Archive for Thursday, July 6, 2006

Saving the shiner is just one piece of a larger battle’

KU group fights for endangered fish

July 6, 2006


The Topeka shiner only grows to about 3 inches long, and it looks a lot like the minnows sold at any self-respecting bait shop in eastern Kansas.

But Kansas University researchers have become among the foremost champions in the world for saving the rapidly disappearing species. They say, ultimately, the human race depends on it.

"This is important business," Jerry deNoyelles, deputy director of the Kansas Biological Survey, said Wednesday to a group of students from across the country who were viewing a shiner restoration project in rural Lawrence. "Saving the shiner is obviously just one piece of a larger battle.

"I hate to talk about it in these terms, but survival of the Earth ultimately depends on this stuff."

No one will be able to say KU isn't doing its part, at least when it comes to the Topeka shiner. Since 2001, the biological survey - through a partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks - has become the leading research authority in the world on the Topeka shiner.

On property northeast of the Lawrence Municipal Airport, the biological survey has 77 ponds - each a tenth of an acre in size - where researchers breed and study the species.

The small fish once was found in many prairie streams and rivers throughout Kansas, Iowa and parts of Nebraska, Missouri and South Dakota. Today, the chubby minnow - most distinguishable by its dark side stripes and a V-like spot on its tail - only can be found in the headwaters of a few streams, including the source area of the Kansas River near Manhattan.

KU researchers hope to help change that. In 2002, the KU project had a total of 300 shiners. Today, it has about 20,000.

That's good news for the fish because the shiner's numbers had taken a beating over the years. DeNoyelles said the species had lost about 80 percent of its population levels during the last 200 years and can be found in about 20 percent of the places it once inhabited.

"It is clearly on track to disappear," deNoyelles said.

But so what? After all, the shiner really does look like something you'd expect to find in a bait bucket.

As deNoyelles told students Wednesday, there's a simple reason why everyone should care: It's the principle that in nature you can never do just one thing.

In other words, if the shiner disappears, that will make it harder for another species - plant or animal - to survive, and then the extinction of that species will make it harder for another species to survive, and the process just continues to repeat itself.

"What I tell people is that the Earth cannot indefinitely keep losing species," said deNoyelles, who also is a professor in KU's department of ecology and evolutionary biology. "You know, we don't get our oxygen from outer space. We get it from plants. If you let one species go, and then let another one go, and another, when do you reach the point that you've let too many go?

"What I'm telling you is that we're letting an awful lot go these days."

Eight students in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates national program toured the biological survey site. Several said deNoyelles' message struck a chord.

"I can definitely see how some people would say it is just a small fish, so who cares?" said Eva Carpenter, a Columbia University student who will be at KU for 10 weeks this summer as part of the program. "But then you hear the big picture and realize in a way it does impact humans.

"The only way we're going to make meaningful changes to the environment is really to make it a selfish cause. People have to understand how it impacts humans."

Saving the Shiner

Here's how Kansas University researchers explain what's causing the decline of the Topeka shiner. ¢ The Kansas Biological Survey operates 77 ponds that allow researchers to create multiple types of environments for the fish. Survey staff members use underwater video equipment to view the activities of the shiners, especially during the critical summer spawning period. ¢ Researchers change the pond environments in several ways. Those include controlling the amount of gravel on the bottom of the pond, adding largemouth bass to serve as predators and adjusting the density of fish in a pond. ¢ Among the major findings of the program is that Topeka shiners use the nests of sunfish to lay their eggs. The sunfish, which most often nest along gravel bottoms, inadvertently protect the young shiners while also protecting their young sunfish. The research also has found that shiners almost exclusively live in the headwater regions of streams and rivers. ¢ Causes for the decline in Topeka shiner populations remain uncertain. Researchers, though, said soil erosion - both from agricultural and natural means - could be causing some gravel bottoms to become covered in silt. Prolonged periods of drought also could be particularly problematic for Topeka shiners. Increased regulation of headwater areas of streams and rivers could be a way to help protect Topeka shiners.


Susan Mangan 11 years ago

Can I get a bucket-load of the little boogers for bait?

Susan Mangan 11 years ago

Here's a more "scientific" question...

