I realize that I have not made a blog post in a very long time. My apologies to any followers I still have left. Today marks the opening day of the 42nd Annual Benthic Ecology Meeting, and I figured it was as good a time as any to make a new blog post. Afterall, I have made multiple BEM-related posts in the past, and I am currently waiting for my ride to leave for the meeting.
A lot has changed for me since the last benthic meeting. I completed my dissertation and relocated to UNCW to start my post-doctoral career. It has been pretty hectic. When I first came down, I was trying to finish up some manuscripts from my dissertation, like the chapter on the impacts of Codium fragile on scallop demographics such as growth rate and tissue condition. My conclusions were that the invasive alga might be beneficial for scallop populations, especially in the absence of their native habitat, seagrass. I have made this argument before, and this chapter was recently published in Marine Biology. Other chapters haven’t gone through so smoothly and are still being reviewed, but that is par for the course in this field.
I was balancing those with editing other manuscripts from collaborative efforts with my former lab and one of my committee members. I also made two failed attempts at doing a laboratory study with oyster spat and an ectoparasitic snail. The results were promising, but I kept having high mortality across all treatments, and I need to come up with a better way of maintaining and feeding the oysters in a lab setting. I also have now written 4 proposals to various funding agencies, and am currently working up some old data sets for my current lab. Within all this, I crammed a 2.5 week trip to Jamaica to attempt to do some sponge work, but the weather didn’t cooperate (well, not with me anyway, my stomach is not the biggest fan of the ocean). Suffice it to say, I have been extremely busy, but that isn’t really an excuse to have stopped making regular updates. However, I have only been in “the field” once since I relocated, and it’s not very much fun writing blog posts about writing Sea Grant proposals.
However, this will be a nice little break, and I am excited to be headed down to the meeting. There are a lot of talks this year that promise to be very good and informative, plus there is also the Beneath the Waves Film Festival which is always excellent. And, in general, I like to see former colleagues, friends, potential future collaborators and have a generally good time drinking beer and talking all things marine science.
My talk this year will involve some work from my former lab on multiple predators. Natural communities have multiple predators foraging on shared prey resources, and until the last decade or so, these interactions were largely ignored in lab studies. They are interesting, because the consumption of prey is rarely additive – that is, two predators do not typically consume the same amount of prey you would expect based on how much they can eat when they are alone. More often, the prey either experiences reduced or enhanced risk relative to expected consumption. For crabs interactions, which utilize prey and habitats similarly, we expect that antagonistic interactions increase, resulting in reduced risk on the prey. Check out this video:
What you can see is the smaller crab is like your annoying little sibling who just won’t leave you alone and constantly antagonizes you. It kind of makes you stop what you are doing. In crabs, this means they might stop foraging to deal with each other. This usually means that the prey survive better than would be expected. However, this isn’t always the case when you run the trials and do the statistical analysis:
Proportion of ribbed mussels consumed by Hemigrapsus alone (pink bar), by Carcinus alone (green bar) and the two crabs together (gray bar). The circle denotes the expected consumption.
In this case, our observed consumption was not different than we expected, based on individual consumption rates. We anticipated to see a risk reduction, and based on the video, we know the crabs were interacting. So what gives? Upon further inspection, when we looked at the sizes of mussels consumed, we saw a dramatic shift:
Pink bars are mussels consumed by Hemigrapsus, Green bays by Carcinus and gray bars by both
What we saw was that when foraging along, the green crabs consumed all the size ranges that were offered, but when foraging together, they shifted to selecting smaller prey, possibly because they had less time to forage. So while the overall proportion being consumed stayed the same, they were foraging on a smaller portion of the population. We thought that was pretty cool!
Stay tuned for more posts, I promise to do better!
So I have returned from Jamaica, which ended up a pretty cool trip. Unfortunately, the internet was slow and made loading images difficult, so I wanted to put another few photos up from my trip before I start talking about my research some more in the coming months. Good news, manuscript reviews came back, and were pretty positive, some moderate changes and it should get published. Another manuscript is getting ready for submission, and I am starting to get stuff written. But before I go on about that sort of thing, just enjoy these new photos from diving in Jamaica!
So we have been extremely busy since we arrived. We have essentially crammed a coral reef ecology class into 4 days, which was overwhelming for the students. Their practical exam is this afternoon, so they are all cramming and freaking out a little bit. I have tried to quell some of their anxiety, but at least by this evening, the lecture and exam portion of their class will be over. In between lectures, we have been snorkeling, and today I did my first dives since arriving. So that’s good. The students will start their projects tomorrow, and have ~1.5 weeks to conduct a research project. The weather (wind) hasn’t been very good, so hopefully we get more dive opportunities, but the lagoon has been pretty cool.
