contact me. If you're curious about how I got here, my story can be found on the About Me page.

 

Filtering by Category: aquarium information

Science as Leisure: A Leisurely Primer

Many people ask me to explain my concept of "Science as Leisure".

It's pretty simple:

If you're taking part in a leisure activity that requires an understanding of activity-related scientific concepts to continue in said leisure activity, you're doing science as leisure. 

Science itself is a "way of knowing". You can also know by faith or other methods, but most of those have risks and pitfalls if you're trying to do one of these science as leisure activities. 

Take, for example, fish-keeping. To keep a fish alive, it's actually pretty complex. These animals do not live on land so their requirements and ways of living are vastly different than our own. Someone attempting to keep a fish alive in an aquarium doesn't only need to understand a baseline level of fish biology (e.g. (most) fish have gills) but also ecological processes. An aquarist needs to understand various concepts in biology and ecology for a fish to live. Aquarium keeping is thus a science as leisure activity. 

So what happens if the aquarist doesn't learn science?

Well, their fish dies.

 This is  Paracheirodon innesi , the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo:  Rachel O'Leary

This is Paracheirodon innesi, the neon tetra. It is a species that is highly colored and thus highly sought after by aquarists. It is also the most commonly murdered aquarium resident (per. obs.). Luckily, that pressure lead to captive breeding and more careful vetting of aquarists during purchases (all ethics pushed by industry, not government). If you want to poo-poo the trade, please fund IUCN's fisheries assessment team. This fish, which is sold to aquarium stores by the hundreds, has not even been assessed! Photo: Rachel O'Leary

And here is where things get sticky. Many aquarists will give up after this initial attempt at keeping a fish in captivity. After all, who wants to kill cute little neon tetras? But others persevere and continue after having been, essentially, a fish murderer. The fish must be taken care of by the owner or it won't live; if it dies, it's most likely you're fault.

This is, however, a very important learning experience. A fish's death is feedback to the aquarist. "AHhhhh... I did something wrong! I wonder what it is?"... and BOOM, we have a budding scientist right there. Next steps: Observation, Hypothesis, Data Collection, Analysis, Results, Conclusion. Of course most aquarists do not keep a log of this, or even think of their aquarium or their learning process in this manner. But that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

To keep an aquarium, the aquarist must understand a baseline level of scientific concepts, be able to implement them, and reformulate after failure to try again. This is a science as leisure activity and it only exists when the participant understands activity-related scientific concepts.

science as leisure

Attention Percula Clownfish Breeders!

I'm in need of:

CAPTIVE BREEDING POPULATION INFO ON PERCULA CLOWNFISH

Data collected from clownfish breeders will be used to create an economic model for this purpose:

Abstract:

Private breeders, responding to market forces, are responsible for a surprising amount of conservation of endangered exotic species occurring within the United States. Tropical birds, African ungulates, and marine fish are being raised to provide animals for pets and wild game hunting.  These private actions can play a critical role in biodiversity protection, supplementing conservation in native habitats and zoos. Breeders who are active in these markets, however, have often complained that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can create obstacles that make breeding uneconomic, actually increasing the likelihood of extinction. In this paper we consider the conditions in which ESA and ESA-like regulations can have perverse impacts, harming prospects for ex-situ conservation without meaningfully impacting wild animal populations.

Motivation and Three Cases:

The paper is motivated by three cases (hyacinth macaw, antelope, clownfish)  in which breeders play a role in protecting endangered species, but the economic viability of those enterprises is threatened by proposed or existing policy.

I need data to run this model! 

If you are willing to share information on your percula clownfish breeding operation, please fill out this survey with as much information as you can. It is understandable that some people may not want to share their secrets to success, but hopefully these are fairly benign questions.

The information you provide will be used to create an economic model that, in turn, will start a few publications on the complex nature of the ESA and captive populations of fish bred by aquarists.

Again, the survey can be found by clicking this link: SURVEY


Thank you for your consideration!