If the shiner's extinction is due to "natural causes" many other species' have been in the past (I don't believe people were around to spray hair spray at the dinosaurs)...aren't we interfering with Darwin and evolution to step in and re-establish it? Using deNoyelles own logic, "It's the principle that in nature you can never do just one thing," if we jack with the natural course of extinction and evolution of species', because we have an overpowering urge to rule nature and stop natural processes, are we not, perhaps, making it more difficult for another species to survive? Perhaps, the shiner is nearing extinction because another species has evolved more efficiently and has adapted to the same environment to the point that it is usurping the available food supply for the shiner. Now we're going to dump 20,000 shiners into the river system and overwhelm the, necessarily, limited food supply and kill off a different, more suitable species. Arrogant.

Susan Mangan 11 years ago

Here's a riddle...

What do you get when you confuse a liberal by forcing them to choose between evolution and environmentalism? Hmmm...

Michael McClain 11 years ago

Thank goodness it isn't in the wetlands!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

A much faster way to demonstrate you cynical ignorance it to just type "Filbert!"

Shardwurm 11 years ago

What's the daily creel limit on these things?

Scott Drummond 11 years ago

All you anti-environment folks sure seem very sure of yourselves and of your understanding of the way the natural world works. It's just a bait fish, after all. Imagine the lunacy of the "scientist" claiming the future of the human race depends on its survival. Snicker, snicker. What does that buffoon know? Surely he cannot be more knowledgeable than the anonymous posters who clearly come at this issue with no preconceived agendas?!??!!!!

Chris Tackett 11 years ago

Multidisciplinary: i don't think that's comparing apples and apples.

VoiceofReason: you bring up a good point with your 1:36am post. These fish could be dying off for other reasons. But scientists have the scientific method to determine the cause of such things. This article doesn't get into it though, since those things are best left to journals and such.

A good example of how the elimination of species can get out of control is with the Brown Tree Snake in Guam. The snakes were introduced into the environment by humans and soon ate and eliminated 8 species of birds. Soon they had a major insect problem, because there weren't enough birds to eat the bugs and diseases are being spread by the now overwhelming number of mosquitos. Also, they're now overrun with snakes.

The issue is that 1) humans have to be careful when introducing species into foreign environments and 2) humans must work hard to protect natural environments and protect species from extinction. It's a tough balance and difficult to discuss on a message board where everyone is pretty uninformed *(myself included)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"I believe that's your self-professed contribution to society, bozo."

I'm just trying to help those of you who like to arrogantly celebrate your willful ignorance on these forums find a more efficient way to do so.

Embrace the Filbert!, 75x55-- there are much better ways to waste your life than being a really stupid blogger.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years ago

VOR makes a good point. Many, many species of animals have been driven to extinction by natural forces. Long before man was impacting the natural world as we do today, there were changes in climates, preditors, etc. that caused the extinction of many animals.

Remember why were were having so many problems with uncontrollable forest fires a few years ago? it was because of the misguided intentions of environmentalists who refused to allow natural processes take their course. Sometimes we need to let nature be nature and quit playing God with stuff. If the fishes can't make it, "so-long, fishes". If this was due to the impact of non-native invasives species, land development or pollution, then we should consider stepping in. But if the little dudes just can no longer compete, then let them go.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years ago

"Causes for the decline in Topeka shiner populations remain uncertain. Researchers, though, said soil erosion - both from agricultural and natural means - could be causing some gravel bottoms to become covered in silt."

This doesn't sound like a "natural" cause. At least in part, agriculture may play a role.

One thing that this causes me to wonder about is if they use the nests of sunfish, then won't they survive for as long as there are sunfish?

torcia 11 years ago

"I hate to talk about it in these terms, but survival of the Earth ultimately depends on this stuff."

Thats pretty dramatic. The survival of the earth has nothing to do with "this stuff." We could set off every nuke in the world at once and the earth would be here...just not us! Basically it should read "the survival of us depends on this stuff."

Scott Drummond 11 years ago

"one word "Bait""

And another - "fool"

satchel 11 years ago

At least Old enough is following his belief system to a 'T'..

I can't figure out why an 'evolutionist' would try to save a species that is dying out 'naturally'. Old enuff apparently is not a biologist, but he is following the 'logic' behind evolution much more than these dorks teaching our children.

The libs astound me with their hypocrisy.

