Friday, March 21, 2014

Devil's Hole Pupfish: "Species in a bucket"

Patty is finishing up her BS this spring and will finally get to wear a black bathrobe and goofy hat on stage. WOOT!  Before that however, there is the matter of a term paper on the evolutionary topic of her choice. Of course, she has chosen the Devil's Hole pupfish.  Do you know much about them? The story goes like this:

The Death Valley pupfishes consist of two groups of 3 distinct species with a total of 7 subspecies, and are an example of "rapid post-Pleistocene allopatric divergence" that occurred between 10-20,000 years ago. It occurred because Lake Manly, which at one time covered most of Death Valley, receded and left just a few isolated patches of water in its wake. Below is a picture of the dry Lake Manly lake bed from Devil's Hole, today.

Intriguingly, it is thought that Owens Valley pupfish are related to those in today's Colorado River, while Death Valley pupfish are related to a species found in Chihuahua, Mexico. This data suggests that there were two separate invasions of pupfish into the Lake Manly area that hybridized with each other to form the different subspecies of Cyprinodon.

The Cyprinodon diabolis population in Devil's hole may have once been as large as 800 adults. Conservation efforts began in 1969 when the hole may have appeared much shallower to visitors, like Charlie et al. In recent years, the C. diabolis population has varied from 38-95 adults, representing an increase since they became protected in 1976. The last time water levels were as low as they were in 1976 was 6,000 years ago. 1969-76 were the years with the lowest recorded water levels in years, due to explosive anthropogenic growth in Las Vegas. This growth required that more water be withdrawn from the natural aquifer that runs from Salt Lake City to Death Valley.

Devil’s Hole is also inhabited by 80 species of algae that provide most of C. diabolis' food. Water in the hole has a consistent temperature of 89.6F, is supersaturated with calcium carbonate and is its own little semi-closed system: i.e., "net autotrophic."  Attempts to raise C. diabolis in captivity have had limited success, though those collected in the springtime seem to be most fertile. At right is a diagram of the shape of the hole underground. It exists because the underground aquifer (aka the Amargosa Flood Plain) is forced upwards there, due to bedrock that was also pushed upwards by plate tectonics millions of years ago. This can clearly be seen in the photograph, below.

The Family is known to have repeated native stories about fertile subterranean lands inhabited by redheaded giants, and is likely the reason they were so interested in the Devil's Hole. Countless little habitats like this one were probably feasible human residences at some time in the history of the advancing and receding Lake Manly, but Devil's Hole is one of the most well known. Some scholars have written (albeit dubiously) since 1932 that the redheaded giants of native lore were the dessicated mummies of a taller native people from the North who lived and died in these habitats. The mummies' dark hair turns red due to the chemical composition of the caves, much like the hair on the "bog bodies" of Northern Europe (see below).
Anyhow, Patty contacted the National Park Service to see if they are having any problems with people trying to climb or throw things over the fence there? She thought that perhaps she could get the word out to Manson oriented tourists to "be cool." Patty is pleased to report that Dr. Wilson who is in charge of the fish's wellbeing reports that indeed, park visitors have been very respectful. Here is what he wrote:

"Thank you for your interest in Devils Hole.  I'm currently the Devils Hole Program manager for Death Valley National Park.  My title is an Aquatic Ecologist.  I have a PhD in Zoology from the University of Toronto and did my masters working on energetics of Devils Hole back in 2000-2001. Program staff have recently upgraded the security system and overall site at Devils Hole.  This has reduced vandalism, but some minor events have occurred.  For example, someone threw broken glass down into Devils Hole from the observation deck. Otherwise it has been quiet over the last several years.If you are ever in the area please contact me and we could arrange a more personal tour of Devils Hole.Regards, Kevin"

The desert. It's fucking amazing. If Patty wasn't planning on being in the area anytime soon, well then, she is now!

