Archive for the ‘Research: Live from the Labs’ Category

The Ballast Water Balancing Act

March 13, 2012

By Catherine Drake, Invertebrate Zoology Lab

Docked in the Carquinez Strait, an offshoot of the San Pablo Bay in the city of Vallejo, is the TS Golden Bear.  It is a training ship for the California Maritime Academy, which—like MLML—is a campus of the California State University.  The Biological Oceanography lab at MLML utilizes the ship for ballast water research.  As ships traverse the globe, they pick up ballast water from one area and release it back into the ocean once they reach their destination.  Ships uptake seawater into their ballast tanks to optimize balance and streamlining when traveling a great distance.  During this process, potentially invasive planktonic organisms are brought into the tanks and transported by being held in the ballast tank during travels.  As these organisms are released back into the ocean, they are now introduced into a new environment.

The TS Golden Bear, which houses the laboratory and is the source of ballast water used in the research conducted by the MLML Biological Oceanography lab.

Ships take in seawater and store it in ballast tanks in order to remain balanced as they glide through the oceans. Then, they discharge the ballast water as they enter a port or harbor.

This can pose a problem, as some plankton can become invasive, meaning that they can outcompete native organisms in a habitat.  According to Ruiz, et al., shipping is considered the largest transfer mechanism for coastal invasions.   As a result, regulations developed by IMO (International Maritime Organization) are implemented to reduce invasive plankton.  One of their requirements forces ships to reduce the number of live zooplankton to 10 live zooplankters per 1000 liters after the water has been treated with a kill-factor (toxic reagents, oxygen reduction, UV light, heat, etc).  “Though the challenge of coming up with an effective but environmentally safe kill factor is still up and coming, so are the methods to determining the quality of the treatment system,” says Julie Kuo, a student in the Biological Oceanography Lab.  Consequently, this has enhanced the collaboration between engineers, and scientists to construct standard operating procedures to determine the quality of a treatment system based on IMO regulations.

Copepods, tintinnids, rotifers, and cladocera are all zooplankton that can be found in ballast water.

Enter Dr. Welshmeyer and the Biological Oceanography lab: the purpose of their project is to count the number of live zooplankton alive before and after the treatment.  This process is used to determine whether or not the treatment tested on the Golden Bear is successful at meeting the IMO regulations.  As we boarded the ship, we carried microscopes and coffee down through the ship to a room that was designated as our lab.  In the 8 by 15 foot room, we setup our microscopes and began counting zooplankton.  That particular day, we were counting pre-treated water, which was full of zooplankton swimming around; this included tintinnids, copepods, rotifers, and nauplii.  After our counts of the live and dead zooplankton, we extrapolated that there were anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 live organisms per cubic meter; up to 60% were alive in an untreated sample that was concentrated from one cubic meter of water from the Carquinez Strait.  So, treatment systems have to be incredibly affective in order to kill all but ten zooplankton in ballast water!

Julie Kuo, a graduate student in the Biological Oceanography lab at MLML, counts the number of zooplankton in a sample of pre-treated ballast water.

Moss Landing Scientists Contribute Four New Shark Species

February 28, 2012

by Angela Szesciorka, Vertebrate Ecology Lab

One hundred and forty two new species were discovered last year. Four of those were deep-sea shark species discovered by Moss Landing Marine Laboratories’ Dr. David Ebert and his colleagues. Their findings, as well as some interesting facts about the sharks, were featured in National Geographic among the new species found in 2011.

The previously unknown shark species they described included Pristiophorus nancyae, Etmopterus joungi, Etmopterus sculptus, and Squatina caillieti (does that last one sound familiar?).

Pristiophorus nancyae was named by Ebert and Dr. Gregor Cailliet after it was accidentally captured in a 490-meter trawl off Mozambique. This species, also called the African dwarf sawshark, is the seventh species of known sawshark. Like all sawsharks, P. nancyae has an elongated beak (rostrum) like a sword. It will swim with schools of fish, sideswipe prey with its rostrum, then snatch them up. P. nancyae was named for Nancy Packard Burnett because of her support for chondrichthyan (sharks and rays) research at the Pacific Shark Research Center at Moss Landing Marine Labs.

