Since my last blog post, I have finally settled on an individual project for the summer. I will be studying multi-species spawning aggregations of fish and the environmental factors that influence the locations of these aggregations. Spawning is the period of a fish’s reproductive cycle in which the eggs and sperm of the fish are released for fertilization. The species of fish that I am studying release their sperm and eggs externally into the water column, which makes it evolutionarily advantageous for them to spawn in groups, called spawning aggregations. In estuaries, there has been evidence that multiple species of fish aggregate to spawn at the same time in the same location. My project aims to identify where these sites are in the Port Aransas area and what environmental factors could be influencing the locations of these sites.
At this point in the summer, I am currently in the midst of collecting data for this project. The species of fish that I am studying have a special adaptation of vocalizing mating calls during the time period they are spawning. Thus, it is easiest to detect their spawning aggregations through the vocalizations they make. To sample for my project, I travel to different sample sites by boat and drop an underwater microphone to record noises found at the site. Back in the lab, I listen back to the audio files and identify if any fish are present and if so, what species they are. From there, I will eventually compare the locations of audio files with multiple species of spawning fish present to environmental factors measured at the sites such as temperature, salinity, and density. This project allows me to do a lot of field work, which is great because it’s something I was really hoping to do during this REU program.