Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Montreal Expedition: TTFN

New England Aquarium researchers are reporting from the Biodôme in Montréal, Quebec, where they are conducting an experiment on the stress physiology of two species of wolffish

Greetings! We hope everyone made it through “Irene” safely, and with minimal damage to property (and mind!). As you have been following since the initial post, members of our research team have been involved in an exciting research project at the Biodôme (Montréal, QC), studying the physiological effects of stress on two species of wolffish (Atlantic, and spotted). Similar to the New England Aquarium, the Biodôme has a distinct research program in addition to their wonderful exhibits, and we have been extremely fortunate to collaborate with such a talented and welcoming group. The purpose of this concluding post is to report on the background and progress of the study, and acknowledge those aiding our efforts along the way.

A wolffish gently removed from its habitat (Photo: Emily Jones)

Taking a step back, it might be interesting to know about the study’s conception. The Aquarium has funding to investigate the biological impacts of small marine protected areas surrounding offshore (~ 22 miles from Boston, and 15 miles from Gloucester) liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals in Massachusetts Bay. Because fishing activities are prohibited, potentially damaging habitat impacts – such as degradation of the seafloor associated with commercial bottom trawl fishing (for cod, haddock and flounder species among others) – are prevented within these protected areas. As such, the bottom (“benthic”) habitat in these areas has slowly been restored, to the benefit of the many marine species that reside on the seafloor in these areas. One of the species we’ve examined in Montréal, the Atlantic wolffish, depends on the nooks and crannies on the seafloor for refuge.

A wolffish nestled amidst natural structure. Photo credit: TNC

Experimental wolffish structure (modified plastic bins). Photo credit: Emily Jones

Simply, our study is seeking to evaluate how the presence/absence of habitat influenced the response of these animals to different types of stress. Crudely, when happy in the comforts of refuge, were they more resilient in coping with stress? We all certainly were in recent days, while nesting in our homes as Hurricane Irene ravaged the region. The study results will be provide important info on the factors that influence the responses of these species, which have suffered declining population numbers, to human-induced stress.

The excellent, sun-filled research area of the Biodome is a bright and cheery place to work.

You might also be curious as to why we’re conducting this study way up in Montréal when we work at the Aquarium, and one of these wolffish species resides right here in the Gulf of Maine. Well…two reasons: firstly, our collaborator at the Biodôme, Dr. Nathalie Le Francois, is a renowned expert in rearing wolffish. In fact, our research animals were raised under her guidance from the egg stage after being collected from the wild. Secondly, staging the study at the Biodôme provided a spacious (research) tank system, and the ability to investigate many individuals across the two species at the same time without the worry of overcrowding the animals during the study.

Following a masterful execution of the study by our students (Emily, Alena and Hope), all blood samples were transported back home to the Aquarium, where they will soon be examined to indicate the comparative levels of stress in our research animals under the various stages of the study. Among the ultimate goals of this study will be to provide vital information to aid conservation and management of these species, and to disseminate the results to a scientific audience via publication in technical journals. We will hopefully blog again when the study’s results are revealed!

On behalf of the students and the Research Department at the Aquarium, we would like to close these posts by thanking those at the Biodôme instrumental in making our stay so incredibly smooth. Aside from Dr. Le Francois and the vet and husbandry staff, we would also like to give a special thanks to Salvador Rojas, who went above and beyond to provide all of the amenities needed to allow execution of the study unencumbered. Merci Beacoup!!!!!

Dr. John Mandelman and Dr. Randi Rotjan

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