Pristiophorus nancyae (Photo: Dave Ebert)

(more…)

Stillwater Cove Thesis Work – algae bracelets

June 19, 2011

The John Martin took us out to Stillwater Cove.

Stillwater Cove is one of the best studied kelp beds in the world.  Moss Landing Marine Lab’s very own Mike Fox is studying giant kelp growth in Stillwater.  The R/V John Martin took a group out to tag giant kelp in order to more easily locate them when they go reproductive.  Large blades called sporophylls cover the holdfast and make it difficult to see the tags, so we attached white lines to a nearby winged kelp algae.

Tag and line connecting this winged algae to giant kelp.

Mike Fox tagging kelp to be able to locate them after they get more reproductive.

A Rhodolith Thesis Defense: Thursday May 19th

May 15, 2011

Paul diligently sorting his samples in the lab. What was the point? Come hear his thesis to find out! (photo: E. Loury)

Congratulations to Phycology Lab student Paul Tompkins, who will be defending his thesis this Tursday, May 19th, at noon.  Paul’s thesis is entitled “Distribution, Growth, and Disturbance of Catalina Island Rhodoliths.”  What’s a rhodolith, you ask?  If you can’t come hear the scoop on Thursday, check out these photos belows, or browse around the Drop-In:

Rhodoliths are round, free-living corraline algae - kind of like ocean tumbleweeds (photo: P. Tompkins)

Unlike most seaweeds, rhodoliths are algae that have a hard skeleton made out of calcium carbonate.  The structure of a rhodolith bed creates a habitat for many types of organisms, like a mini coral reef or kelp forest.  Beds like the one shown below were the subject of Paul’s thesis.

A rhodolith bed at Catalina Island. (photo: P. Tompkins)

The Colors of Nature in Cancer Crabs and Stunning Sunsets

March 30, 2011

Straight from the fish's mouth: a juvenille red rock crab (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

This baby red rock crab (Cancer productus), only about an inch wide, still shows some of its bright patterning even after being digested in a gopher rockfish stomach.  Spending more hours than I’d care to admit sifting through fish guts may give one a slightly skewed perspective on the definition of “pretty,” but after identifying so many drab brownish crabs of other species, I found this little guy downright bedazzling.   The color variation in this species is captivating: check out its shocking-white color morph.

How charitable of nature to lend its best colors to both baby crabs and the evening sky.  After hours of staring through the microscope, nothing is more rewarding than stepping out on the back deck of the lab to soak up the amazing view.

photo: E. Loury

A Pack o’ Peanut Worms

March 25, 2011

photo: E. Loury

These little goobers are called peanut worms, or sipunculids.  Sipunculids are in their own phylum Sipuncula (that’s a pretty high level of taxonomic classification), so while their unsegmented bodies make them look like other marine worms (phylum Annelida), they are not directly related.

Sipunculids are pretty fascinating to watch because they can invert their long proboscis to bunch up (like the little peanut-look-alike on the far left), or extend it by essentially turning inside out.  These specimens were just some of the great diversity of critters I found poking around in a kelp holdfast.  Now the question remains: would you like those salted or unsalted?

My, What Big Teeth You Have

February 16, 2011

photo: C. Moran

While fishing over the rocky reefs of San Jose del Cabo in Baja California, Ichthyology lab student Clinton Moran caught himself a 45-pound Pacific dog snapper (Lutjanus novemfasciatus).  Clinton studies the mechanics of how fish feed – being the studious researcher that he is, he decided to clean and  reassemble the head bones of his catch to display the fish’s wicked chompers.  It’s easy to see where the common name comes from with those teeth that look positively canine.  Check out some more fish bone displays from Clinton and other Ichthyology students.

Can you envision what a dog snapper looks like based on its teeth?  Click here to see if you were close!

photo: C. Moran

Can I take him home to France with me?

February 14, 2011

photo: E. Loury

French international student and shark lover Marie Cachera cuddles a leopard shark from the MLML collection.  Marie conducted a diet study on the starry skate as part of her Master’s thesis while visiting MLML for five months in 2009. Despite our location in a podunk town, the caliber of research of Moss Landing Marine Labs has attracted scientists and students from all over the world.  Read an interview with MLML’s current international student Edem Mahu from Ghana.

