Dave Roberts

A few more sleeps until ASFB

Compiled by Ebb, with backing vocals from: Gary Ogston, Jonas Bylemans, Allswell, Sausage Broadhurst, Sneaky Suitor, Listy Ellis, Dave Cough-a-Lungfish Roberts, The Kosternaut, and special guest T. Clark.

Well it’s just about that time again, and a bunch of us will be milling around endless powerpoint presentations, drinking excessive amounts of coffee in hallways and chatting over the occasional ale.

With the pending absence of a few of my personal favourite characters from the scene this year, I am reminded of just how damn lucky some of us are to be attending. I don’t have a job beyond December but I have a boss who forks up the cash to get me to this shin dig to network and absorb science. Around the traps I hear plenty of organisations that won’t support their staff getting to ASFB, and that is truly a shame.

Anyways, I just want to plug a few talks that will be on show, including a few by the up and comers and some by old school Lair faithful. I guess my sermon is basically show-up to those you know, sure, I get it, but really try and get to those you don’t, the young slash newbie crew. Regarding the new, Gary Ogston has recently completed Honours on Salamanderfish. When I contacted him a short time ago and introduced myself and the Lair, he sent back a Species Spotlight the following day (check it out). I reckon that deserves a beer and probably one or two from Lara Suitor, since she finally got me one after last’ year’s promise in Darwin.


Beware of the Salamanderfish says Gary Ogston

Another relative new comer is Jonas Bylemans. Although many fish biologists might frown at the idea of genetic presentations at the ASFB conference, environmental DNA (eDNA) based detection of fish species is revolutionizing fisheries management. Jonas was adamant that with eDNA based surveys the distribution of fish species can be determined more accurately. And Jonas contends, ‘This increased knowledge has the potential to dramatically improve on-ground management actions’. During his presentation “Combining traditional and environmental DNA based monitoring to improve the management of native and invasive fish species” Jonas will explain how the magical world of eDNA works and how it can be used to assist with on-ground species management. Make sure you introduce yourself to the University of Canberra’s latest successor.


Jonas refusing to use a net (old technology)

Speaking of Canberra, and perhaps not surprisingly, Assistant editor at the Lair, Danswell Starrs will be persisting with his interest in otoliths. He is going to give us a glimpse into the future in terms of possibilities with CT scanning ear bits to reveal a fish’s darkest inner (ear) secrets? Allswell tells of ‘Current practises to extract the information stored in fish otoliths involve sectioning the otolith with a diamond-bladed saw to reveal the inner growth increments’. He reminded me that this is a painstaking process that is slow, laborious and hence, costly. So apparently, his presentation will be a walk through a trial application of Computed X-ray Tomography (Micro CT) to reveal the inner structure of fish otoliths without the need for sectioning.

CT Scan Allswell

Caption. Snapper otolith image captured using a Bruker skyscan 1174 MicroCT scanner. Want to know what’s inside this otolith? Catch Allswell in action.

Apparently there will be a special session on threatened fishes facilitated by stalwart Mark Lintermans. And there is to be the occasional talk about Murray-Darling fishes this year according to NSW Fisheries juggernaut, Craig Boys.

Wayne Koster, will be speaking about movement and habitat use of Australian grayling. The study led by Kosternaut made use of radio- and acoustic telemetry to investigate the day-to-day activity, habitat use, and spawning season movement behaviours of the nationally threatened Australian grayling in the Tarago-Bunyip River system. The results showed that Australian grayling were often located within glide habitats, but also used a range of other mesohabitats (pool, riffle and run), and moved over larger ranges at night. When pushed on what is special about this study Wayne said ‘It also demonstrated synchronised migratory behaviour to specific locations during the spawning season, including movement responses to targeted environmental flows’. ‘This information has the potential to improve our capacity to provide the conditions required to conserve and restore Australian grayling populations’. Koster will be quietly spoken and professional as usual. He is without doubt, one of Australia’s real threatened fish telemetry specialists to emerge from the ARI stable in past decades.

Photo_David_Dawson of Grayling 

Grayling Photo: David Dawson

Ben Broadhurst is always an entertaining speaker, especially when given a tight timeline. Yep finishing the introductory slide at the 8 minute mark is a sure sign of a man on a mission to wrap it up in a hurry. And it wouldn’t be an ASFB conference without a deer in the headlights and a Cotter Reservoir Macquarie perch presentation. 2015 will be no exception (insert sigh of relief). Ben told me ‘An enlarged Cotter Reservoir is filling, and the resident population of endangered Macquarie perch are loving it, with abundant adults as fat as mud dining on newly available terrestrial prey items (mostly juicy earthworms!!). With increased body condition should come increased fecundity and recruitment right? Well so far monitoring indicates that this hasn’t been the case.’

To find out why (well possibly why, we are fish biologists and the more we learn the less we know) head along to Sausage Broadhurst’s presentation entitled “Early response of Macquarie perch to enlargement of an upland reservoir” in the Fish Biology, Ecology and Management session, 11:15 on Monday morning. It will be the only talk with a Barry White reference (except for potentially Barry Bruce’s presentation on White sharks).

