Surface Area in The Parklands

| The Parklands

By Shannon Kaelin, Interpretive Ranger

Surface area- it's what you learned about during your school years in math class. It's one of those concepts that most of us (i.e. those who don't use geometry for our careers/everyday lives) learned only for those few, brief years just enough to pass on to the next grade and probably haven't given much thought since. Well, surprise! It helps explain quite a bit of how the natural World functions. 

Surface area is a tool used by the natural world to help organisms get the most out of their environment. Studying the effects of surface area helps researchers understand how organisms control mechanisms like weight distribution, nutrient absorption, heat absorption, oxygen absorption, and allometry (body size relative to the size of the surrounding habitat). In this blog, I’ll be focusing on oxygen absorption and how it relates to one of the species of fish found in Floyds Fork.  

Visual representation of gill physiology


Recently, I’ve had quite a few questions about fishing here in The Parklands. For example; where the good spots are, what kind of fish we have, etc. I answer these questions followed by the comment “...if you’re looking to catch some trout, now’s the time to catch them because they’re starting to die out for the summer.”  Why is that, you might ask? The condensed answer is surface area, but there is a more complex way of getting to that answer.

Trout are native to cool water areas in North America (Northern United States into Canada), Asia, and Europe. In terms of surface area, the highlighted adaptation in trout that allows them to thrive in these cooler waters is their gills. Cold water naturally holds more dissolved oxygen than warmer water. More oxygen in the water means it is easily accessible. This provides more energy to the trout, allowing them to move quicker. Since oxygen is more readily available, trout don’t need large gills (i.e. a lot of surface area) to extract all the oxygen they need from the surrounding water.  

Trout gills


Conversely, another example of how surface area affects the capacity of gills, are the gills of bass. Bass are a sit-and-wait ambush predator, meaning they don’t necessarily need that increased supply of oxygen since they aren’t constantly moving. This is why bass are generally found in warm waters. Since warm water does not hold as much readily available dissolved oxygen as cold water, bass need larger gills (more surface area) to extract the oxygen they need. Floyds Fork resides in a humid, subtropical climate region; it stays warm for most of the year. Taking this into account, you can see why the trout stocked in Floyds Fork and in our fishing ponds by Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife have a hard time surviving when spring and summer roll around.  

Bass gills


As the water warms, the oxygen comes out of solution and rises to the surface where it is then released back into the atmosphere. It’s the same reason that when a cold glass of water warms to room temperature, tiny bubbles form on the side of the glass. Those bubbles are the oxygen that was dissolved and initially invisible.

If you’re a fisherman, now’s the time to take advantage of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Fishing In Neighborhoods (F.I.N.S) Program to go fishing for trout since they’re moving slower and easier to catch. Enjoy YOUR park, and happy fishing!

 About the Author:

Shannon Kaelin joined The Parklands team as an Interpretive Ranger in the fall of 2016. She recently graduated with her B.A. in Environmental Studies and a minor in Anthropology from Bellarmine University. You will find her leading hikes, teaching  field trip classes, and welcoming people at the PNC Achievement Center in Beckley Creek Park. A Kentucky native, Shannon enjoys visiting parks and other attractions in the state in her free time.


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