Some things I’ve seen:
More photos to come, but internet here is incredibly slow so I am having a hard time uploading. But, you should check out the student run blog to see what they have been seeing/doing as well.
So we landed in Jamaica this afternoon. When we left New York it was below freezing, and when we arrived in Jamaica it was over 80 Fahrenheit, so that was a nice change. It was about an hour (exciting) bus ride from the Montego Bay Airport to the Discovery Bay Marine Lab, where we will be staying for the next 17 days. We took a little tour of the facility, had excellent dinner, and then met with the class to go over the syllabus. It is intense. We essentially are fitting a 3 credit course into 2 and a half weeks, and the next 4 days are going to be intensive lectures, because the meat of this course is in student run projects and experiments, so we want them to have as much time as they can get to work on data collection. So, I am trying to squeeze a basic intro to ecological thought into 100 slides for my lectures tomorrow (haha try that!), so that the terms we will used throughout won’t be foreign to the students. Then, I am giving lectures on marine algae, coral reef fish ecology, seagrasses, mangroves, and food webs. Within the next 3 days. So yeah, I’ll be as busy as the students.
We’ll be going snorkeling tomorrow, so stay tuned for pictures of that. Well I hope. Internet here is slow and spotty, so most of my pictures will likely have to wait until I make it back home. But I can’t wait to use my home made slurp gun, aka yabbie pump, to try and catch marine critters (you can watch a build your own video here). Yes!
So, I have been very, very bad at keeping this blog updated in the past few months, so to any of you who might still be following me, I apologize. One of the major reasons is that I intend on graduating this spring. Intend being the operative word, haha. So the end of the summer was spent setting up and breaking down mesocosm experiments daily, while continuing work on 2 spatfall monitoring projects, daily crap megalopae collector sampling, and writing. And writing. And writing. And also trying to learn the all important, super useful tool known as GIS. And writing.
Once the experimental season “ended” after Halloween (note I use quotations because my last dives were only a few weeks ago and we just pulled the boat from the water last week), I had to really hunker down and get some writing done, prepare my CERF presentation, and start applying for jobs. That’s right, jobs! At this point, I am essentially ABD, and that is what some of the writing has been. But I also realize that I need to significantly up my publication record in order to get ANY job (currently sit with only 3 published manuscripts – only 2 as primary author), so I have been working hard on many, many manuscripts. I currently have 3 more in review (including another primary authorship), 1 essentially ready for submission and 1 in preparation (currently sitting on my advisor’s desk. So there’s been all that.
And also, applying for jobs requires a lot of writing. Cover letters. Teaching Philosophies. Research Statements. Application materials. Ugh. And each one has to be different to fit the specific job description, which means I essentially re-write all 3 things for each application (which I have applied to 5 jobs thus far, and have 5 more applications due by the middle of January). All this writing, and re-writing. I often find myself wondering why anyone ever graduates! It’s stressful now, but ultimately, I do intend to leave Long Island and start a hopefully long, prosperous research career. Somewhere. ANYWHERE.
So that’s been it. No pretty pictures of that. Although I have been doing a considerable amount of reading as well, so I suppose I have no excuse for not doing a Research Blogging post in a while. And I have no excuse for not writing up on my CERF experience (although I will say that my presentation went well, and I saw numerous well-presented research projects). But sometimes, when I have been writing all day, it is hard to motivate myself to do it when I get home. I tip my hat to the guys over at Deep Sea News, Southern Fried Scientist,Ya Like Dags, In the Grass, On the Reef, and anyone else I forgot, who seem to be able to post on a very regular basis. Hopefully I can get back to that soon. Hopefully.
The good news is that the more I get into my data analysis, the happier I become. Not because all the results are what I was expecting (rather, some quite the contrary), but because they are very interesting, and you don’t see the patterns in the daily grind of doing the experiments. It is only now that I am starting to see some cool things emerge. And isn’t that what doing science is all about?
One more thing. I leave next Wednesday for a working vacation of sorts. I call it a “vacation” if only in the sense that I will be traveling elsewhere to do work, and to me, any time I get to leave Long Island, that’s a vacation. This January, I am lucky enough to travel to Jamaica as part of the Tropical Marine Ecology course offered by the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. You should be sure to track the trip at this blog, as the students make daily updates and you can go back through the archives for all the previous trips. I am going to co-teach the course with another graduate student to increase my teaching experience. But I am also going to help my labmate Amber out on some of her research down there as well. I hope that between the teaching and research, I will have plenty of time to get up to date on posts here, after I get all my applications out by January 15th!