Andrew Berghuis Macca fish passage

One of two “Hands on” fish passage enhancements the team constructed to help get Macquarie perch to suitable spawning habitat in the Cotter River upstream of Cotter Reservoir (Photo: Andrew Berghuis)

Dave Roberts is a dual medallist with regular contributions at ASFB and the Lair; and this year will see him reporting on work conducted with the likes of Doug Harding, Tess Mullins, Kris Pitman, Ross Dwyer and the prodigious Mark Kennard.

Dave Roberst Crew

The crew at work in South East Queensland

This project has had it all, National television coverage (albeit targeted to a sub-teen demographic), unexplained electronic gadgets turning up in seafood processing plants, a qualified horse veterinarian, floods, broken fishway. But Dave tells me ‘the most memorable of all was the awesome field trips with a great bunch of researchers and new insights into catadromous fish migration’. Dave elaborated ‘The Logan River system is not a unique Australian river by any stretch, with several fish migration barriers and a Water Resource Plan that dictates water use’. ‘The system does have some hope though, with 4 of the 5 major barriers have the latest fishway designs, and while the system is heavily allocated, water abstraction is low being reserved for future urban demand’. ‘We set about understanding the flow migration needs of three catadromous species and discovered that despite the assumption fishways provided effective passage for migrating fish, some preferred to leap off a cliff then use the fishway to get to the sea’. Which just goes to show, you can get Dave talking – if only you ask the right questions.

A big appearance in the Energetics session will be the exuberant Tim Clark. I asked him why is research is important and got a pretty hardcore science response. ‘Appropriately balancing energy acquisition and energy expenditure is fundamental to the fitness of all animals including fishes. By pairing robust lab-based experiments with novel electronic tagging technologies, scientists may gain an unprecedented understanding of the energetics of wild fishes and pave the way for deciphering the impacts of short- and long-term environmental challenges’. Well nice to meet you Tim. I reckon those who really like there science should get to Tim’s Keynote. Then I thought, no this is simply not good enough. We need to know more about this guy. So I peppered him for some more information about what he is going to discuss next week:

photo Tim Clark

Tim Clark (Photo courtesy of African Safari Magazine)

Ebb, I’m trying to get a Linkage grant together by Friday so sorry if this is a complete information dump, but here’s some stuff you can reshape as necessary…depending on how controversial you want to be!:

[Editor’s note: no edits required this is the human-science nectar the Moray suckles.....]

I got into science for the cheesiest of reasons – I always had a love of animals.  I used to collect spiders, watch pet tadpoles morph into frogs, spend hours watching my pet birds build nests in my aviary, the list goes on.  At that stage, I had aspirations of being a park ranger because I had no idea about the possibilities that existed in scientific research.  I stumbled my way into university and was contently “average” for the first 1.5 years of undergrad.  The defining moment for me was when friends of the family seemed over-the-top excited and congratulatory when I told them I passed the first semester of second-year undergrad with around a C-grade average.  I guess they were expecting me to fail.  They were incredibly polite people, but I couldn’t help to sense some mockery.  That was the spark I needed; I pulled my finger out and battled through the final 1.5 years of undergrad with nothing but A-grades.

My interest in physiology was initiated by Dr Peter Frappell, with whom I ended up doing my Honours and PhD projects.  The thing that attracted me to physiology was that it was conceptual and often over-arching across animal taxa; for example, the concepts behind haemoglobin-oxygen binding and cardiovascular function were applicable across nearly all vertebrates.  On the other hand, my initial training in ecology generally seemed to be context-specific and I struggled to grasp how I could transfer the skills to other species and systems.  Since those days, I have recognised the power of combining physiology with ecology to more comprehensive address research questions.

I’ve realised over time that science suits my personality.  I’m very particular, inquisitive, and I like to do things properly and comprehensively (much to the frustration of my students and colleagues!).  I naively thought that science was exclusively made up of similar personality types, but that proved to be a very inaccurate assumption.  Consequently, I’ve become very passionate about morals and ethics in science, as I believe that the public perception of scientists is continually being tainted by the publication of poor research.  For example, a recent analysis in the biomedical field alone estimated that over $50 billion per year is spent on research that ultimately proves to be irreproducible (i.e., independent researchers cannot achieve the same findings).  There are some big steps that have to be taken to improve the way science is conducted and reviewed, and to more smartly distribute research funding, but I hope to help facilitate these steps in the coming years!

When I sent out a scattered plea for a blurb about a presentation by a South Australian researcher, Lara Suitor responded with excessive vigour. Lara is a regular at ASFB and a good chat. She has teamed up with crowd favourite Listy Ellis to tell a heart warming story about one of our most imperilled Australian fishes. This cross border protection of a species in exile is one not to miss and Lara and Listy have posted a more comprehensive teaser as the recent Species Spotlight on The Lair. Knock ‘em dead Lara.

Lara and Listy dragging

Lara and Listy dragging for hardyheads

Well, time to pack your best frock or shirt (and I realise this creates indecision for you Listy) for the Thursday evening. Don’t forget the toothbrush, flashstick, and maybe a panadol just in case. Look forward to listening to you all, and maybe saying the odd word myself. We all know there ain’t any money about, but for this next week at least, fish science can be in a happy place.