A Method to Algae Madness… How to Measure Miniscule Growth

December 1, 2010

Rhodoliths (photo by Paul Tompkins)

Jasmine Ruvalcaba

by Jasmine Ruvalcaba, Phycology Lab

edited by Brynn Hooton

We’ve all heard the giant kelp Macrocystis can grow up to one meter per day.  So, how do phycologists, people who study seaweeds, measure growth of different species of algae?  With most, you can use a ruler of some sort.  For instance, Dr. Graham, advisor of the phycology lab,  has a National Science Foundation grant going right now to look at effects of climate change on intertidal and subtidal species.  One factor he looks as is algal growth.  To do so,  we punch holes in the vegetative blade with a regular, run of the mill one-hole puncher near the base of the seaweed, and then each month go back to the same plants, and punch a new hole.   We  measure from the base of the blade to new the punch, from the new punch to the  old punch, and the old punch to the tip of the blade. Wow, sounds like a lot to do underwater, right?  Practice makes perfect.

This is a kelp called Laminaria sinclarii. The arrows show the different hole punches, which show how much the kelp has grown. This one has grown 11 millimeters. (photo by Jasmine Ruvalcaba)

That method is great for species that are fleshy and can grow centimeters per day, but how do you measure growth with calcified species, that grow very slowly?  That’s what Paul Tompkins and I, Jasmine Ruvalcaba, are doing as a part of our thesis research.  Paul studies rhodoliths, which are calcified red algae that form “beds” over soft sediments all over the world.  I am studying their relatives, the articulated species.  In a nut-shell, we soak our plants in stains anywhere from 5 minutes to days, depending on what type of stain we’re using, and let the stain mark the alga’s outer cell walls.  After the plant is stained, we then put it back in clean seawater and let it grow.  Any new parts of the plant that have grown after we took the plant out of the stain should be visible, and we know how long it’s taken to make this new growth.  So, here is what we see…..

This is Calliarthron sp., an articulated coralline species. This photo was taken under UV light, because the particular stain that was used on the algae lights up, or shows up under UV light. (photo by Jasmine Ruvalcaba)

This is a close-up of the articulated coralline branch tips. The arrows show where the stain stops. The white tips, that aren't stained, are growth of the coralline algae that occurred after we stained it. We measure from where the stain stops to the tip of the plant. This particular individual has grown 1.2 millimeters in 1 month. (photo by Jasmine Ruvalcaba)

Keep in touch to read about my future adventures with coralline algae!

Mr. Fish Bones: Some Spooktacular Skeletons

October 29, 2010

Brynn Hooton and Kelsey James assemble a rockfish skeleton for Ichthyology class (photo: E. Loury)

Erin Loury

by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab

Skeletons are not just the stuff of Halloween at a marine lab – bones galore grace these halls of science year round.  Although being surrounded by dead things can lead to some unfortunate stereotypes of mad scientists with macabre fetishes, getting up close and personal with bones is one of the best lessons in basic anatomy.

That’s why in Spring 2008, many of us set to the task of cleaning, taking apart and putting together fish skeletons for our Ichthyology class to  better understand how the skeletal structures of these fish “work.”  In honor of Halloween, check out some of our bone creations – I mean, preparations (affectionately known as “bone preps”):

Wolf Eel, prepared by Megan Winton and Jenny Kemper (photo: E. Loury)
Pacific Haliut, prepared by Clinton Moran (photo: E. Loury)
Pacific Halibut, prepared by Clinton Moran (photo: E. Loury)
Vermilion Rockfish, prepared by Katie Schmidt and Kristin Hunter-Thomson. (photo: E. Loury)

Learning bones can have some practical bearing for research as well.  While going through the stomach contents of my gopher rockfish, I have had to try to identify little fish prey items from their bones.   As an example of cool cross-disciplinary collaborations, I and some other diet students have enlisted the help of Crisite Boone, an archaeologist from UC Santa Cruz who is an expert in fish bones from her study of California Indian middens.  Who knew that identifying fish from bits of bone pieces could be a transferable skill?

Here’s a look at one of the more unique skeletons I found, that of a prickleback of some kind.  Note the really robust spines on its back – looks almost…prickley, wouldn’t you say?

Mind the spines! Prickleback skeleton found in gopher rockfish stomach (photo: E. Loury).

Happy Halloween!!!


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