Anyway, for those who have kept checking in, I offer my apologies for not posting more often. Expect that to change soon!
On a final note, I will leave you with this FoxNews video highlighting some of the success in the scallop restoration effort here on Long Island that I have been working on and blogging about for years.
So this shouldn’t come as any surprise that I am doing yet another lionfish post. By this point you know the story. They are a Pacific reef predator that has been introduced to the Atlantic. They can now be found in great numbers throughout Caribbean and Florida reefs, but can also be found as far up the east coast of the US as Long Island! There are many potential problems of having this novel reef predator on already impacted reefs in the Atlantic, so its a situation people have been monitoring for quite some time. And their ever increasing numbers have led to attempts at eradication.
2011 will be no different. The first of three Florida Keys lionfish derbies was held earlier this week. Considerable cash and other prizes were offered to teams with the highest catch, and both the largest and smallest fish. Over 500 specimens were hunted and killed. That’s the good news. The bad news? It only required 10 teams of between 2-4 people showed up to catch the 531 lionfish. Last year, the same derby had 27 teams catch 534 fish. While one could argue that this year’s teams were more skilled lionfish finders, it is also likely that this is an indication of more lionfish. A catch per unit effort type thing.
Fisheries researchers often use catch per unit effort – CPUE – because sampling effort may vary from one time to another, or from one place to another, and so CPUE standardizes the individuals caught to the effort exerted. Not knowing anything about the actual number of total participants, if we use “teams” as the effort, this year’s CPUE was 53.1, over two and a half times more than last year’s CPUE of 19.8. So what does that mean? Now I am not a fisheries biologist by any means, and so I might be giving a totally oversimplified explanation, or I might be wrong altogether (and hope someone corrects me), but while CPUE is not a direct measure of fish population abundance, it is an oft-used proxy. The increase in CPUE this year from last year likely indicates an increase in population.
CPUE is itself problematic because it is typically fisheries-dependent data. Its value as an estimate of abundance varies with the catchability of the particular fish species surveyed and the efficiency of the gear being used. A major assumption of CPUE as a proxy for abundance is that the relationship between catch and abundance is linear, ie, the more fish, the higher the CPUE (you can learn more about estimates of abundance from this UNCW lecture) This is the assumption I am making with the lionfish population in the Florida Keys based on my simple, back of the envelope calculations. Again, there are problems using fisheries CPUE since it is often not proportional to abundance – fishers become more efficient over time and don’t fish randomly. But for the sake of this argument, it is probably safe to say that lionfish populations in the Florida Keys are on the rise. Stay tuned for more after the final 2 derbies.
Check back as I am sure I will make edits when more fisheries minded people read and comment.
EDIT: A follower sent me this video of a new tool being used to capture lionfish which may be more efficient than a typical spear gun. Plus I like the soundtrack.
Edit 2: A new blog has jumped into the fray of lionfish blogging, with this post of a very good video on the subject. The blog is SeaMonster – started by Jon Bruno and Emmett Duffy. It is really good, so you should definitely check it out.
A few months ago I made a post about lionfish being fished an eaten as a way to eradicate these invasives from the Caribbean. One of the places where this was being done is Jamaica, and if you remember correctly, last week I posted about a tropical course that undergrads from Stony Brook get to take in the laid back paradise. My labmate, Amber Stubler, is there as well, working on her dissertation research, but also hunting and eating lionfish. So I thought she should tell us about it (also, all the pictures are Amber’s):
After much groveling, John finally convinced me to write a “celebrity” blog about my trip to Jamaica. Rather than bore you all with the details of my sponge research (which you can read about here, here and here), I decided to write about another issue going on throughout the Caribbean- the invasion of lionfish, and what the Jamaicans are doing about it. For those who did not know- Lionfish (Pterois volitans) are native to the Pacific and likely arrived in the Caribbean via the aquarium trade (however ballast water transmission cannot be ruled out). The earliest sightings of lionfish in the wild (confirmed by USGS) were in southern Florida in 1992, and since then lionfish have been reported from Long Island to Venezuela. The USGS website has a really awesome animated map of the invasion here, which goes from 1992-2010.
