Monday, February 28, 2011

Ask A Grad Student: Scott Vulstek

Scott Vulstek is one lucky guy: he gets to play Maury Povich on a daily basis, only with red king crabs (Paralithodes camtschaticus) instead of people. This means all the baby-daddy anticipation with none of the dramatic running off-stage (which is actually quite entertaining... if you're on break at work in a factory and you are bored... not that I know from experience or anything). I'll let Scott explain more.

Age: 27

Degree: MS, Fisheries

Current City: Juneau

1. Describe your project, in 4 sentences or less.

My project involves describing the spatial and temporal population genetic structure of red king crab in Alaska. I am looking at eleven populations that range from Norton Sound down to Southeast Alaska. I am also studying female red king crabs and their broods to look for any evidence of multiple paternity. That is, are female red king crab mated by more than one male in a given season?

male red king crab X: you are NOT the father!

2. Your interest in this project is more focused on the genetic work than the king crab aspect. Why king crabs and why Alaska?

King crabs are pretty gnarly critters and I have always wanted to come to Alaska. When I got the option to check out both, while doing some interesting population genetics work, I had to take it. I’m glad I did.

3. There has been seeding of king crabs in Russia. Can you tell us more about that and how you think it may or may not impact the population dynamics of North Pacific king crab stocks?

Red king crab stocked in Russia are moving west into Norwegian waters and so are not likely to directly affect stocks in the North Pacific. The crabs are having some serious negative impacts on the environment in the Barents Sea, however, and it shows us the damage that introduced species can do.

the Arctic, with the Barents Sea starred
(map from here)

4. Genetic work with king crabs can be challenging. How have you overcome these challenges and what do you do to unwind?

Red king crab, and invertebrates in general, can be very challenging to work with when it comes to population genetics. I’m lucky to be in a lab with some smart people and I can usually bounce problem solving ideas off them. If that doesn’t work I try to approach the problem from a new angle. Fly fishing is my favorite way to unwind. When I can’t do that I like to go hiking and camping, or tie flies.

5. What is your favorite piece of crab paraphernalia?

My favorite piece of crab paraphernalia is a huge crocheted crab that my mom bought from some old lady she works with.

crochet me crab-crazy!

Thanks Scott! Good luck with the genetics work, and fly fishing!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A crab by any other name

When I was an observer and I came across a snow crab, I thought to myself, “Hmm, the elusive mid-water snow crab” because I was on a pollock boat (pelagic trawler). But moving on I thought to myself, “opilio Tanner” and wrote it down as such. That’s because all Chionoecetes species we came across were identified as Tanners, with their appropriate scientific name recorded. It wasn’t until I came to Juneau that I heard people refer only to C. bairdi as Tanners, and C. opilio were simply snow crab. Nevermind that in the early years of the fishery, both C. bairdi and C. opilio were called snow crabs for the market. Sheesh!

I like to use scientific names. Is it an obsession? Maybe, but through my research I’ve come across a lot of different names for my crabs. First, they’re not to be mistaken with the snow crabs Chaceon bicolor:

another version of the snow crab, Chaceon bicolor

I was also bumping into papers on the zuwai-gani crab and wondered, "Should I pay attention to this guy?” Well, it’s a good thing that I did, because the zuwai-gani crab is none other than Chionoecetes opilio elongatus (Rathbun 1924)! Maybe.

a bunch of "zuwai crabs"

In some cases, “zuwai” refers to all Chionoecetes species, but the addition of “gani” (which means crab in Japanese) appears to specify the opilio crabs (plus subspecies?). For example, when you hear about the beni-zuwai crab, that's referring to Chionoecetes japonicus.

Fried zuwai-gani, and from the description of the
blogger's eating experience, I don't think these
were soft-shell! Can we say crunchy?!?

Zuwai-gani isn’t the only pseudonym for snow crabs; Germans call them Eismerkrabbe and Canadians sometimes call them Atlantic queen crabs. Fancy, eh?

This is why I’m so obsessed with using scientific names when possible!

