Here is a nice popular article that was recently published: Boom and Busted: In trying to untangle a mysterious herring collapse from the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, scientists in Prince William Sound are revealing just how resilient—and unpredictable—marine ecosystems can be.
This is thorough, well-written, and nicely researched, and interviews a number of our collaborators. This article provides important context for our newly funded work on comparative physiology and population genetic change through time in Alaska herring populations. We are examining genetic change through time, at the whole genome scale, for the Prince William Sound population (DNA samples from 1991 to 2017) which suffered the collapse. We are also sequencing parallel samples from Sitka Sound and Bering Sea populations, that did not suffer a 1990’s collapse, to serve as reference populations. We predict that the nature of genetic change through time in these populations will tell us important information about the causes and consequences of the collapse. We are using PoolSeq to sequence 100 individuals per population per timepoint over this period. We are also sequencing populations from British Columbia, Washington, and California (from 2017 collections) to get a handle on genetic variation across the species range. These out-of-Alaska populations may also be useful for inferring adaptations that coincide with latitude (e.g., temperature), and be used as a reference to track additional types of genetic change through time, for example from fisheries pressure or from changing climate.
We are also performing laboratory experiments to test whether exposure to oil during early life makes herring more prone to disease in later life – these experiments are mentioned in the article.
We are very happy to be collaborating with Paul Hershberger’s group (USGS) and Nat Scholz and John Incardona’s group (NOAA). From the Whitehead lab, Tony Gill (Ph.D. student) and Elias Oziolor (Postdoc) are currently spearheading our portion of this research program. This is starting with sequencing a reference genome and reference transcriptome for Pacific herring, which is currently in the works. Stay tuned!