I have been coming to Jamaica on a regular basis since 2007, and saw my first lionfish in 2009. I specifically remember taking about a thousand pictures of it, because even the marine scientist in me cannot resist a pretty fish picture. Since then, their populations have exploded, and when I say exploded, I mean I saw one in 2009, and on this trip I could easily count between 15-35 fish in an area the size of a football field underwater. So at this point you should be saying, “Amber, what’s the big deal with these lionfish, after all they are pretty and quite frankly the Caribbean could use a few more fish.” The problem is that they are voracious predators who will eat small invertebrates, juvenile fish, and anything else that will fit in their greedy mouths. This poses a threat to all the indigenous reef species as the lionfish eat all of the native species’ food, or just plain eat all of the native species. Also these guys pack powerful venom in the spines on their fins, which will ruin anyone’s dive/snorkel adventure. And since these guys are invasive, they have few natural predators which means they are free to roam about the Caribbean.
This, my friends, is where we come in.
We’ve all learned a valuable lesson that the best way to get rid of a fish species is to eat them (examples: cod, Atlantic salmon, etc). So what’s a country like Jamaica to do? Eat ‘em to beat ‘em (which by the way is the Bahamas official lionfish slogan). The Jamaican Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has begun an annual lionfish derby where prizes are awarded for the most lionfish caught over a 3-day period. They also hold seminars on how to safely catch, clean, and cook lionfish. Here at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab, staff members regularly go on lionfish hunts, bringing back dinner for their families and samples for Dr. Dayne Buddo, who studies invasive species at the Centre for Marine Sciences, University of West Indies. Dr. Buddo has spearheaded (no pun intended) many public outreach events teaching locals about the biology of the lionfish, the impacts on the ecosystem, and how to treat a lionfish sting. He also shares some of his favorite recipes, and cooks the fish up for skeptical Jamaicans.
After seeing Dayne spear several lionfish during one of our “fun” dives (ie not for research purposes), I decided it was time to take part in the action. So I broke out my shiny new speargun (specifically bought for this trip), and started wreaking havoc on the lionfish at my study sites. Over a course of our 2-week trip we managed to kill about 36 lionfish, and although that doesn’t really sound like a lot, we actually only brought the speargun out about 6 times, which means that our average was about 6 fish per dive. The largest we caught was 13 inches, and roughly 1 lb, certainly not a record, but a lionfish of that size can produce 30,000 eggs at a time, so I like to think that our killing spree helped save the reef from a few future lionfish. The great part about this whole kill-every-lionfish-you-can ideal is that it is uniting the fishermen against one species and will hopefully help eliminate/decrease the lionfish population here in Jamaica. Jamaica is already one of the most overfished reefs that I have ever seen, so having the fishermen focus on an invasive species gives the native fish a break from fishing pressure and keeps food in people’s mouths.
You can do your part too! Check out this awesome cookbook to become a full-fledged invasivore, and donate to a great non-profit organization dedicated to marine conservation.
I’d rather be diving. This is my most depressing time of year (although I imagine many people experience ‘seasonal depression’ when the gloomy days of winter roll around. I really think the only reason I dislike it so much is because I hate sitting inside, doing data entry, catching up on samples, waking up in the dark, going home in the dark. The most appealing thing about marine biology for me is getting out in the field. Heck, I’ve even dove as recently as the beginning of December here in NY (the below photos I took from Napeague Harbor, East Hampton, this past December). But now its just too damn cold.
This time last year I was diving with Mantas in Fiji (see my photo below). Now, I’m literally sitting in the department library, analyzing data, assembling presentations, and procrastinating. I read about my professor and labmate down in Jamaica doing research. I am so jealous. Why wasn’t I smart enough to incorporate some field design that would “require” me to winter in Florida? And as I sit and look at another crappy weather forecast this weekend, I realize that I will take a job anywhere in the country, as long as it gets me out of the North East.
So what set me on this tangent? A recent National Geographic article about wrecks as artificial reefs. You should definitely do read it, its excellent. But I read that, and I realize I love diving. I don’t do enough of it recreationally. If I had to guess, over 95% of all my dives have been work related. Don’t get me wrong, I love the diving I do for research too, and often times find cool things or see interesting creatures. But nothing is better than going down with your camera, and just finding a spot, and taking pictures. Or just drifting by with the current. Not worrying about your clipboards and transect reels and zip ties and other equipment. And wreck diving is awesome, some of my favorite dives have been over wrecks. I’ve been able to dive some incredible wrecks in my travels – the USS Calvin Coolidge in Vanuatu, the Mercedes in Ft Lauderdale, the Speigel Grove in Key Largo, and the Hilma Hooker in Bonaire. My one regret is not getting to do the Superior Producer in Curacao, but I hope to make it back there one day.