Scott Drummond 11 years ago

"Remember why were were having so many problems with uncontrollable forest fires a few years ago? it was because of the misguided intentions of environmentalists who refused to allow natural processes take their course. Sometimes we need to let nature be nature and quit playing God with stuff. If the fishes can't make it, "so-long, fishes". If this was due to the impact of non-native invasives species, land development or pollution, then we should consider stepping in. But if the little dudes just can no longer compete, then let them go."

Don't know if it is intentional or not, and am willing to give OldEnough the benefit of the doubt, but there are some misleading points in this that bear contradiction. Regarding the forest fires and the "misguided" environmentalists, it is not the environmentalists at all that would not let nature take its course. It is the idiot humans that build on top of these natural areas and then, when nature does, in fact, take its course, demand protection from that very thing. It is the idiot policies of purporting to "manage" our natural resources in such a way as to cull out all the undesirable "fuel" to prevent "uncontrollable" wildfires that the current corrupt crew in charge of our public lands employs. Those are the things that make the "uncontrollable" forest fires such a problem, the impact they have on humans. To suggest that the problem is with the environmentalists, or their suggested policies is just wrong.

I agree wholeheartedly that we need to quit playing God. He does a far better job on his own. Hopefully that would include halting or curtailing our apparent intent increase our population to the point where we pave and build upon every square inch of the planet. Add up all the supposed accomplishments of man and his society and they do not equal the beauty of a single flower, a stroke of lightening or a fluffy white cloud floating across the blue (pollution free) summer sky. As to the fish in question, anyone that can look across the landscape of our part of northeastern Kansas and say with a straight face that there is nothing man has done to compete with this species is either a liar or a fool. At the very least, the very least, we ought to be taking remedial efforts to help the species survive. An unpopular view, I am sure, amongst many who post here, but the truth, nonetheless.

neopolss 11 years ago

Scott, perhaps we should look to our native american brethren. They hunted, fished, and burned rampantly throughout the US and did so for hundreds or years. Forest fires are a great example. The lack of prairie in Kansas these days can be contributed to the lack of fire. Without such mechanisms, trees have grown out of control. Mind you, these are not enviro frienly trees. These are overgrown weeds basically. They are dense thicket that drives many prairie animals out. The natives burned away, because animals would not live in the thickets. Fresh game needed open land. The natives did not care about preserving nature, they used every resource to its maximum to ensure their survival.

The single biggest mistake we as humans have made is to believe there is a balance to nature. There is no such thing. It is violent and savage, with the weakest of species on the food list. The enviros love to picture its beauty, but one look at a movie like "the Grizzly Man" will show that nature is not about beauty - it's survival.

Why is it that we place ourselves above the other species? Should we not edge out population to make room for our own? The rest will either adapt or perish. We are in a race of survival ourselves you know.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years ago

Our top two stories:

One about big ponds on the edge of town.

One about mosquitos and West Nile.

Emily Hadley 11 years ago

Shall we compare population numbers, acreage burned, waste accumulation of those natives versus today's US population?

While we have increased the amount of deciduous forest in the area of Kansas that we live in due to irrigation and reduced wild fire, we are also reducing the water levels in the western part of Kansas as well as replacing native tall grasses, which provide habitat to innumerable species, with crops, which provide habitat to very few species, especially when soaked in Roundup.

There is no analogy here for our treatment of U.S. land since WWII. Species are disappearing due to the implementation of intense chemical farming, which spreads its effects beyond the area controlled by the landowner, combined with an absolute reduction of habitat.

Our overly successful race for survival, like that of any other species, will ultimately lead to our extinction. It's an evolutionary hubris. You will find that all the 'save the ~~' people are actually just trying to preserve a place where homo sapiens can continue to thrive, rather than go extinct due to chemical exposure, draught, malnutrition, and environmentally-caused diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Forget saving the whales and the fish for their own sake, we need them around if we want our grandchildren to survive.

Small fish are called bait because you need them to get big fish. You want the big fish to feed your family. No small fish = human extinction.

Redzilla 11 years ago

I wonder...when we finally have 20 billion humans and no other animals, will we all become vegans or will we start eating each other? Take it away, H Lecter...

KSChick1 11 years ago

I love shiners... on white bread with a little mayo and mustard

MD-we won't let anyone tear you to shreds unless you're clogdancing on a roundabout while eating a Klondike bar and stepping on shiners

OldEnuf2BYurDad 11 years ago

I took an Envionrmental Studies course from deNoyelles about 20 years ago. It was a pretty good class. We had a slide show about different animals: herbivores, carnivores, etc. When it came time to talk about omnivores, the slide was a picture of a woman buying Capt'n Crunch at the grocery store. "Omnivores will eat anything."