 

#TinyTankChallenge

As someone who studies the intersection of science and leisure, I feel the need to participate in those leisure activities. When a friend and comic creator on Twitter (@BlackMudpuppy) started the #TinyTankCahllenge, I had to join in. 

The rules of the challenge are to create an aquarium that is equal to or under 5.5 gallons of water and costs $100 or less to set up. Quite the challenge!

To follow our progress, please consider checking out our collective blog at Parlour Oceans and checking out the hashtag on twitter: 

#TinyTankChallenge

New Fish Named after a Fish Hobbyist

Science can be a profession or a leisure activity. 

Anyone can be a scientist, anyone can observe and discover new things.

One aquarium hobbyist, Gary Lange,  has been at the forefront of finding new, exciting species of rainbowfish from Australia and New Guinea. It started out as a leisure activity: keeping fish and catching them while abroad. Then, it became a passion. As Gary progressed through the aquarium hobby, he became more interested in science and scientific discovery- I remember meeting Gary and trading rainbowfish eggs for scientific literature on describing species.  He really wanted to learn taxonomy and reach the pinnacle of both his natural history and his fish keeping interests.

While I don't think Gary has described a species himself, he was honored in a recent publication in the Fishes of Sahul, a publication of the Australia New Guinea Fishes Association. The honor consisted of describing a new species of rainbowfish after Gary, Melonotaenia garylangi.

 Photo of  Melonotaenia garylangei  from  .

Photo of Melonotaenia garylangei from .

While I am not a fan of naming fish, or any species, after people... I'm proud to be hypocritical here. It's a much deserved honor and one that I hope many hobbyists will strive for. 

Congrats to Gary! 


Part 2: What is a species: Hybrids

My last blog post covered the biological species concept and some of the issues surrounding its use. This post builds on that introduction to "species".

At the end of the last post, I asked: What is another issue surrounding the use of the biological species concept (BSC)? 

A major problem with the BSC is it stipulates that species cannot interbreed. However, we see consistent examples of interbreeding across species. Here are a few examples of crosses, or "hybrids":

 A lion x tiger cross = "Liger" or "Tigon". Photo credit: gwzoo.com

A lion x tiger cross = "Liger" or "Tigon". Photo credit: gwzoo.com

 Horse x donkey cross = mule. These are yearling mules out of saddle and draft mares. Photo credit:  Deb Kidwell,  Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm  (Thanks, Deb!) 

Horse x donkey cross = mule. These are yearling mules out of saddle and draft mares. Photo credit:  Deb Kidwell, Lake Nowhere Mule and Donkey Farm (Thanks, Deb!) 

 Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit: practicalfishkeeping.co.uk

Trimaculatus cichlid x ??? x Parrot cichlid = "parrotfish" Photo credit: practicalfishkeeping.co.uk

I don't know about you, but I definitely see a horse as a different species from a donkey and a tiger definitely different from a lion!

So, what's the deal?

If we define species by the BSC, where "species cannot interbreed"... are these seemingly distinct species actually ONE? Are lions and tigers one species??

As with ALL science, rules are hard to make for nature! 

If we rely on the biology of one "species" to differentiate it from others, there are always exceptions to the rule! In science as a whole, there are almost always exceptions to the rules!

Maybe that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. How do we know anything then? What's the point of science if it can't answer "basic" questions??

Well, yeah... How do we know anything? The answer is, we don't know anything for sure. A scientist will never tell you they are 100% sure of anything. We are humans and we are making the world around us into understandable parts. We see the diversity of life on earth and we want to name and categorize things. To do that, we use a system. Unfortunately, time does not stand still and things are always changing. The biological species concept does not take into account these kinds of things. There are other species concepts who do (evolutionary and phylogenetic species concepts, for example), but even those are flawed.

Maybe we get ligers and tigons because they are really closely related and haven't been separate species long enough. It takes TIME, lots and lots of time, for these kinds of changes to "be set in stone".