So yes, after seeing the weather and reading this article, I would much, much, much rather be diving. But the NatGeo article has renewed my interest in wrecks, and Long Island has quite a few I hope to check out this year, so if anyone is interested, by all means.
Each year my adviser Bradley Peterson and fellow professor Joe Warren take a group of undergraduate students to Jamaica to participate in a course called Tropical Marine Ecology. This year is no different, although they ended up there a day late due to the most recent snow storm. That said, they all got there safe and appear to be settled in nicely. The idea behind the course is to get the students to learn about tropical marine environments by actually seeing them first hand – many of the upper level marine classes at Stony Brook are experiential in that students get hands on experiences in the field. Tropical is no different. The first few days will consist of lectures and snorkeling around to learn about the species in Discovery Bay, where the group stays. Once they take their practical, the students need to conduct a research project which they then write up for their grade in the course.
It is a short course (only ~2.5 weeks), so it is hard to accomplish very rigorous scientific experiments (also, any equipment they use needs to be brought with them, which also makes things difficult), however, the students undertake a variety of projects, investigating mangroves and seagrasses, coral cover, sponge communities, fish territories, etc. Some of the research under taken is of high quality and warrants publication. One such publication came from a group of students when the trip still went to the South Pacific where they investigated how Stegastes damselfish controlled algal assemblages, and the interplay between herbivory and nutrient addition. (Gobler, C. J., Thibault, D.B., Davis, T.W., Curran, P.B., Peterson, B.J., Liddle, L.B. 2006. Algal assemblages associated with Stegastes sp. territories on Indo-Pacific coral reefs: Characterization of diversity and controls on growth. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 336: 135–145).
More recently, a colleague of mine investigated the difference in growth rate and grazing of Thalassia between groundwater influenced and non-groundwater sites in Discovery Bay, Jamaica, with some interesting and unexpected results. That manuscript is currently submitted. In addition, thanks to her undergraduate visit to Jamaica, Amber developed her dissertation project investigating sponge community dynamics and recruitment on reefs impacted by sedimentation due to the creation of mega-resorts and those with no impact. She visits Jamaica frequently to collect data (I have tried to get her to blog about this stuff, maybe one day she will).
Anyway, back to the course. For many students, it is their first time in a tropical environment, their first time SCUBA diving, or both. It is also the first time a lot of them are expected to independently do a research project and write up/present the results. It is a great experience, and one the students truly enjoy. You can read about their excitement and adventures on the trip’s blog Tropical Blogs. You should definitely check it out.
Lionfish from my Fiji dive trip. It was upside down under a coral ledge
In Florida, divers collected over 650 invasive lionfish off the reefs during a series of lionfish derbies in the Keys. Lionfish hail from the South Pacific and have no known predators in the Atlantic. Additionally, since they are novel, many reef fish might not recognize them as the voracious predators that they are. This is especially problematic and has been cause for concern for quite some time. According to a NOAA website, lionfish were first observed in the Atlantic in 2002 and have been sighted all along the Atlantic seaboard and as far north as Long Island, NY. I am very aware of this population. It has made the press several times over the past 5 years, and while I have not observed one directly, I know of divers who collect them around Shinnecock Inlet, not far from some of my dive locations. (Maybe one day I’ll actually do a recreational dive around there and spot one for myslef!)
Back to the story at hand. Lionfish are invasive and threatening to local populations. So, in the US state and federal governments encourage the capture of these tropical invaders. But other countries in the Caribbean have also joined suit. Jamaica actually promotes the consumption of lionfish to encourage fishermen to harvest them. This acts as a double whammy – it protects some species from exploitation while also preventing lionfish from eating juveniles. While I don’t know of a fishing method that specifically targets lionfish, and I don’t want it to seem as though I promote overfishing, wouldn’t it be nice if fishermen could over-harvest to the point of local extinctions a pesky invader? According to the Jamaica article linked above, lionfish reportedly sells for ~$12 a pound in the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos government has offered a $3000 award to the first fisherman to catch 3000 lionfish. Similar lionfish derbies in Jamaica have already netted over 1400 of these fish. With all the effort, one would hope that lionfish could be controlled to the point where they are ecologically insignificant in the Caribbean and Atlantic.
By the way, according to the Florida article, when cleaned properly, lionfish is a nice white meat which is considered a delicacy in many places.
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!
Is a useful experimental tool to mimic natural seagrass while controlling many factors, such as density, canopy height, leaf number, which are usually confounding in natural eelgrass meadows.
Scallops seem to love this stuff!