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Students Studying Seagrass in Marine Lab Project

July 20, 2020

The SCCF Marine Lab is hosting two students this summer who are gaining field and lab research experience as they study how seagrass responds to low oxygen conditions in an experiment that began on July 15. 

Jivan Khakee, pictured here, is a junior at University of California Santa Barbara, is carrying out the research in the field and lab on Sanibel after a 14-day self-quarantine. Willow Vince is participating virtually from New York through weekly video conferences. Willow is helping remotely to design the project through the review and study of existing research. She has written an annotated bibliography and is keeping all files and notes together in a shared drive in the cloud.  

Led by the scientists at the lab to design and carry out a research project, these two students are working together on a project to study seagrass decomposition rates under low and high oxygen conditions. 

“Low oxygen conditions in estuaries and coastal areas can lead to fish kills and loss of habitat,” said SCCF Marine Lab Director Eric Milbrandt, Ph.D. “Low oxygen conditions can occur because of an algae bloom or stratification of the water column.”

The warm water temperatures typical in the summer further reduce the carrying capacity for oxygen in water. 

“Low dissolved oxygen events have been increasing in coastal areas and estuaries worldwide and the effects of this on ecosystems are not well understood,” said Milbrandt. “The goal of this project is to better understand the energy transfer from seagrass shoots to the food web by measuring the decomposition rates of seagrass in low and high oxygen conditions.” 

For the experiment, mesh bags were sewn together with fishing line and a shoot of seagrass (10-14 g) was placed in each bag. The three treatments are low oxygen conditions, high oxygen conditions, and a lab control. 

The experiment will run for eight weeks and each week, three decomposition bags will be randomly removed from each treatment and the seagrass weighed, dried and re-weighed. The hypothesis is that low oxygen conditions decrease the decomposition rate and therefore slow the transfer of energy from seagrass to the food web. 

The experiment began on July 15 when the mesh bags were deployed in the field. At the end of the summer, the research will be summarized into a short 15-minute talk that the students can share with their peers when they return to classes. The results will also be shared later this summer at and in the Wednesday Update.

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