Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Don’t Go Viral.

Viruses are everywhere…they can make us sick, they can be highly contagious, and some of them are downright dangerous.  Fish get sick from viruses, too!

What is a virus?  Viruses are very specialized biological entities and for years scientists have argued whether or not they are even organisms at all.  They do contain genetic material and evolve through natural selection and at the very least interact with living organisms and have probably been present on Earth since the origin of life.  They are basically bits of genetic material (DNA or RNA) coated in protein and/or lipids, are so small that they are able to get inside of the cells of a host organism and replicate.  The large majority of virus exposure prompts an immune response from the host which destroys them.  Common viruses are rabies, hepatitis, influenza, and even the common cold.  Some are more serious than others.  It is the viruses that persist that can cause some problems – they basically take control of cellular functions and all sorts of chaos ensues – usually ending poorly for the host.
Let’s get to the lampreys.   Why study lampreys and virus?  There have been plenty of fish viruses identified with some wonderfully creative names.  Some examples are largemouth bass virus, channel catfish virus, and carp herpes virus.  In the Pacific Northwest, infectious hematopoietic necrosis virus (IHNV) is a virus that attacks salmon and trout.  It causes hemorrhaging, necrosis (tissue death), and organ failure and is particularly harmful to young fish.  It has the potential to kill large numbers of fish if it spreads into a hatchery facility.  Viral hemorrhagic septicemia virus (VHSV) is another nasty that does some of the same things and has been attributed to mass die-offs of fish in the Great Lakes region.
So we’ve blogged about lampreys on here plenty of times and why they’re important.  We wanted to know if larval Pacific lampreys (the ammocoetes) are susceptible to some viruses that infect salmon of the Pacific Northwest.  And we wanted to know not only if they were susceptible but also if they could carry the virus, replicate it, and therefore potentially transmit it to other fish.  We began talking with Susan Gutenberger, one of our fish health expert colleagues at the Lower Columbia River Fish Health Center about it.  We eventually connected with Gael Kurath and Jim Winton of the USGS Western Fisheries Research Center in Seattle – more fish health experts.   We hatched a plan…we decided to pull our resources and expertise and see if we could figure out if larval lamprey could be infected with viruses.

Gael gets the viruses from the -80oC storage.

We conducted direct virus challenges using three viruses, two strains of IHNV and one strain of VHSV.  Native Pacific lamprey larvae were collected from the North Fork Eagle Creek (Clackamas River drainage, OR), a basin that does not contain these viruses, and transported to Western Fisheries Science Center.  Larvae were either immersed in a solution containing a high dose of virus or actually had the virus injected directly into their body cavity (the direct challenge)!  Even though larvae would never be exposed to a virus in this manner in the wild we wanted to be certain that they had as much exposure – and therefore probability of contracting it – as possible.  We also used control lamprey that experienced all the same conditions except the virus; they were handled similarly and injected with saline solution.  Larvae were monitored for mortality and disease signs for 45 days.  Subsamples of larvae were sacrificed at regular time intervals to test for presence of virus. 

I'm injecting a larval lamprey with IHN virus.
We saw low levels of mortality in the immersion trials (less than 15%) and those that died tested negative for virus, suggesting a different cause of death.  There was higher mortality for those that were injected (30-80%) but again they were negative for virus and we also had mortality in the control fish (30%).  In fact, virus was only ever detected in fish that were injected.  IHNV was detected in three fish and VHSV was detected in two fish – six days after injection (these were sacrificed fish) and in levels lower than they were originally injected.  Basically, there was no evidence of replication of the virus and the virus was rapidly cleared from the fish.

Gael and Tarin add virus for an immersion trial.  We really are nice people, though!
What does it all mean?  Well, we might feel a lot safer about bringing larval lamprey from the wild into captive facilities (e.g., hatcheries) to do basic research.  There is so much we don’t know about lampreys that we need to have some captive fish for experiments.  But we wouldn’t want to bring so-called “dirty” fish into a facility that may infect all the other fish.  But even more broadly, these fish have somehow figured out a way to deal with viruses.  Makes sense in some ways because these are prehistoric animals and you don’t survive the plague, pestilence, and famine of the ages without having a few tricks up your sleeve.  I think many might be interested in how these creatures pull it off.  But remember, as Gael says, “Viruses break all the rules.”  
What’s next on the docket?  Bacteria.  New plans are being hatched.  Stay tuned.

