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Marine Biodiversity research

Marine Biodiversity

Biodiversity within species (genetic diversity) and between species is critical for maintaining the health, productivity and resilience of an ecosystem. Marine biodiversity, in particular, has the potential to transform medicine, industry, environmental remediation and energy production. However, marine biodiversity is simultaneously under-sampled and threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, fishing and climate change. SEA’s repeated cruise tracks across remote areas of the ocean offer an excellent opportunity to advance our understanding of global marine ecosystems, while SEA Semester students’ concentrated research efforts in the Sargasso Sea generate detailed data to inform management of high seas biodiversity.

Research Themes

Sea Education Association Research

Microbial communities

Microbes including bacteria, Archaea, and eukaryotic protists are understudied despite their important role in regulating Earth’s climate and driving ocean productivity. Marine microbes are enormously diverse, and exhibit specialized functions in the ocean over geographic space, depth and time. Moreover, floating substrates and the surfaces of higher organisms may support different microbial communities from the surrounding water and serve as vectors for transport. Modern molecular methods, including whole-community fingerprinting, allow SEA Semester students to examine the diversity and connectivity of these small but mighty marine microbes.

SEA faculty and collaborators: Kerry Whittaker (SEA)

Selected Microbial communities papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

Sargassum 

The Sargasso Sea hosts abundant Sargassum, the only seaweed that spends its entire life adrift on the ocean’s surface; several unique species and morphological variants are found in this region. SEA has been at the forefront of identifying and describing the taxonomic differences between these Sargassum types using extensive field samples as well as morphological and genetic tools. This research is particularly relevant given the rise of a previously-rare form of Sargassum inundating Caribbean beaches and wreaking havoc on local ecosystems and economies. Understanding the taxonomy and molecular diversity of these seaweed variants will shed light on the shifting patterns of Sargassum distribution and abundance throughout the region.

SEA faculty and collaborators: Jeff Schell (SEA), Deb Goodwin (SEA), Kerry Whittaker (SEA), Amy Siuda (Eckerd College)

Selected Sargassum papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

The Sargassum community

Patches of Sargassum represent productivity and biodiversity ‘hotspots’ in a nutrient- and substrate-limited open ocean environment. Floating Sargassum harbors a diverse rafting assemblage of associated sessile and mobile organisms, including many species found nowhere else in the world. Using field sampling plus morphological and molecular identification techniques, SEA Semester students and faculty scientists examine the diversity and connectivity of Sargassum-associated species and communities including endemic hydroids (coral relatives), shrimp, crabs, and fish. 

SEA faculty and collaborators: Jeff Schell (SEA), Deb Goodwin (SEA), Kerry Whittaker (SEA), Amy Siuda (Eckerd College), Annette Govindarajan (WHOI)

Selected The Sargassum community papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

Eel larvae (Leptocephali)

The Sargasso Sea provides spawning and nursery habitat for a number of marine and freshwater eel species of high ecological and economic value. Eel larvae are collected in surface and subsurface plankton net tows to study vertical and geographic patterns of species distribution. Genetic tools are used to elucidate eel population structure and connectivity. 

SEA faculty and collaborators: Kerry Whittaker (SEA), Amy Siuda (Eckerd College)

Selected Eel larvae (Leptocephali) papers and publications

Sea Education Association Research

Spiny lobster larvae (Phyllosoma)

Caribbean spiny lobster, Panulirus argus, are a commercially important species throughout the Caribbean and coastal southeastern United States whose stocks have declined during the last decade. In past SEA Semesters, student research focused on the planktonic juveniles using morphological characteristics to determine larval stage/age, and molecular methods to distinguish between source populations in order to understand transport and recruitment.

Selected Spiny lobster larvae (Phyllosoma) papers and publications

Papers and Publications

Peer-reviewed publications

Whittaker, K.* and T. Rynearson, 2017. Evidence for environmental and ecological selection in a microbe with no geographic limits to gene flow. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 114, 2651-2656. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1612346114

Amaral-Zettler, L., N. Dragone^, J. Schell*, B. Slikas, L. Murphy, C. Morrall and E. Zettler*, 2017. Comparative mitochondrial and chloroplast genomics of a genetically distinct form of Sargassum contributing to recent 'Golden Tides' in the Western Atlantic. Ecol. Evol. 7, 516-525. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2630

Schmidt, V. , J. Reveillaud, E. Zettler*, T. Mincer, L. Murphy and L. Amaral-Zettler, 2014. Oligotyping reveals community level habitat selection within the genus Vibrio. Front. Microbiol. 5, 563. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2014.00563

