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SEA Currents: Marine Biodiversity & Conservation

April 16, 2015

Undergraduate Research Week Wraps Up

Anne Broache,

SEA Semester

Above: Helena McMonagle demonstrates the research methods that Team Plastics plans to employ while studying microbial colonization at sea, as Amalia Alberini, Lena Goss, and Caroline Graham look on. Below: Team Spiny Lobsters, made up of Joseph Townsend, Will Botta and Ryan Plantz, plan to investigate environmental factors that affect the well-being of this extremely economically important species.

To mark Undergraduate Research Week, we’re continuing to feature the inspiring investigations planned by our current class on campus, C-259, Marine Biodiversity & Conservation. (In case you missed it, here are Part 1 and Part 2.)

In just a few days, they’ll set sail from San Juan, Puerto Rico to New York City via Bermuda. Along the way, they’ll undertake a variety of scientific studies on the Sargasso Sea, that vast portion of the North Atlantic Ocean that is a major focus of conservation efforts.

Here’s a look at the final two projects that our student research teams plan to conduct:

Team Spiny LobstersC-259 team spiny lobsters

Title: Investigating dispersion dynamics of the Caribbean Spiny lobster Panulirus argus phyllosoma
Researchers: Will Botta, University of Rhode Island ’15 (Marine Biology); Ryan Plantz, Ripon College ’16 (Biology); Joseph Townsend, University of Carolina at Chapel Hill ’16 (Biology/Communications)

Spiny lobsters represent an economically important fishery throughout the Caribbean, Bermuda and the eastern United States. Better understanding factors that affect their survival as juveniles to the point where they are viable for fishing purposes (a process known as “recruitment”) is important for creating sustainable fisheries. This group plans to collect and study the genetics and size variations in spiny lobster larvae throughout the cruise track.

Team Plastics

Title: Initial Microbial Colonizers of Microplastics in the Sargasso Sea
Researchers: Amalia Alberini, University Pierre et Marie Curie ’14 (Biology); Lena Goss, Whitman College ’16 (Geology); Caroline Graham, Grinnell College ’16 (Biology); Helena McMonagle, Wellesley College ’16 (Biological Sciences)

Plastics are the top source of marine debris, and microbes make up 90 percent of life in the ocean. This group plans to pair these two characteristics by studying how microbes colonize four different types of plastics—another novel research area with very limited data. They will collect water samples from different locations along their cruise track, pour the samples into incubation chambers containing each type of plastic, remove the pellets after 30 minutes, and observe what types of colonies grow over the next 72 hours. They’ll then do genetic analysis to determine the types and relationships between various microbes.

What's next? 

After they complete their proposed projects at sea, all of the groups plan to submit their data to publicly available biological databases and present their findings at a June 12 symposium on our campus. Their work could help scientists get a better grasp on numerous facets of sea life in this area, and their recommendations may also help inform policymakers looking to safeguard the Sargasso Sea ecosystem.

Previous entry: Night Watch, Eyes Open    Next entry: A Steward’s Perspective




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