The devil in the deep: expanding the known habitat of a rare and protected fish

Figure 1_blue_devil_photo Fetterplaceetal

The eastern blue devil (Paraplesiops bleekeri). Just one of the fantastic photos in the paper by co-author John Turnbull: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In our recently published paper, we suggest that the depth range of many reef fish, including the rare and protected eastern blue devil fish, is being systematically underestimated due to sampling bias. We used  remotely deployed video samples and recreational fisher observations, to provide examples of fishes living at depths much deeper than the depth range they are ascribed based on the scientific literature. 

I am not going to say too much more about the details of the paper here, as it is short, open access, free to download and no specialist knowledge is needed to understand it, so you are better off reading the paper itself – “The devil in the deep: expanding the known habitat of a rare and protected fish“.

It is a bit of an unusual paper though…it is not written in the style of the standard scientific manuscript and it has no stats (it did at one stage and although ‘significant’ they didn’t really add anything to the paper, so I took them out). Originally, it was destined to be a brief write up, describing a single observation of an eastern blue devil fish found in the wrong place, that I would put in the appendix of my thesis. A place where very few, if anyone, would ever read it. It did stay as that brief write up for a long time, but I couldn’t let it go—I think these sorts of natural history observations are fascinating and I ended up talking about it a fair bit…And people seemed interested by my ramblings, which no doubt just made me worse! Dr Natasha Hardy, in particular, encouraged me to get the ball rolling on finding more supporting evidence and making that first single observation into something more than an appendix.  We then set about collaborating, with co-authors from the University of Wollongong, University of Sydney, University of NSW and the NSW Department of Primary Industries, on turning it all into a paper.

A natural history paper like this isn’t exactly a career maker either, but it was really fun to write and people really do seem interested in these sorts of papers; the paper is currently the most downloaded and read paper in the Journal by far (1500+ reads at time of writing). Which, if you believe the stories on how many people will read your thesis (Generally <10), makes my original idea of leaving it in the appendix of my thesis seem a little silly.  I think these types of papers should be written up for various other reasons, and I’ll go further into why, and into my obsession with natural history papers, another day. In the meantime, take a read of  a blog by Manu Saunders “On the importance of Observations to Ecology”  for a fair idea of my thoughts on the topic (That blog was also partly why I first considered writing up something for my thesis appendix).

You can read and download the full paper here and see the original eastern blue devil observation in the video below:

There is also short video on the paper, put together by the University of Wollongong, below:

3 thoughts on “The devil in the deep: expanding the known habitat of a rare and protected fish

  1. Pingback: Fish Thinkers online: 2018 in review | Fish Thinkers

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