Zostera marina is a seagrass species, commonly known as eelgrass, that is found on both coasts of the United States, as well as in Europe. Unfortunately, Zostera is disappearing all over the place, including right here in New York. This could have devastating impacts on animals that rely on eelgrass as foraging grounds, or, as is the case with scallops, use it as a refuge from predation. This is its story, as seen through the eyes of an aspiring graduate student...
Monday, November 5, 2007
A different project:
While the focus of this blog will be concentrating the various aspects of my current graduate research, I wanted to make a small diversion to some research I did a few years ago with hard clams and eelgrass. I did benthic surveys for eelgrass abundance and hard clam densities in Shinnecock and Quantuck Bays on Long Island. While I only found 14% of the sites to have eelgrass, 67% of eelgrass sites had hard clams present, and only 33% of all other sites had hard clams present. Further, the densities of hard clams in eelgrass sites were double the densities outside of eelgrass. The reasons for this have been greatly explored in the literature, most often that below ground biomass of eelgrass offers a refuge from predation by crabs and whelks. However, little work ha been done to determine the impacts hard clams have on eelgrass. I was able to show that the addition of one hard clam to a quadrat of eelgrass (the equivalent of 16 hard clams per square meter) increased the eelgrass productivity (growth) about as much as a commercial fertilizer via nutrient additions. How? Hard clams filter the water column of phytoplankton and small zooplankton, and then repackage those as nutrients released to the sediments, which the eelgrass then uses for growth. It seems that there is an interactive relationship between the hard clams and eelgrass. I just submitted this work for publication in the Marine Ecology Progress Series, and if it gets accepted, it will be my first publication.
I am a marine biologist that is currently attending graduate school at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Marine Sciences Research Center, of Stony Brook University, New York. I am very interested in marine ecology and have been focusing my studies on bay scallop interactions with their habitats. I plan to investigate various anthropogenic impacts on bay scallop populations for my PhD dissertation. This blog will highlight the details of my graduate research, from bay scallop-eelgrass interactions as previously mentioned, to alternative habitats for scallops, such as Codium, to trophic cascades, and more. Enjoy!
Eelgrass is an important habitat for multiple marine species, including the bay scallop
Scallop on Artificial Eelgrass
This tethered juvenile bay scallop attached itself to my artificial eelgrass...
The decline of eelgrass meadows
Eelgrass, Zostera marina, is a flowering, marine vascular plant that remains submerged all the time. This is quite a feat for vascular flowering plants, and only a few dozen species world wide are capable of growing completely submerged in a marine environment. Eelgrass creates and extremely important habitat, its upright structures and complex root system create a 3-D living space for many different types of animals. It is (or was) the dominant habitat forming SAV (submerged aquatic vegetation) throughout much of the coastal waters in the northeastern United States. Unfortunately, for various reasons, eelgrass meadows have seen drastic declines, and in many locations eelgrass only exists in a mosaic of small patches. This is extremely bad news as many of the important, and formerly important, commercial and recreational fisheries of the northeast US are dependent on Zostera at some part of their life cycle as a nursery and foraging ground. Some of the species are finfish like tautog, bluefish, fluke, winter flounder, porgies, while others are shellfish such as blue mussels, hard clams, oysters, bay scallops, and blue crabs. Many of the aforementioned species support or once supported vibrant fisheries. Many of those fisheries have collapsed, also for various reasons. However, is it possible there is a link between the crash of the fisheries, the decline of Zostera and the failure for recovery on both ends?
Eelgrass, Zostera marina, a temperate seagrass species, providing a vital habitat for numerous marine species
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Scallops in eelgrass
Some adult bay scallops we planted in eelgrass for a free release survival experiment we conducted
If you live in coastal zones, urge your local and state representatives to push for environmental issues that you are concerned about. Ask for more stringent rules regarding the destruction of existing eelgrass. Encourage restoration programs to be set-up. Call your state and national representatives and ask them what they are doing to protect our precious resources. Practice safer boating and know the undersea terrain - i.e., don't drive your boat in very shallow water. Avoid clamming in eelgrass meadows.