Tuesday, May 16, 2017

MBFE - Day 21 - Out to sea

Days 19 and 20 were a Saturday and a Sunday, largely free time for members of the MBFE.  They did research that needed to be done and then enjoyed some down time.  We attended the Coos Bay Ward again and had a fun Home Evening.  Bri gave the thought.

Day 21 was full, full, full!

The morning of Day 21 each research team was back at it full steam.  Some members were working in the field, others in the lab.  I took time to touch base/check up on each group to make sure they were doing all right.

Just before lunch I crossed paths with "Captain Mike". OIMB's chief boat captain.  He told me that he could take our group out on the boat to do some bottom and plankton tows.  The weather was great. It was windy but sunny!  The MBFE crew's spirits were high as we boarded the RV (Research Vessel) Pluteus.  Pluteus is the name of sea urchin larvae.

Here's the group before we left the dock.

Here's the whole crew (L-R) Dr. H, Stephen, Wyatt, Katie (front), Janae (behind), Harrison, Courtney, Rob, Darby, Emily, Bri, Jay, Darren, Caitlin, Ashley.

Fifteen passengers set sail that day for a three hour tour, a three hour tour...(sound familiar?)

We had a great outing.  It was fun being on the water and the class really enjoyed seeing this aspect of marine biology.  We did a couple of bottom dredges and a couple of plankton tows.  

Here are a few shots of the crew while we were out.

Students were able to all the deck work while we were out.  In this shot Wyatt is running the winch and Courtney was monitoring the dredge during the tow.  (L-R) Rob, Bri, Wyatt, Courtney, Darren,  

(L-R) Bri, Wyatt, Courtney (foreground), Darren, Ashley, Caitlin and Stephen.

Another shot of the working deck (L-R) Katie, Rob, Darby, Janae, Emily, Bri, Wyatt.

You aren't surprised when a bottom tow produces a haul of sand dollars, but this time it offered up other sea change...looks like a sand quarter, a couple of sand nickels and a sand dime (Emily).

Harrison (foreground) monitors the dredge during another bottom tow.  Others are (L-R) Katie, Emily, Janae, Darren, Wyatt, Rob, Captain Mike, and Ashley. 

Also on deck are (L-R) Rob, Captain Mike, Ashley, Courtney, Stephen (back) and Bri (front).

It was fun to see what was in the bottom drags.  It's like Forrest Gump's mother says, "Life's like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get." (L-R) Stephen, Ashley, Caitlin (fore), Courtney (back), Harrison (on the cable), Jay, Katie, Emily, Rob.

Stephen and Emily look at a sample from the plankton tow.  

Though we'd already had a busy day we pulled out the microscopes as soon as we got back to the lab to see what we could see.  It was a fantastic sample!

This shot highlights a couple of arrow worms - sharks of the plankton.

This was a real score.  I hadn't seen one of these in real life before - it's an Appendicularian.  It's a tiny tadpole shaped animal that's actually a distant relative of ours, it's an invertebrate Chordate.  It usually lives in a mucous house that it secretes, but it bails out when disturbed.  A plankton tow definitely counts as a disturbance!

This is a larval fish.  Larval fishes are TINY!

This was a great, though tiring day.  Missions accomplished!  The students (and I) loved it.

MBFE - Days 17-18 - More on MBFE research teams and experiences

I guess the main thing to report is that research projects are underway and ongoing.

Here are the research groups in action:

(L-R) Katie, Emily, and Courtney

This team spent the morning collecting more sea anemones from the base of the OIMB pier. They are studying the effects of varying intensity of light on on bleaching in sea anemones.  While out there they found some interesting things...first was a 7-armed Pisaster ochraceus (purple seastar, see below).  The entire class is learning from first-hand experience that there is a lot more natural variability out there than they originally thought.  For example, though these sea stars usually have 5 arms during the MBFE we've spotted individuals with anywhere from 4 to 7 arms.  Life rocks.

They also found juveniles of the same species.  This is a good sign.  Populations of this species along with several other west coast species of seastars were hammered by a virus back in 2013 causing populations of many species to crash.  It's good to see at least some species showing strong signs of recovery.  We still hold out hope for others that have not yet done so.

The next team is Rob and Harrison.  They are asking the question "Is there a difference in competitive ability between different clones of green anemones?"  To answer their question they are are carrying out pair-wise battles between members of different clones.  The results?  Stay tuned. Data are still being collected.

Darby, Wyatt and Janae chose this location as one of their field sites.  They are collecting data showing how often the black turban snail is attacked by crabs and survives.  

Here are members of this team (L-R) Janae, Darby and Wyatt.

The next team is Caitlin, Ashley and Bri.  The photo below shows the location of one of their studies. They are working on a digital field guide to the rocky area at the south end of the beach between Yoakam Point to the north and Gregory Point to the south.  Locals call this Lighthouse Beach (for good reason).   It's kind of a locals only beach...others would not know easily to access it.  

