UA 'Tsunami Video Sheds Light on Struggling Pupfish

To most people in the southwestern U.S., the April 4 El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake felt like a rocking of the ground. But on a group of inch-long fish that exist nowhere else on Earth outside of "Devils Hole," a crack in the ground in Nevada's Mojave Desert, it unleashed a veritable tsunami.


University of Arizona researchers were able to catch the event on cameras installed above and below the water's surface to monitor the fish's spawning behavior. It is the first time in decades of research at Devils Hole that an earthquake was captured on video.


The event provided the researchers with a rare opportunity to study how a critically endangered species copes when its confined habitat is shaken up in a dramatic way.


The Devils Hole pupfish spend their lives in what likely is the "smallest habitat of a vertebrate species," according to UA professor Scott Bonar, who runs a pupfish population recovery program at UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment.


That habitat is the "spawning shelf"--a submerged rock surface covered by a mere two feet of water. It's here that the pupfish feed and go about their breeding activity. The shelf forms the only shallow part of a freshwater pool measuring 10 by 50 feet that marks the entrance to the Devils Hole cave.


The pool provides a window into the extensive carbonate aquifer within the Amargosa Valley groundwater basin. Despite explorations undertaken by cave divers, no one has been able to probe the depths of the Devils Hole cave system, although they are known to plunge beyond 500 feet.

Contact name: 
Scott Bonar, School of Natural Resources and the Environment
Contact email: 
sbonar@ag.arizona.edu
Released date: 
Aug 5 2010