Sehein, T.^, A. Siuda*, T. Shank and A. Govindarajan, 2014. Connectivity in the slender Sargassum shrimp (Latreutes fucorum): implications for a Sargasso Sea protected area. J. Plankton Res. 36, 1408-1412. doi: 10.1093/plankt/fbu081

McCliment, E., C. Nelson, C. Carlson, A. Alldredge, J. Witting* and L. Amaral-Zettler, 2012. An all-taxon microbial inventory of the Moorea coral reef ecosystem. ISME Journal 6, 309-319. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2011.108

Selected student research

Brady, E., B. Gagnon, S. Waller and K. Wells, 2018. Examining inter- and intraspecific diversity among Sargassum-associated mobile fauna. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-279, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Carter, C., A. Merkle-Raymond and K. Ouellette, 2018. Genetic assessment of A. latecarinata 16s gene reveals population divergence that may act as a tracer for Sargassum movement. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-279, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Anderson, A., D. Hanelin and J. Renee, 2018. Analysis of Sargassum distribution and phylogenetic diversity in the North Atlantic. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-279, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Gill, G., M. Martinez, G. Nahansen and A. Sanders, 2018. Fingerprinting the microbial community biodiversity of the Sargasso Sea. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-279, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Crane, L., 2018. Dispersion and vertical migration patterns in Caribbean spiny lobster (Panilurus argus). Unpublished student research paper, Class C-277, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Lichak, M., R. Pierce, S. Speroff and V. Van Deusen, 2017. Biodiversity and trophic interactions of Sargassum mobile fauna and population genetics of slender Sargassum shrimp. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-273, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Burdorf, R., S. Cellan, M. Malpani and M. Schultz, 2017. Examining hydroid diversity and ecology in the western North Atlantic. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-273, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Brodmerkel, A., K. Leazer, J. Pedraza and P. Petit, 2017. North Atlantic Sargassum: an assessment of health and molecular phytogenetics. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-273, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Glasenapp, M., A. Leahy, M. Spychala and Y. Wang, 2017. Family biodiversity of leptocephali and genetic analysis of Ariosoma balearicum in the Sargasso Sea. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-273, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Corso, A., I. DuMond, A. Duncan and N. Wilcox, 2016. Biodiversity of Sargassum mobile fauna with a focus on Litiopa melanostoma. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-266, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Bloch, D., S. Canning, K. McKeegan and R. Petersen-Rockney, 2016. Hydroid diversity and Aglaophenia latecarinata population connectivity across Sargassum forms in the North Atlantic. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-266, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Freund, W., T. Hallowell, K. Mermel and E. Walton, 2016. Panulirus argus diversity in the Sargasso Sea: connecting the Caribbean to Bermuda. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-266, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Alley, E., A. Hunter, W. Hutcheson, K. Petersen and K. Running, 2016. Molecular phylogeny of pelagic Sargassum. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-266, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Barhite, K., M. Carr, M. Hein, P. Silva and A. Wallin, 2016. Looking at leptocephali: investigating eel biodiversity and phylogenetic relationships of Ariosoma balearicum in the Sargasso Sea. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-266, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Botta, W., J. Townsend and R. Plantz, 2015. Investigating dispersion dynamics of the Caribbean spiny lobster Panulirus argus phyllosoma. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-259, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Olson, E. and E. Tonkin, 2015. A genetic and morphological analysis of Atlantic Sargassum. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-259, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Alberini, A., L. Goss, C. Graham and H. McMonagle, 2015. Initial microbial colonizers of microplastics in the Sargasso Sea. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-259, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Romero, M., O. Robson, K. Rolf and S. Stratton, 2015. Eel biodiversity and population connectivity in the Sargasso Sea. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-259, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Dixon, C., C. Pauly and M. Tan, 2014. The effects of substrate on microbial community composition and biofilm quantity in the Sargasso Sea. Unpublished student research paper, Class C-252, Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA.

Presentations

Whittaker, K.*, A. Siuda*, J. Schell* and D. Goodwin*, 2018. Molecular divergence of holopelagic Sargassum species using extensive field samples from the tropical and subtropical Atlantic. 71st Annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Conference, San Andres, Colombia.

Siuda, A.^, D. Goodwin*, J. Schell*, E. Alley^, D. Bloch^, S. Canning^, W. Hutcheson^, A. Hunter^, K. McKeegan^, K. Peterson^, R. Peterson-Rockney^, K. Running^, L. Cooney and A. Govindarajan, 2016. Genetic variation among morphological forms of pelagic Sargassum and associated hydroids. 69th Annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Conference, Grand Cayman.