Yeah, it's kind of a dump as far as scenery goes, don't you think?  Just kidding.  The southern Oregon coast is absolutely dripping with scenic ocean vistas.

This team is (L-R) Ashley, Caitlin and Bri.

The next team is studying the effects of varying seawater acidity on the development of sea urchin embryos.  Embryonic and juvenile forms of marine invertebrates are often the life stages that are most susceptible to variations in physical conditions such as pressure, salinity and pH.

This team is (L-R) Darren, Jay and Stephen.

Each team is discovering interesting things about nature, the nature of research and themselves as they progress through this experience.  Like Jim Carrey as the Grinch says, "But that's what these tests are for!"  

Stay tuned for more updates!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

MBFE - Days 15-16 - And class and research go on

We have worked into a class and research routine over the past few days of the 2017 MBFE.  We are entering another series of low tides, this time in the morning.  The tides have been early, around 6-7am the past few days so students have been getting up and out to do field work and collect organisms as needed for their projects.

In the afternoons we have 2-3 hours of class.  Just in case you're wondering what we've been covering in class...on Day 15 we discussed non-fish marine vertebrates.  Those include marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, and manatees), marine reptiles (turtles and snakes) and a little about marine birds.  Then on Day 16 we took a look at life in the deep sea pelagic zone.  That's the part of the ocean below the surface layer where photosynthesis can take place and the bottom, but not including the bottom.

The evening of Day 15 we had a weekly class meeting where we talk about scientific writing and research.  During that meeting I emphasized the importance of staying on top of research projects and spending significant amounts of time in the library doing background research in order to become expert on both the research topic they are asking and the organisms they are working with.  I really worked to make a point with them about how important library research is and I think I may have freaked them out a bit.  Well, we got that cleared up so the students understand that each day needs to include class, research and time in the library or writing.  Mission accomplished.

The evening of Day 16 we traveled into Coos Bay to attend a meeting of the local Audubon Society to hear Larry Basch (a friend of mine from graduate school days) talk about his time in the Galapagos Islands.

Here's info from their advertisement:

Cape Arago Audubon Society, Coos County, Oregon
Our mission is to promote appreciation and understanding of the birds and natural environment of Coos County through education, field trips, and local restoration and conservation projects that enhance our community.

CAAS Chapter Meeting - Wednesday May 10, 2017 7 pm

"A Biologist's Dream: Wet and Wild Life of the Galapagos Islands" will be presented by CAAS member Dr. Larry Basch on May 10 at 7 PM at the Coos Bay library. From the air above, across this renowned archipelago, and under nearshore coastal waters, come and see island endemic birds, other animals and plants unlike ones you've ever seen! Open and free to the public.

He did a great job covering a rich topic and making it accessible to scientists and non-scientists alike.

The MBFE is going well and students are making good progress on their research and from all accounts are thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Stay tuned for future updates.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

MBFE - Day 13-14 - Research kick-off!

After a non-academic day on Sunday (MBFE Day 13) we are at the midway point of the 2017 BYU-Idaho marine biology field experience (Day 14).  So far we have been on several field expeditions to various intertidal habitats, students have gotten to know each other and they have formed research teams.  They also spent (lots of) time in class and thinking about possible research projects.

I spent time this afternoon with each research team going over their proposals and research plans.

Here are the research teams and their proposed research topics (in the order that I met with them):

  • Courtney, Katie and Emily - Sea anemones often have photosynthetic symbionts living in their tissues, just like corals do.  There is evidence to suggest that anemones can lose their symbionts (i.e., undergo bleaching) due to excessive light or darkness.  Their question asks whether anemones exhibit bleaching more rapidly due to light or dark stress.
  • Bri, Caitlin and Ashley - This team will carry out two projects since all of them already completed the marine biology course while on campus at BYU-Idaho.  In project #1 this team addresses effects of ocean acidification, a consequence of ongoing accumulation of excess CO2 in the atmosphere, the same factor that drives the current trend of global warming.  They propose to expose CaCO3 spines from sea urchins to different levels of pH.  These levels include current ocean pH and projected ocean pH levels in the year 2100 based on low and high carbon emission rates.  In project #2 they ask whether changes in salinity will cause bleaching of sea anemones.  They will expose sets of anemones to full strength seawater salinity and to salinity levels commonly found in estuaries.
  • Harrison and Rob - This team is studying aggression in anemones within the same species.  This species is known to form aggregations by cloning (binary fission).  When different clones (different genotypes) come in contact with each other they fight.  This team asks whether there are observable differences between phenotypes within this species in terms of their ability to win battles (literally fighting each other).
  • Wyatt, Janae and Darby - This team is carrying out a field study in which they are quantifying the ability of a common species of snail to survive predatory attacks by crabs. This is done by examining their shells and looking for evidence of repaired breaks.  They will compare different locations to see if snails are at greater risk at one location than the others.
  • Stephen and Katie - This team is attempting a larval recruitment study.  They will suspend ceramic tiles at predetermined locations in the Charleston inner and outer boat basins (harbor) and then generate species diversity index values for each location.  Their goal is to try to identify which location is most favorable to larval settling.
  • Stephen, Jay and Darren - This team is carrying out a research project using experimental embryology.  They will collect gametes from sea urchins and expose the developing embryos to varying levels of pH.  They plan to compare ambient seawater pH to pH levels projected for the year 2100 for different scenarios of global carbon emissions.  They wonder how or if lowered pH levels will slow development and even affect how these animals develop.
Each team is now ready to get started on their projects.  They plan to collect new specimens, set up field sites or start field data collection starting tomorrow.