Larval Pacific lamprey in a virus challenge trial.

Submitted by Jeff Jolley

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Bull Trout “Bracketology”

As winter begins to lose its grip on the Pacific Northwest and the rain clouds occasionally give way to ever so brief sun breaks, the month of March marks an exciting time for “wildlife” regionally and across the country.  A veritable diversity of “animals” from across the landscape gather together in various regions of the country and engage in interspecific competition.  Grizzlies will battle badgers, owls may take on golden bears, and bearcats will tussle with longhorns.  While wildcats, jayhawks and even wolverines will be included, sadly the beavers, cougars, ducks and huskies will all be left out of this year’s “March Madness”. 
The NCAA tournament is generally reserved for teams sporting mammalian, avian or even reptilian mascots.  Very rarely are fish invited to the “Big Dance”.   After being ESA listed in 1998, bull trout have been in a tournament of their own.  Much like how a scrappy, physically overmatched regional college feeds off of emotion and frantically launches threes to hang with perennial ACC or Big East powerhouses, weakened bull trout populations throughout the Columbia Basin are faced with seemingly insurmountable opponents as they attempt to advance toward recovery.   In the NCAA tournament, any given basketball team must face and defeat numerous opponents as they progress through the tournament.  Similarly, bull trout survival and eventual recovery does not depend upon prevailing over only one major threat, but instead a combination of multiple factors must be overcome.  Factors such as habitat degradation, hybridization and a changing climate (among others) are the Kentucky, Syracuse and Duke of the bull trout world.  To continue the analogy, on the other side of the bracket, resource managers are working to address many factors that influence bull trout recovery.  Management actions that facilitate genetically diverse, interconnected populations and provide for habitat protection and enhancement are essential to bull trout recovery.    
Seemingly every year, a small school defies the odds and rises from obscurity to topple dominant programs as they advance through the NCAA tournament.  They are often referred to as a “Cinderella Team”.  Through persistence, cooperation, adaptive management and maybe even a little luck, it’s possible that the recovery and eventual delisting of bull trout could be a “Cinderella Story” of its own.

Submitted by Marshall Barrows

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Crews

I came to work at the Columbia River Fisheries Program Office in the summer of 2004. The following year, the program I work on, the Native Trout Program, began working in the Eagle Cap Wilderness of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest looking at a number of different parameters of bull trout populations there. But, that is a story for another day.

It quickly became apparent that we would be doing quite a bit of work out there and we would need a number of people to get it accomplished. Thus, began the rotation of biologists through the Native Trout Program. The first year, Jeff J., Jeff H., John and Danielle were out there with me. The Jeffs and John had been working in the program for a few years conducting work in the lower Columbia River on coastal cutthroat trout. We spent three weeks in the mountains. The hot, dry weather was a welcome change from the damp, rainforest environment of the coast range.

Danielle, Jeff, John and Mike at camp (2005)

We would spend the days hiking through the mountains and streams. We would spend the nights sitting around the campfire, eating good food, and listening to Jeff H. play the guitar. A side benefit of this work, we quickly found out, was that we were going to be in great shape by the end of the summer. I think, among the five of us, we lost about 100 lbs. that summer. Within the year, Jeff J. had taken over another program in our office, Jeff H. had gone to work with another program in our office, and John and Danielle had gone to work with other conservation agencies in Washington.

John, Jeff, Mike and Jeff taking a break from driving through the mountains (2005)

The departure of the Jeffs, John and Danielle resulted in a turnover of personnel in the Native Trout Program for 2006. Four new people came to work with varying levels of experience. By the end of the summer, everyone was on the same page and holding their own. This summer continued the musical theme begun the previous year. Joel was a genius on guitar. You name it, he could play it. If he didn’t know it, but you could sing it, he would figure it out. Justin learned a lot that summer, including how to be a good crew leader and play guitar. Darby came to us from Missouri and went back to work there for the Dept of Conservation. Andy, who was a student at Mt. Hood CC, decided that he did not want to work in a hatchery after he graduated.

