If there is one consistent thread with students whom I collaborate with, it is their penchant for finding rather trying field sites. Currently it is Jennifer Sweatman, a graduate student at FIU. She details her project here. Please let her know if you want to get stung by jellyfish – she would be happy to share the nematocysts……
My research focuses on human impacted seagrass beds and how plants and animals within these seagrass beds respond to changes. Specifically I am studying the effects of propeller scarring on the strength of grazing by amphipods (tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that inhabit seagrasses) at two sites on Abaco. Amphipods are important grazers in seagrass beds. The amphipods I study eat small algae that grow on the sediment surface or on seagrass leaves. Amphipods can quickly and effectively remove this algae growing on seagrass leaves, allowing seagrasses to get nutrients and light necessary to grow.
Propeller scars caused by boating through shallow seagrasses excavate the seagrass tissues below-ground breaking up a continuous seagrass bed into smaller pieces. There is little information known about how these propeller scars impact the animal communities. In Cherokee Sound and the Power Plant area, I have simulated propeller scars in large continuous seagrass beds by clipping off all above-ground seagrass leaves, and ‘continuous plots’ that are near scars but at a distance far enough away so as to not be impacted by the scar. These ‘propeller scars’ are similar to actual propeller scars created by boats; however, they will not cause permanent damage because I did not remove the below-ground seagrass structures. In fact, I return to both Cherokee Sound and Power Plant each week to trim regrowth in my created propeller scars. The experiment began in late August and will continue until October 2nd. I will collect samples of seagrasses, algae growing on seagrasses, and amphipods at all scars and continuous plots. With these samples I will compare seagrass growth rates, algae abundance and species composition (red algae, brown algae, and green algae), and amphipod community composition (number of different species present and number of amphipods present per species). Data collected from this project will be used to inform management and conservation decisions in human-impacted seagrass beds.
Thank you to Friends of the Environment, the community at Cherokee Sound, and Craig Layman for all of their support throughout this project!