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DRI Research Uncovers New Facts About Pup Fish


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The Desert Research Institute is carrying out new research related to the pupfish, an endangered species found only at Devil's Hole in Nevada.

Mark Hausner is a hydrologist with DRI.

He is one of the scientists working to uncover new things about the fish. 

"It is only there because it is a completely isolated system," he said.

The fish is a remnant from Pleistocene lakes that dried up thousands of years ago. However, one of the key pieces of information researchers are trying to pin down is how long the fish have been isolated.

It was originally believed the fish have been isolated for between 10,000 and 20,000 years, but newer research shows they may have only been isolated for a few hundred years.

"It is really an enigmatic species," Hausner said. "We can't even really nail down how long it has been there. It makes it a phenomenally interesting place to work and at the same time a pretty frustrating system to work in."

He said as soon as one question about the fish is answered, a whole host of new questions arise.

Not only are scientists trying to find out how long the fish have been there, they are also trying to determine if they can get the fish to survive outside Devil's Hole, a relatively small environment.

They have created a fish conservation area not far from Devil's Hole and have worked to create an environment as close as possible to the environment of the hole, down to the last microbe. 

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Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- Hausner said the experiment has not worked. The conservation pond's microbial community is not identical to Devil's Hole. Turns out, those microbes are what pupfish eat. That said, the conservation area's water is cooler and has more oxygen, which could actually be a friendly environment for the tiny fish.

Scientists have been working for years to save the pupfish. Hausner said not everyone agrees DRI should be putting that much effort into saving the small fish and its tiny population.

But, he has two reasons why he believes the fish should be studied and preserved. The first reason is it was a decision to pump groundwater to grow crops in Amargosa Valley in 1960s that caused the crisis in the first place.

Hausner said that's the "we broke it, we bought it" argument.

The second reason is the Devil's Hole pupfish is closely related to other species downstream in Ash Meadows. He said those fish are going to experience the same environmental stresses as the pupfish.

"The more we can learn from Devil's Hole about how pupfish respond to that -- how ecosystems respond to those stresses -- the better off we're going to be as far as managing those stresses, and reducing the impact of those stresses on those future downstream species that are going to be effected soon," he said.



Mark Hausner, hydrologist, Desert Research Institute

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