What’s in a name?
Kon, T., and M. Sinoda. 1992. Zuwai crab population. Marine Behavior and Physiology 21: 185-226.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Miscellaneous Monday

First, for all those in or around Seattle, a public announcement:

Eastern Bering Sea Snow Crab Symposium:
Identifying best approaches for advancing understanding of EBS snow crab biology and incorporating research into fisheries management

This symposium will be held February 22 – 23, 2011 at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Seattle. The agenda includes presentations from invited speakers (including many of the snow crab biology all-stars!) who will provide an overview of the current knowledge and management strategies applied to the snow crab stock in the eastern Bering Sea. Interested members of the scientific and fisheries communities are encouraged to attend. (I can't be there, but I'm excited for this symposium nonetheless!)

Contacts: Laura Slater ( and Doug Pengilly ( Sponsored by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Commercial Fisheries Division, Kodiak, Alaska

Second, this weekend I had a great opportunity to participate in the Girl Scouts of Alaska Women of Science and Technology Day! This is a signature Alaskan event, and I had a lot of fun. I was there to help Sherry Tamone and Ginny Eckert with their section (there were lots of interesting women there!). Sherry and I led urchin races, where the girls flipped urchins on their backs and timed how long it took the little echinoderms to right themselves, and we demonstrated squid dissections. The girls also saw barnacles feeding under microscopes and video of Sherry's octopus project with her (now graduated!) student Pat Barry. Lots of fun and lots of little future scientists out there!

Third, my husband Adam and I got to help with a beach red king crab survey! We went out with Melissa Rhodes-Reece to count and measure as many baby red kings as we could find during LOW tide (I mean, really low tide!). I'll have Melissa and Miranda Westphal explain this project more a bit later, but overall we found 4 or 5 tiny guys less than 10 mm carapace length! So to finish off this random post, here's a king crab baby:

a sweet little baby

Friday, February 18, 2011

Get a load of THIS guy

Imagine you're a cardinal fish, swimming happily through Suruga Bay, minding your own business.

Suruga Bay (starred) with a view of Mount Fuji (triangled, little bonus fun fact)

wire coral from National Geographic

Oh hey, there's some wire coral, and look at that, there's a sun star, and hey there's a...

What the WHA?

Crabzilla, fo' rilla

That is 33 pounds of Japanese spider crab craziness right there (Macrocheira kaempferi)! (My friend Jon posted this on facebook, and I felt compelled to share it with you.) Friends, this is what happens when a crab lives to be (estimated) between 30 and 40 years old. And I'll just say, he's aged well! His front legs are more than 5 feet long, for crab's sake!!

"Crab Kong" was caught southwest of Tokyo in Suruga Bay, surely startling the fishermen but also leaving them with the idea to hand him over to an aquarium rather than eat him! So, if you want to see this guy, read more here and here for information (he seems to be touring Europe a bit).

And don't worry, all you real cardinal fish out there; I hear Japanese spider crabs are actually quite nice.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

Happy Valentine's Day to all you crab lovers out there!

In honor of the day, I thought I'd share my favorite happy-love song, and wouldn't you know it, there are crustaceans in it!

(If you haven't made a card for your Valentine yet, you can print out the card from the end of the mantis shrimp blog!)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

SICB Lessons: Mantis shrimp are AWESOME

this Odontodactylus scyllarus is just oozing awesomeness

OK, OK, this isn’t really something I needed to learn at a conference, but this fact is reinforced every time I go to SICB. That’s because I get to see presentations about these cool stomatopods from Sheila Patek and her lab. They look at the muscle physiology and mechanics of mantis shrimp raptorial appendages. You can read the 2010 abstract here and the 2011 abstract here. The main take-away message is that mantis shrimp are super fast and wicked strong!

[This is a long video, but really interesting if you have the time.]

I also learned that, within 8 genera, there are monogamous mantis shrimp (at least for one breeding season) from Molly Wright with UC Berkeley. So that means that we can stop worshipping those pesky penguins as our models for (eternal) love!

I sketched that guy, so sorry if it's not entirely accurate

(Feel free to use this card for your loved ones:
1. Download it and print it out on white card stock, trimming any edges
2. Fold on the grey dashed line
3. Write something meaningful inside like, "... at least for this year" or "I smashed some snails just for you! Love, Me" (that last one would be great if you have escargot on hand))

I linked up to the XLV Carnival of the Blue:

Friday, February 4, 2011

They’re Coming!

