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, January 12, 2009
It's been such a long time...
I can't believe it has been so long since I last posted. I had a busier than anticipated end of the season. I was still diving the week before christmas, and luckily the season ended then, because on my last dive day, the neck seal on my drysuit broke. It was weird, usually the seal might crack or tear, but when I was suiting up, a chunk came off the neck, almost like a cookie cutter was used. But anyway, that was the last day, and it should hopefully be fixed before the season starts again in March-April. Otherwise, we planted ~200,000 scallops at a couple sites this year. We tried 2 new sites because we had a macroalgae overgrowth problem last winter, which led to anoxia at the sediment surface and likely decimated our scallop plantings there (>90% loss). This time of year is slow, but I am still very busy. I am working on a new draft of my last manuscript, hoping to address all the issues brought up by the previous reviewers. I am also trying to put together my PhD dissertation committee and write my proposal. Ideally, I will finish writing and defend my proposal before May, this way I can make adjustments for the next field season. So we shall see. Right now all I have is an outline, but at least thats a start. I am also trying to finish processing my samples from the summer, but still have over 100 scallops left to go. That doesn't seem like much, true, but I can only do about 30 scallops at a time - there is limited space in our drying oven - and I have to wait 2 days to finish the processing, so it takes some time. I am also going to make more grass mats for this summer, so that should start to consume my time as well. To top it off, I am registered for 2 classes in the spring, so I can honestly admit I have a full schedule in the spring. But its not too bad, and I am looking forward to taking the next step toward attaining my PhD.
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.