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, August 30, 2010
My name is Earl
Obviously, a lot can change in the next day or two, but as it is currently, Long Island is still well within the cone of probability of Hurricane Earl. Now, we get lots of predictions every year that this is our year (Long Island is said to be long overdue for a direct hit from a hurricane), and it is inevitable that a hurricane will hit Long Island in the future. I just didn't think immediate future. I was kind of hoping I'd be long gone. After all, Long Island is hardly built for hurricanes. There is really only 3 roads off the Island (and for places out on the East End, only 1 road). This is in addition to being relatively low lying (many places get flooded with just a little rain) and lots of bodies of water which will rise with storm surges. Hurricanes also can potentially disrupt the local environment and ecology, as the last major hurricane (the 1938 Hurricane, and here, here, and images here) opened up the Shinnecock Inlet and changed the South Shore estuary system.
So I am obviously worried about my research as well. I have experiments running out in the field that aren't done running yet, so I need to keep my fingers crossed that my equipment stays in place. Clearly I am selfish in my concern about the hurricane, but who wouldn't be?
In the next day or two I will post an article on the impacts of hurricanes on the benthos, which is a major concern for me and, in my honest opinion, for Long Island, since most of the native benthos don't experience anything like a hurricane.
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.