Remember how I said there aren’t any crabs in Antarctica here? Well, I should have said there aren’t any crabs in Antarctica YET. That’s because there are crabs in the Southern Ocean (stone and king crabs) that are heading south-er. Yup, I’m sticking with that.

this could happen, people!
(photo of Antarctica from NOAA)

Researchers have determined that one of the limiting factors in keeping these crabs from Antarctic waters is the extremely cold temperatures (Hall and Thatje, 2010; reported here). Southern Ocean crabs tend to stay in waters above 0.5° C. But with the oceans warming, this barrier could be breached!

In fact, as early as 2003 there have been reports of Neolithodes capensis and Paralomis birsteini on the continental slope off Antarctica at depths ranging from 1,408 to 1,947 m (García Raso et al., 2005). P. birsteini were seen again in the Bellingshausen Sea (west of the Antarctic Peninsula) in January 2007 (Thatje et al., 2008). They were video recorded and sampled from depths between 1,123 and 1,304 m.

Paralomis birsteini being picked up on the slope for genetic analysis

These crabs are being painted as predatory gluttons, waiting to pounce on the shrimp, brittle stars, and other inverts of the Antarctic, and while I’d love to defend them, I can see that happening too. Fo’ sho’.

Polar Press:
García Raso, J. E., M. E. Manjón-Cabeza, A. Ramos, and I. Olasi.2005. New record of Lithodidae (Crustacea, Decapoda, Anomura) from the Antarctic (Bellingshausen Sea). Polar Biology 28:642-646.

Thatje, S., S. Hall, C. Hauton, C. Held, and P. Tyler. 2008. Encounter of lithodid crab Paralomis birsteini on the continental slope off Antarctica, sampled by ROV. Polar Biology 31: 1143-1148.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

They grow up so fast… when they’re cold

Here's the paper I wanted to share with you but then got distracted on Australia Day:

You’d think that, given their name, snow crabs would like the cold. And they do: 97.8% were associated with eastern Bering Sea bottom temperatures between -2.0 and 4.0° C (Otto, 1998). Once they get to 7° C, their metabolism starts kicking in too much and they expend more than they can consume (their energy budget goes in the red; see Foyle et al., 1989).

That being said, a new paper came out showing opies terminally molt at younger instars when in colder temperatures. AnnDorte Burmeister and Bernard Sainte-Marie (a rock star in the snow crab world) recently looked at the geographic variation in size at terminal molt of snow crabs off the west coast of Greenland. They found that in both male and female snow crabs, size at terminal molt is positively correlated with temperature. They explained this by snow crabs possibly terminally molting at lower instar numbers (maturing faster) rather than growing less during each molt. Growing the same amount in different temperatures kinda rocked my socks, but Burmeister and Sainte-Marie did see similar sizes at instars between two sampled bays despite temperature differences!

carapace widths of terminally-molted male and female snow crabs
along western Greenland: larger adults are found at higher temperatures
(this pattern is also seen in eastern Bering Sea females = black diamonds)

While this study did not see a relationship between size and latitude, the idea of decreasing size with decreasing temperature can be related to latitude through the ‘converse Jame’s cline’. The Bergmann/Jame’s clines describe a positive relationship between maximum size of animals and latitude. In sandy beach isopods Excirolana hirsuticauda, larger growth was observed at the southernmost study site:

isopod growth in two Chilean locations
(read more here)

The converse Jame’s cline is therefore seen in the eastern Bering Sea, where mature female snow crabs are smaller the farther north you go (I’ve seen this myself, but you can also check out Zheng et al., 2001).

Burmeister and Sainte-Marie concluded their study with implications for the fishery: seeing the relationship between temperature and terminal molt, increasing ocean temperatures can directly affect snow crab stocks by increasing size at maturity. For females, this increase will mean greater fecundity due to ability to hold more eggs in their clutches. But for males, it will mean more will be vulnerable to fishing pressure because more will molt into the fishery rather than terminally molt at sub-legal sizes.

crabbing in Disko Bay, Greenland

Read it:
Burmeister, A., and B. Sainte-Marie. 2010. Pattern and causes of a temperature-dependent gradient of size at terminal moult in snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) along West Greenland. Polar Biology 33: 775-788.