Andersen, M.E. & Deacon, J.E. 2001. Population Size of Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) Correlates with Water Level. Copeia, 2001(1): 224-228. 
Barrett, P.J. (2011) Estimating Devils Hole Pupfish Lifestage Ratios Using the Delphi Method. Fisheries, 34:2, 73-79.
Baugh, T.M. & Deacon, J.E. 1983. Daily and yearly movement of the Devil’s Hole pupfish Cyprinodon diabolis wales in Devil’s Hole, Nevada. Great Basin Naturalist, October 1983, 592-596.
Bernot, M.J. &Wilson, K.P. (2012). Spatial and temporal variation of dissolved oxygen and ecosystem energetics in Devil’s Hole,Nevada. Western North American Naturalist 72(3), pp. 265–275.
Deacon, J.E., Williams, A.E., Deacon Williams, C. & Williams, J.E. 2007. Fueling population growth in Las Vegas: How large-scale groundwater withdrawal could burn regional biodiversity. BioScience, 57(8): 688-697.
Duvernell, D.D. & Turner, B.J. 1998. Evolutionary genetics of Death Valley pupfish populations: mitochondrial DNA sequence variation and population structure. Molecular Ecology 7: 279–288.
Duvernell, D.D. & Turner, B.J. 1999. Variation and Divergence of Death Valley Pupfish Populations at Retrotransposon-Defined Loci. Molecular Biology and Evolution 16(3): 363–371.Echelle, A.A. & A.F. Allozyme Perspective on Mitochondrial DNA Variation and Evolution of the Death Valley Pupfishes (Cyprinodontidae: Cyprinodon). Copeia, 1993(2) pp. 275-287.
Echelle, A.A. & Dowling, T.E. 1992. Mitochondrial DNA Variation and Evolution of the Death Valley Pupfishes. Evolution, 46(1), 193-206.
Lee, B. 1932. Death Valley Men. MacMillan Co., N.Y.
Wilson, K. 2014. Personal Communication via email with Devil’s Hole Program Manager for National Park Service: March 3, 2014.


Sun King said...

So I take it fishing in Devils Hole for these pup fish is prohibited ;-). Is another Evil Liz Tour in the planning stages? Sounds like a great offer and that person must know where the secret entrance is lol!

Patty is Dead said...

Mr Patty is soooooooooper excited to meet Dr. Wilson. Patty is too.

Cuntry Trash said...

I am jealous! I am going in for BS too. I am working on certifications in Wildlife, Forestry and Conservation right now- to make it a bit easier to get internships, volunteer jobs, and jobs in the field.

I am very happy to hear that no vandalism happens. It was a concern for me when I visited. There's an opening in the rock on the backside of Devil's Hole- did you check that hole out? it's an open hole about 4' x 2' (human can fit down) covered by a grate. The hole looks DEEP and dark, too. That hole is easier to access than the water hole on the main trail.

Patty is Dead said...

Hi Dooger! Kevin seems like a nice guy, maybe you can write him. :)

Patty is Dead said...

and no, Patty wasnt aware there was another hole so close by. They are likely all over, many would just look like a mine shaft to the untrained eye. Like Patty'e eye, for instance.

Matt said...

Patty, that's where I walked to when everyone else headed to the car, remember?

Patty is Dead said...

yes now that you mention it. Patty just remembers Matt the Energizer Bunny running up and down hills just for the heck of it

Anonymous said...

Make sure all group field trips to Death Valley National Park are *bona fide* cost sharing expeditions, or at least, make sure all the participants agree to that story if you run into Mr. Ranger.

When Nellie was blatantly advertising commercial tours inside the National Park without a permit, I forwarded all his web site promotion to the NPS. On the weekend for one of his illegal tours, the NPS was actively looking for him. I never did find out if law enforcement made contact.

Patty is Dead said...


fiona1933 said...

beyond interesting. Thanks Patty and good luck with finishing your degree

Patty is Dead said...

Thank you, Fi

John Seger said...

Makes me want to order Fish N Chips :P

John Seger said...

Makes me want to order Fish N Chips :P

Robert Hendrickson said...

Google = kickstarter Manson Family Vacation

Do THEY need a PERMIT to create "Free Speech" in the government's Valley of Death ?