Bio_Survey_Fan 11 years ago

Some of you think the Bio Survey is a waste???? Get a life and while you are at it, GET EDUCATED! Most of you don't know the first thing about the Kansas Bio Survey or the hard working individuals that work there. Most of you would run screaming from the conditions that these scientists endure to ensure that we have an ecological and environmental state to continue to enjoy.

satchel 11 years ago

KSChick1 said:

"I love shiners... on white bread with a little mayo and mustard

MD-we won't let anyone tear you to shreds unless you're clogdancing on a roundabout while eating a Klondike bar and stepping on shiners"


fagan 11 years ago

As a first time visitor, I didn't expect information about the dimunitive Topeka shiner to elicit such an impassioned discussion. It was surprising and very enlightening to discover that the current effort by KU biologists to prevent this little fish from disappearing from the planet is nothing less than an organized and much broader global conspiracy by left-wing elements to undermine our freedoms and divine right to treat the planet as we individually see fit. I just didn't know. Rather, my first thought upon viewing the shiner's photo was an aesthetic appreciation that here is a unique and beautiful creature, even if some here may only consider it "bait". Diversity of life on Earth holds great value and if nothing else makes our lives interesting; wouldn't life be dull if all birds were crows and all people were Methodists? To me it is irrelevant whether the Topeka shiner was specially created by God or is the product of some unfolding evolutionary mechanism- it is a living thing that should be no less deserving than we are of having a right to survive. As to whether its plight is owing to natural or man-made causes, that is a good question that deserves an objective answer and seems to be precisely what is being investigated at KU. Perhaps in my ignorance I have failed to see a bigger and more ominous agenda at work here, but it is troubling in a broader sense that some are always so quick to find suspicious motives working through the tool of science, that somehow science is inherently "evil", and thereby feel they can be casually dismissive of the important and indispensable information science provides to help us understand the world we live in and also of the people trained and most qualified to present it to us. Distilled to its essence, is a fundamental desire to protect endangered species really a bad thing? I would hope few would agree that it is, and yet this whole discussion appears to have turned from something that to a reasonable person would be something positive into a sad series of commentaries illustrating the political polarization running rampant in our society. Thankfully the fish don't have to care about this, but were they capable of understanding vitriol perhaps they would since they will be affected by the decisions of humans who ultimately hold all of the cards that will determine their future.

Susan Mangan 11 years ago

Reality_Check and Bio_Survey_Fan -

You both seem to assume that, if you disagree with someone, they must not be educated. I'll put my educational credentials up against anyone's here and I bet I'll win. I have three degrees, including one post-graduate, and two are in the "hard" sciences...medicine and physics. I had a master's by 24. My grandfather was a nuclear physicist, and a brilliant man. I have tremendous respect for science...but that doesn't, necessarily, extend to every "scientist" performing their "work". A critical element of science is skepticism. You just obviously don't realize that not all (nor even most) scientists buy into the paranoid "the sky is falling" mentality at every small change in our climate and/or ecosystem. Believe it, or not, the Earth is a remarkable place and has an innate way of maitaining homeostasis. I find these "people are going to destroy everythng about Earth" individuals incredibly self-centered and arrogant in their presupposition that mankind is powerful enough to destroy a perfectly designed machine (yes...I said "designed").

Living in the shadows of the ivory towers at KU really leaves you with a false impression of the mindset of most scientists. A lot of us even believe that Creationism and science CAN coexist peacefully...gasp!

So don't tell me to get educated. I can teach you a few things, I'm sure. So YOU get! LOL

Susan Mangan 11 years ago

My third degree, if anyone is wondering, is in Income Tax Accounting. I am one of the few people, outside of Congressional bill-writers, who has READ the U.S. Tax Code (all 26 volumes, at the time). Anyone want to get into that one???

Scott Drummond 11 years ago

"Our top two stories:

One about big ponds on the edge of town.

One about mosquitos and West Nile."

Better pave that pond over and kill all the mosquitos before any humans get sick. Survival of the fittest & all.

yourworstnightmare 11 years ago

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, the disappearance of one little fish is trivial. Maybe it was on its way out anyway.