Keefe M.^, J. Andras and A. Siuda*, 2016. Population connectivity of slender Sargassum shrimp populations in the northwest Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Benthic Ecology Meeting, Portland, ME.

Camp, M.^, B. O'Brien^, T. Bowser^, L. Amaral-Zettler, E. Zettler* and A. Siuda*, 2015. Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) dispersion dynamics in the Sargasso Sea. Association of Southeastern Biologists Meeting, Chattanooga, TN.

Nieves, M.^ and A. Siuda*, 2015. Factors that influence the composition of the resident macrofauna community of free-floating Sargassum. ASLO Aquatic Sciences Meeting, Granada, Spain.

Gervase, L.^, C. Bateson^, G. Ballou^, A. Siuda*, L. Amaral-Zettler and A. Bucklin, 2015. Leptocephali biodiversity in the Sargasso Sea: spatial and diel patterns. NY American Fisheries Society Meeting. Lake Placid, NY.

Sehein, T.^, A. Siuda*, T. Shank and A. Govindarajan, 2013. Slender Sargassum shrimp (Latreutes fucorum) population genetic structure in the Sargasso Sea. BioNES Meeting, Bristol, RI.

Pivor, J.^, J. Daniel, A. Siuda*, A. Bucklin, L. Blanco-Bercial, L. Amaral-Zettler and E. Zettler*, 2013. Sweepstakes reproductive success of the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) in the Sargasso Sea. ASLO Aquatic Sciences Meeting, New Orleans, LA.

Edson, E.^, E. Zettler*, L. Amaral-Zettler, A. Siuda*, R. Green^, S. Houang^, B. Kolody^ and S. Watters^, 2013. Genetic diversity of Vibrio on natural versus artificial substrates across the Sargasso Sea. BioNES Meeting, Bristol, RI.

Other

Whittaker, K.* and C. Young, 2018. Status review report for the Taiwanese humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis). Final report to the National Marine Fisheries Service, Office of Protected Resources. 45 pp.

Farmer*, M. W., 1982. Large-scale dispersal and recruitment of phyllosoma larvae. EOS 63, 975.


* SEA faculty and staff
^ SEA Semester alumnus

News

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C-285: Marine Biodiversity & Conservation

Posted on: March 27, 2019

Students of Class C-285, Marine Biodiversity & Conservation, join the SSV Corwith Cramer on March 28th in Key West, Florida.  The voyage ends on May 4th in New York City, after a port stop in Bermuda.

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SEA Semester

SEA & WHOI to Explore Ocean Twilight Zone

Posted on: January 28, 2019
By: Doug Karlson, communications@sea.edu

Scientists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will join this spring’s SEA Semester: Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (MBC) program on a special collaboration to explore the ocean’s mesopelagic or twilight zone, further augmenting one of SEA’s most advanced scientific undergraduate programs.

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SEA Semester

A study in Seaweed… Research in the Sargasso Sea

Posted on: June 27, 2018
By: Carly Carter, Alex Merkle-Raymond, and Kendra Ouellette

SEA Semester students of the Marine Biodiversity & Conservation program (Class C-279) recently completed their research voyage from Nassau, Bahamas to New York, with a stop in Bermuda. The program culminated with several weeks on the Woods Hole campus, and presentation of student research at the Ned Cabot Marine Biodiversity & Conservation Symposium.  As part of their curriculum, students prepared press releases describing their research. These releases will be published here, on the SEA Currents blog, over the course of the next two weeks.

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SEA Semester

Sailing for Seaweed in the Sargasso Sea…

Posted on: June 21, 2018
By: Dani Hanelin, Alena Anderson, and Jenny Renee

SEA Semester students of the Marine Biodiversity & Conservation program (Class C-279) recently completed their research voyage from Nassau, Bahamas to New York, with a stop in Bermuda. The program culminated with several weeks on the Woods Hole campus, and presentation of student research at the Ned Cabot Marine Biodiversity & Conservation Symposium.  As part of their curriculum, students prepared press releases describing their research. These releases will be published here, on the SEA Currents blog, over the course of the next two weeks.

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Last Day with Cramer & Co.

Posted on: May 23, 2018
By: Scott Waller, Middlebury College

We all knew this moment was coming. As the sun set over the East River, those of us leaving tomorrow began packing our belongings and cleaning our bunks. I can hardly believe that we’ve concluded our voyage already; the Cramer became our home, and it’s hard to leave such a familiar place behind and to readjust to the rhythms of life on land.

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Resources

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