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...
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Here today, gone tomorrow!
A complete and utter failure? You decide. Last fall I had the bright idea to track overwinter survival and subsequent spring conditioning for scallops released in different habitats (eelgrass - their preferred habitat, see Thayer and Stuart 1974; Codium fragile - an introduced macroalgae which we think might serve as a suitable alternate substrate in the absence of eelgrass; and unvegetated, as a baseline for comparison). I have examined these habitats for growth in juvenile scallops and have already published some short term survival data (Carroll et al 2010, see earlier posts for a link). So my bright idea was to free release a fairly large number of scallops into these habitats at two field sites, one in Shinnecock Bay and one near Sag Harbor, NY. This is a method we have used in the restoration efforts, and a method that has been successful, so I figured that it would be no problem. I planted ~2500 scallops in each habitat at the 2 sites (~15,000 total scallops planted), not an insignificant number, at least not in my opinion back in November/December of 2009. In other planting sites, we typically don't monitor again after planting until the spring, so staying true to form, I did not actually go check on these scallops until last week. Much to my surprise (well, maybe not totally surprised) I didn't recover a single scallop in Shinnecock Bay. I surveyed all the habitats around my planting zone and didn't find a single live scallop, save for a couple natural 2 year olds. My dreams of having some uncaged growth and condition data failed! There wasn't even evidence of major predation, because I didn't even find empty or crushed shells. They were just all gone! A couple things are likely - either burial or transport - see Powers and Peterson's 2000 manuscript on scallop movement. Both are equally possible scenarios, as these sites in Shinnecock Bay were relatively shallow (~1m deep) and we had quite a crazy winter in terms of storms. Its just a shame. The only positive here is that at least my marker buoys were still firmly anchored at the sites! In fact, this picture is about the most exciting thing from the Shinnecock dives: (thats right, its my pink lemonade by the throttle while the boat is tied to the dock. Nice, right?)
I was hoping Sag Harbor would be slightly better. I mean, this was a deeper site, so things had to work out, right? Actually, I originally expected there to be scallops at Shinnecock (typically low energy sites) and not in Sag Harbor (strong tidal currents). In Sag Harbor, the scallops already drifted slightly down current from the planting area the date of planting, and despite the scallops looking good at the bottom, I figured strong currents and potential predation
would essentially eliminate them. Luckily, there was scallops to be found in Sag Harbor, although in much reduced densities. So, not enough scallops to monitor with enough replication to have confidence in the results, but at least all of the 7500 scallops here were not lost. What was lost, you ask? The Codium! It was all gone! My Codium planting area in Sag Harbor was completely devoid of Codium! So despite the semi-success of overwintering some of the scallops in Sag Harbor, my experiment here still failed! Awesome! I guess there's always NEXT year, I just don't know how my committee feels about that! I guess this season, I will just have to run juvenile growth experiments again, as soon as I get the juveniles.
At least I saw some cool stuff at Sag Harbor: Spider crab crawling out from a cinder block. Red beard sponge in eelgrass.
Surviving bay scallop, cryptically hidden on the bottom, save for its blue eyes! Juvenile lady crab.
Thayer, GW, & Stuart, HH (1974). The bay scallop makes its bed of seagrass Marine Fisheries Review, 36, 27-30
Powers, SP, & Peterson, CH (2000). Conditional density dependence: The flow trigger to expression of density-dependent emigration in bay scallops Limnology and Oceanography, 45, 727-732
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.