But, hey, that's one of the most amazing things about studying life on earth! There is no creation of a species. There is no "BAM!" you're a tiger and will always be a tiger.

We are trying to figure things out as we go. We are making theories and testing them. And, interestingly, we are hanging onto theories such as the biological species concept even though there are obvious exceptions. 

So what are your thoughts?


What is a species?

You know what a species is, right?

Duh, yeah, of course you do! 

OK, let's put it into words. A species is: a... uh... group of animals, er, I mean organisms, that can interbreed and make fertile babies. 

BOOM. DONE. 

So, this definition of species is actually one of many.

Yep. One of many! Is your mind blown yet? 

It is true that many organisms pick out others "of their own kind" to mate with. We see this all around us; we hear frogs calling, birds chirping, and crickets... uh... cricketing. This "selection" for a mate is done by either the male or the female and they make sure their potential mate has certain attributes or characteristics. Some of these attributes help identify those of the same species; for example, a certain call or smell. However, some species can't select a mate because they do not have males and females!

Ever heard of an asexual? An asexual ('a' = without; 'sexual' = gender) can be thought of an individual without gender, or it can be thought of as one that just does not need a mate to reproduce! 

Perhaps you've heard of asexual-ness and "virgin births" from tabloids or other reading material. It's not just a story, it can actually happen. These "virgin births" as a result of parthenogenesis ('parthenos' = virgin; 'genesis' = creation or genesis). Believe it or not, this process occurs in fish, lizards, and of course the creepier crawlies such as daphnia ("water fleas"). The process of parthenogenesis can be divided into further types, but to keep it simple, here is daphnia's parthenogenic process:

 Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males.  That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from"    www.ansci.wisc.edu

Daphnia's default lifecycle is "virgin birth". If necessary, they can produce males. That's right, males just are not necessary...! Photo from" www.ansci.wisc.edu

With our definition of species above, are parthenogenic organisms actually "species"?

 They violate the definition after all! 

 

It turns out that the definition I gave is one under the "biological species concept". This is basically what we, the entirety of the United States (and maybe the world), uses to describe species. There are other species concepts that I can go over later but this gives you a good idea of just how complex describing a species is! We straight up ignore the fact that daphnia, and other pathenogenic organisms, don't follow the rules. Did you even know about this? Pretty crazy!

There is another glaring issue with the biological species concept. Can you figure out what it is? 




Academic Papers: Aquarium Species v1

As an academic I need to stay on top of my field. To do this, I subscribe to updates through Google Scholar.

This subscription allows me to send myself new publications on papers I *should* find relevant. 

I get a lot of new papers I can't really use but know others who may find the material interesting, even if it is just the abstract. So, I am going to try to post some links to BRAND NEW information on aquarium species of fish, mainly. 

If you're interested in more information on each paper, please contact me


Here is v1:

1: Evaluation of decompression and venting and its affect on stress and mortality in the Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens). Click here for the abstract. 

marchio yellow tang fish aquarium

2: The relationship between the numbers of spot, sex and size of the spotted barb, Puntius binotatus was investigated in order to develop a phenotypic sex identification method for the broodstock management of this species.  Click here for the paper (I think this will work) 

marchio barb aquarium fish

3: Ecological and Evolutionary Applications for Environmental Sex Reversal of Fish DNA. Click here for the abstract.

marchio

3: Barcoding in Pencilfishes (Lebiasinidae: Nannostomus) Reveals Cryptic Diversity across the Brazilian Amazon. Click here for the PAPER! Yes, open access! 

 Photo by  Rachel O'Leary

4: Growth of mycotal fungus on carp eggs in differing environments. Click here for the PAPER!

marchio

5: INFLUENCE OF LIVEFEED ON THE SURVIVAL AND METAMORPHOSIS OF SEBAE CLOWNFISH, AMPHIPRION SEBAE.  Click here for the PAPER!

Well, I hope this was helpful! Please give me feedback in the comments or via e-mail


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