There is nothing "magically special" about any species on the planet. However, rapid extinctions of many species across different ecosystems is a harbinger that our enviroment is rapidly changing.

There is nothing wrong with global extinctions and environmental changes. They have happened repeatedly in the 4.5 billion years of the Earth's existence.

The problem is that humans have evolved on the same planet as these little fishies. Rapid environmental change, whether human-caused or not, is going to be no picnic for us humans.

Then again, in the grand scheme of things, humans will not exist on this planet forever and will be subject to the same extinction phenomenon as all other species throughout the ages.

Scott Drummond 11 years ago

"Then again, in the grand scheme of things, humans will not exist on this planet forever and will be subject to the same extinction phenomenon as all other species throughout the ages."

Right you are. In the meantime, I like my natural world full of wonder, mystery and even violent struggle for survival, so I shall argue and fight to save it. The sorts of species that adapts well to the environment man creates - garbage eating crows, weeds, rats etc are not much to my liking. Why anyone would want more of that so that we humans can pave over and "develop" some more land to house the spawn of all of the worst of mankind is beyond me. But, as is proven day after day on these boards, most of humanity is pretty damned stupid, so I suppose they shall reap what they sow in time. May you each come to understand the diminished world you have helped to create, and when you recognize the error of your ways have the decency to admit that your betters told you so.

yourworstnightmare 11 years ago

The song "After the Garden" on the new Neil Young album "Living with War" sort of sums it up.

yourworstnightmare 11 years ago

Just remember that those little fishies evolved on the same planet at the same time as you.

Environmental change respects no species, including Homo sapiens.

Your children or grandchildren will be fighting for their lives, whether it be due to famine, warfare, or disease.


yourworstnightmare 11 years ago

We in the USA are fortunate to be able to insulate ourselves from the effects of overpopulation and climate change.

This will not last forever. The demons of our excesses will catch up to us in the form of famine, warfare, and disease.

Ride, horsemen, ride...

Susan Mangan 11 years ago

Reality_Check -

And 95% of American teenagers think the Civil War ended in 1940...does that make it so? Note your qualification of "climate scientists". Who do you think goes into that field? Good Lord! That's like saying, "95% of Democrats agree that Republicans are bad." I'll stick with physicists and chemists, myself. Global warming...did you know that ONE major volcanic eruption causes the release of more CFCs (that's the bad stuff, that man was destroying the planet with, until governments stepped in to protect us) than every single CFC ever emitted through man-made methods, combined? And here's an interesting little anecdote about our tough little planet. Do you know what the atmospheric effect of a 2 degree Celsius increase in global temperature is? A 2 percent increase in global cloud cover (that's from the increased evaporation, if you don't follow). Guess what a 2 percent increase in cloud cover causes...a 2 degree Celsius decrease in global temperature! Wow! Amazing how it all just works out, huh? If you really want to keep going, I know a lot of interesting information about the Circumpolar Vortex that contradicts the dire predictions from "man-made global warming" alarmists...but that may be too scientific for you.

Yourworstnightmare - I don't think I'll be canceling my vacation plans, just yet. Seems like you have enough pessimism for the rest of us. I trust we'll be safe if you just keep on the lookout. Post something when the "famine, warfare, and disease" gets close, k?

Scott Drummond 11 years ago

Re: Global Warming, the following interview quote from our dear President:

"Do you think Gore is right on global warming? I think we have a problem on global warming. I think there is a debate about whether it's caused by mankind or whether it's caused naturally, but it's a worthy debate. It's a debate, actually, that I'm in the process of solving by advancing new technologies, burning coal cleanly in electric plants, or promoting hydrogen-powered automobiles, or advancing ethanol as an alternative to gasoline."

So, we can all take comfort in the fact that Georgie is in the process of solving things for us. I know I'll sure sleep a lot sounder knowing he's got our backs on this one. What a bufoon. And for all you right wing nut jobs that gave Al Gore such crap for the "I invented the Internet" line, I am sure you will express the same sort of derision for this overreaching statement.

Susan Mangan 11 years ago

Ummm...except Bush is actually in the process of solving it by providing funding necessary to study it and develop new technologies. All Gore ever did was type into his search box and he thinks that means he invented the internet.

The difference is that the former is, perhaps, a little over confident. The latter is teetering on the verge of serious mental illness.

Not at all the same.

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