Justin, Andy, Darby, Mike and Joel on our way out of Big Sheep Creek (2006)

2007 brought some new faces to the crew. Justin was still around. He just wasn’t able to come out the Eagle Cap with us because of a torn ACL. How he got that is probably best left for another day too. So, we recruited Jen from another program in the office to come out and help for a few weeks. Sheila, Anna (a student) and Ryan also joined us. Ryan had been volunteering/working with us on and off for a few years before finally getting him out with us for the summer. He was also the resident musician for the crew that summer. Ryan has since moved on and is the point man for the Builders and the Butchers, a local Portland band. Anna continued her schooling with a graduate degree.

Anna, Mike, Sheila, Jen, and Ryan after a long day in McCully Creek (2007)

The only new face we added in 2008 was Brook who had been working for a company selling tile. She had previously worked for US Fish and Wildlife and Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife, and decided that selling tile was not for her and wanted to come back outside and play with the fish. I think she made the right choice, not that I am biased, and you’ll see her in all the remaining photos. Justin got to come out with us this summer, Jen insisted on coming back out, and Sheila joined us for another year before going back to school to become a teacher.

Justin, Jen, Sheila, Mike, and Brook on our way out of Lick Creek (2008)

Justin’s last year with us was in 2009. He was an incredible contributor to the work we conducted during his tenure with the Native Trout Program and is missed. But, I suppose we don’t blame him for moving to Bozeman where he is a stone’s throw away from where a river runs through it. Brook returned for a second year and we recruited Bill from another program in the office to join us for a week. There are two things I will remember about this year: Kim and the wolves. Kim was a student at Lewis and Clark University and a member of their basketball and softball teams. That isn’t why I will remember her. I will remember her because after spending all day hiking up and down mountains and through streams, enduring rain followed by hot, humid weather, she would come back to camp and go for a run. Yes, a run. I will never completely understand that. But, she exemplifies the incredible, unique people I have had the privilege of working with over the years. The cherry on top for the year was Justin, Brook and Kim discovering and pointing Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife in the direction of the wolf pups – the first confirmed pups in Oregon since they came back.

Justin, Brook, Mike, Bill, and Kim after a wet day in Lick Creek (2009)

We trimmed the crew way down in 2010. Brook took over for Justin as crew leader and resident guitar player. Shawna took over for Kim as our employee who was a former Lewis and Clark women’s basketball player. I think Shawna liked Hells Canyon because she is working for Bureau of Reclamation in that area now. And, Nicole was our addition that continued our many years of providing opportunities for current students. She is finishing up at Oregon State University this year.

Brook, Shawna, and Nicole overlooking Hells Canyon (2010)

2011 brought many challenges… including not being able to hire a crew until mid-summer. But, we were able to bring on some quality guys to help out for a couple of months. Mike had just finished up school and was pursuing his second career after previously producing videos. Jason came to us from Brook’s husband’s hometown in Michigan and brought along a GIS degree and more working knowledge of GPS/GIS technology in his little finger than I will gain in my lifetime. Chris was our student from Evergreen College. None of them had ever done the type of work we were doing. All were experts by the time they moved on.

Chris, Mike, Jason, Brook, and Mike’s last day in Big Sheep Creek (2011)

We have had some really good people move through here over the years. There have been others, but these are the ones that have worked in the Eagle Cap with us. I wanted to take a moment to recognize them for a couple of reasons. First, we could not have done it without them. Second, while it is ultimately fun work, it is not always easy work. And, finally, because each of them has brought something different to our program: music, kids, hats, attitude, food, experience, basketball, fishing, woodwork, coffee, GIS, torn ACLs, busted ankles, stories, different perspectives, and the list goes on and keeps growing. It has been a privilege to work with each and every one of them, and I look forward to the new faces that this year brings.