Did Obama stop the White House "TOURS" because he did NOT have a permit?

OH, the insanity of sanity !

orwhut said...

A+ for Panamint Patty.

Anonymous said...

Wow!!! They're making a movie about you guys?!

THEY most certainly DO need special use permits to film commercially inside Death Valley National Park, or any National Park. The NPS has an office set up just for handling these type of special use requests.

On the other hand, there are NO permits required to guide tours (or to express free speech with film) on the streets of Trona.

PS. Patty's blog entry is awesome. So amazing that an entire subspecies has a population of under 100 animals.

Matt said...

I think the homosapien population of Trona has diminished to an even lower number than 100. It must be fenced-off.

Patty is Dead said...

wait who is getting a movie made about them...the pupfish?

Anonymous said...

From the low budget film fundraising site that Mr. H was posting about:

The Story: Nick Morgan is a successful lawyer who’s devoted to his wife and young son. His adopted brother Conrad is a wayward soul who shows up in Los Angeles unannounced. Although the brothers have never gotten along too well, Nick decides to show his brother around town. But as it turns out, there’s only one thing Conrad wants to do in LA: visit the Manson murder sites. So, the brothers drive all over town & out to the desert to discover the secrets of The Manson Family and themselves.

Maybe they visit the pupfish too.

Patty is Dead said...

Thank you, anon!

Anonymous said...

I think Matt's joke was supposed to be: "The Trona subpecies population has fallen below 100 and needs to be fenced off"

Patty is Dead said...

Patty was just ruminating on how she has heard and it has been independently confirmed that Charles is not a racist, but he is a separatist. the rationale is that each race should be conserved in its present form and not interbreed. Patty disagrees....or does she? What about the pupfish? Should they be allowed to interbreed or go extinct? Pattys paper is starting to lean towards extinction, and that makes me kind of agreeing with him, but not really. Pattys nephews are a beautiful mix of anglo and latino. as it should be.

Anonymous said...


Pupfish swimmin' in the dead of night
Take these broken fins and just survive
All your life
You were only waiting for adaptation to arise

Pupfish try
Pupfish try
Swim to the right of the Mansonite

Patty is Dead said...


Anonymous said...

Patty, all of us Homo Sapiens Sapiens are the exact same animal.

Of course, in the way, way back distant past there had been many other similar hominoid subspecies branching off in various habitats, and competing with us, but all those others cousins hit an evolutionary dead end. Now all that is left is us - OK, plus 2% or so of Neanderthal gene batter that got folded in to our DNA cake later on, once us Africans headed back up north again to Europe with our new species.

Worth noting that in official U.S. Census demographics, *Hispanics* (Latinos) who only check that ethnicity box on census are by default "counted" as being of *White* (European decent) race. *Hispanic* is purely an ethnic designation. Default to *White* race in U.S. Census is only superceded if respondent specifically states differently, e.g. "Black Hispanic". (Think Dominican Republic baseball stars.)

Also worth noting that in civil rights legislation, race and ethnicity are treated identically.

PS. Apologies for funky screen name, it wasn't on purpose, but now that it is here I'm kinda attached to it.

Matt said...

I was wondering why I never made the major leagues. Damn.

Patty is Dead said...

Farf, dat you?

Patty saw an interesting documentary one time about a bunch of high school kids who all get their genomes sequenced. Well, they get like 250 loci identified. Anyhow, beforehand the black kids think they will be most related to other black kids, asians assume they will be most related to each other, etc. No one was right. The point being that race is an artificial construction

as for our pupfish, they do interbreed with other pupfish and are therefore still a single species. Its just a long, hot walk to the next watering hole so that doesn't happen much...LOL

sbuch113 said...

I'll be in So. Cal. next week for Widespread Panic.
Then a week exploring the Panamint Valley......

Matt said...

sbuch, send us some pics...

Patty is Dead said...

Widespread Panic! Its been a while for Patty. Maybe the High Sierra Music Festival, early 90s? or was it mid 90s? Operative word in High Sierra music fest is "high" but WP was definitely there. LOL