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High morphological diversity among anostomoid skulls.

Images from
Sidlauskas (2007), Evolution.

The Sidlauskas Lab: Systematics, Biodiversity and Conservation of Fishes

Our research seeks to understand and help conserve the diversity of freshwater fishes on scales ranging from local to global. We use a diverse set of morphological and molecular methods including phylogenetics, geometric morphometrics, microsatellite analysis and comparative anatomy to ask fundamental questions about fish evolution, ecology and systematics.  Whether we are reconstructing evolutionary or biogeographic relationships among species, investigating the presence of potential cryptic species or seeking to understand how key ecological traits vary among species and across time, all of our studies help reveal, and ultimately protect, the world’s tremendous biodiversity of fishes. 

Ongoing projects include:

  1. A combined morphometric and genetic assessment of the taxonomic and conservation status of daces (Rhinichthys) in the Oregon desert, with particular attention to the threatened and federally listed Foskett Spring Dace. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is an important funder of this new project.
  2. An investigation by doctoral student Whit Bronaugh, in collaboration with Ernst Swartz of SAIAB, into how coastal mountain ranges structure freshwater fish populations and ultimately lead to the origin of endemic species. This project is examining case studies involving daces (Rhinichthys) in Oregon and gouramis (Sandelia) in South Africa.
  3. Continuing studies of the biodiversity and systematics of Neotropical characiforms, with particular attention to the headstanding tetras in family Anostomidae. A molecular phylogenetic study of this family is in progress, as are various descriptions of new species from South America. Much of this work involves the collaboration of Richard Vari from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Our facilities include a newly renovated molecular lab, a top-of-the line Zeiss V20 stereomicroscope, morphometric, x-ray and photography equipment, and an ichthyology collection of more than 20,000 lots of fishes from the Pacific Northwest and beyond.  More information about these resources appears below.

Molecular Facilities

The Sidlauskas lab includes a newly renovated molecular facility that is fully equipped for systematic and phylogenetic work. The available major equipment includes microcentrifuges, thermal cyclers, electrophoresis rigs, a gel-documentation system, a water purification system, and multiple -80 freezers.  DNA sequencing and microsatellite analysis occurs at an on-site core facility shared across the university. An in-lab bank of computer workstations provides access to Geneious, Genemapper and a suite of modern phylogenetic software.

Morphology Facilities

The centerpiece of our morphology facilities is a fully motorized Zeiss V20 Stereomicroscope with an associated digital camera, Z-stacking capabilities and camera lucida.  It is particularly well suited to the examination of larval fishes and the dissection and illustration of cleared-and-stained material.  Additional morphological equipment includes a Nikon D90 camera with a high-end macro lens (used in geometric morphometrics), immersion tanks, digital calipers, and a film-based radiographic facility.

The Oregon State University Ichthyology Collection

Since its inception more than 70 years ago by the eminent ichthyologist Carl Bond, the OSU ichthyology collection has been the leading library of fish diversity for the State of Oregon and a major center of ichthyological research for the Pacific Northwest and beyond.  The quarter million specimens (~20,000 lots) in the main collection provide excellent coverage of the freshwater fish diversity of Oregon, Washington and northern California and the marine fish diversity of the North Pacific. The collection holds additional material from around the globe, including fishes from Japan, Hawaii, Belgium, Peru, India, Thailand, Iran and Russia. Ongoing field work in the Sidlauskas lab and that of curator emeritus Douglas Markle adds material to the collection annually. In addition to the main alcohol-preserved collection, the holdings also include substantial series of larval fishes and a growing catalog of frozen tissues for genetic work.

The collection is currently undergoing two main modernization efforts, one targeting its database, the other upgrading the storage of its largest specimens.  With respect to the database, in early 2010 we migrated 10,000 records into the computerized Specify platform, and we are digitizing the additional 10,000 records in a physical card catalog as time allows.  The next step of this project will move the database online, thereby allow our holdings to be accessed from anywhere in the world. 

In the other current modernization effort, with support from the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences we are moving our complete series of large specimens from outdated vessels into archival-quality stainless steel tanks.  This effort will ensure that these valuable specimens of salmons, sturgeons, suckers, sharks and other large animals will be preserved in perpetuity without danger of desiccation.