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'Tsunami' video sheds light on struggling pupfish
Date:5/11/2010

protecting these little fish. In a sense, they are canaries in a coal mine. Because this habitat is so isolated and contained, we notice changes right away. In a sense, it's a living lab where we can study food webs and ecology, and the lessons we learn help us protect other habitats as well."

One of the questions the researchers are hoping to answer is whether natural disturbances, such as earthquakes, are a threat or a boon to the pupfish population.

Quakes with a purpose

"Quakes can serve a useful purpose in shaking silt and other fine particles that have washed into Devils Hole off of the spawning shelf and into the deeper waters," said Barrett. "This frees important space between the substrate particles where the Devils Hole pupfish larvae seek refuge."

In fact, he added, after the April 4 Mexicali quake, the National Park Service recorded a slight increase in larval abundance as compared to a similar survey a few weeks before the earthquake occurred.

Federal and state surveys done within a week after the earthquakes revealed about 118 fish in the pool, compared to about 70 the year before. Also, biologists saw newly hatched larval fish and evidence that the fish were spawning.

Despite increasing numbers, the population is still critically endangered, mostly because no fish exist outside of Devils Hole. In 2006, the population plummeted to a critical low of just 38 fish.

"Devils Hole was very important in the development of endangered species legislation in the U.S.," said Bonar. "Our part is to try and understand Devils Hole pupfish behavior, especially spawning and feeding, and the factors that influence those behaviors. Only with this knowledge can we successfully create a backup population and ensure the proper protection of this unique, endangered species."

Chaudoin observed that after previous disturbances, for example an earthquake in Chile and violent winter rain storms, the
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Contact: Daniel Stolte
stolte@email.arizona.edu
520-626-4402
University of Arizona
Source:Eurekalert  

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