Updated July 2019. Fishes of the genus Cottus –the sculpins— have long been a challenge for fish managers and ichthyologists in the West. They share streams, rivers, and lakes with trout and salmon, and depend on the same kinds of habitats with relatively cold, clean water. Yet we don’t know how many kinds of sculpins there are. The morphological differences between species are so subtle that even experts are occasionally baffled. Thus, it seems likely that the biodiversity of sculpins in the West is underestimated and unappreciated.
“In our studies of the freshwater cottid fishes of western North America we have encountered four unnamed species. Our systematic review is still incomplete . . .”
-- Reeve Bailey & Carl Bond, 1963
“Perhaps no group of fishes occurring in the fresh waters of California has given biologists (including the author) more identification headaches than sculpins.”
– Peter Moyle, 2002
“Despite the efforts of generations of ichthyologists, the taxonomy of northwestern Cottus remains tricky.”
– J.D. McPhail, 2007
The last major attempt to understand this diversity was over a half-century ago. With your assistance, we would like to renew the efforts to characterize the sculpins of western North America. As an added benefit, we are developing a host of eDNA assays for different sculpin taxa to assist with defining the extent of the distribution of particular species.
Thanks to your participation, we have received nearly 8,000 specimens from every state and province across western North America. Over 1,500 locations and every described species are represented, we have sequenced 1–4 genes for one or more sculpins from every location, and next-generation sequencing is underway. We have contacted biologists to help us fill in the remaining geographic gaps, but still welcome samples from any location. If you’re a biologist with historical samples, recently collected ones, or are thinking about making collections, we’d be interested in examining some of your fish. We seek tissues from up to 5 individuals (or even 1–2) of all sculpin species from individual sites in any river basin in western North America—the Columbia, Colorado, Fraser, upper Missouri, or coastal river basins, and the Great Basin. The project will be closed to further contributions in October 2019.
Data wanted: fin clips (on chromatography paper, in coin envelopes, or in ethyl alcohol) or whole-body specimens (in ethyl alcohol), GPS data, date, and your contact information.