Last night we had a sunset home evening on the beach complete with a thought shared by Katie (great job) a fire (thanks jay) and marshmallows and starbursts.

The sunset over the mouth of Coos Bay, Oregon

Katie sharing a thought, after which we all shared bucket list items and enjoyed snacks and chatting.
(L-R) Bri (just barely), Katie, Courtney, Ashley, Darby, Emily, Darren, Rob, Harrison, Wyatt, Janae, and Jay (not visible, Caitlin and Stephen)

Sunday, May 7, 2017

MBFE - Day 12 - A Walk in the Park well between parks

Here it is, day 12 of the 2017 BYU-Idaho marine biology field experience, and our second Saturday.  The day was sunny (woot!) but windy.  
There were no scheduled class meetings or classes today so students used the morning to rest, recuperate and work on research.  In the afternoon some of us used the beautiful day to go on a 4 mile hike along the cliffs above the ocean between Sunset Bay State Park and Shore Acres State Park - former summer home of timber magnate LJ Simpson.  
It was a fantastic day!
Here are some of the vistas the day treated us to.
Between Sunset Bay and Shore Acres

Cape Arago lighthouse.

Between Sunset Bay and Shore Acres

Between Sunset Bay and Shore Acres

Simpson's Beach, Shore Acres State Park
(L-R) Courtney, Darby and Rob, Katie, Bri, Harrison and Ashley

At the end of our hike we went down to Simpson Beach at Shore Acre State Park.  It's a pretty little pocket beach with a nice sandy beach overlooking the a rocky shelf and the outlet to the ocean.  It was here that I realized that the trip is really working!  Rather than lounge up on the beach, the group was drawn to the rocks and tide pools where they started scouring the place to see which algae and invertebrate animals were there.  Life is good! 

We came across an impressive overlook along the trail, just before we arrived at Shore Acres State Park, where waves were crashing full-force into the rocky shore.  We were well back from the edge, but we stayed and watched for a while.  Here are a few highlights of that break.

If you look closely you'll see two people sitting atop some rocks to the left of this image (Darby and Courtney).  Though it looks like they are dangerously close to the waves, they are well back and there is a deep channel between them and the waves.  They are in no danger.  In fact, they didn't even get wet.

I made a short animated gif that shows this particular wave breaking.

The hike took about 3 hours, and we were all glad we went.  

Then to cap off the weekend most of the crew (including me) went to the theater and watched Guardians of the Galaxy 2.  Good times were had by all.

Stay tuned for more adventures and updates from the BYU-Idaho MBFE.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

MBFE - Day 11 - On to research

With our class outings all done we continued to hold class but when class is not in session students are now launching their research projects.  I'll post a complete list of the projects soon but they include field surveys, competitive interactions and other kinds of behavioral ecology, as well as developmental biology and effects of climate change.

Students spent their afternoon in the field and in the lab.  And those who were not doing that attended the weekly OIMB weekly seminar.

Stay tuned for further updates.  This is where the trip really gets fun.

MBFE - Day 10 - Plankton races and Star Wars Day

We spent time in class today discussing life as plankton, including what Reynolds Numbers are and what they mean, and considering plankton body shape and its effect on sinking rate.  That's when I remembered a lab exercise I'd been toying with and decided it was the perfect time to try it out.

Each student received 5g of plasticene clay and were told to use it to make an object that would sink as slowly through the water as possible, that is, to make up a plankton shape.

While they were doing that I filled a glass cylinder that was in the lab.  It was maybe a foot across and a couple of feet tall.  I then told the class that we were going to have plankton races...the object that sank slowest wins.  There was a bracket and plankton went head-to-head in matched pair races.

The principle suggests that the plankton with the largest surface to volume ratio should sink the slowest.

Many of the shapes that students came up with were variations on large, flat discs.  This is indeed a way to increase surface to volume ratios, and the games were on!

There was a lot of cheering, a little competitiveness and lots of fun as plankton sank in best two of three contests.

Here are the results of round 1:
 It was Jay and Janae in the finals, and the winner was?  Janae!

I then looked at the designs and realized that if these were zooplankton that there would not really be enough room inside for their internal organs, so I then gave each class member a small plastic vial that represented the planktons' bodies.  They then had to build their overall form around that.  And then we raced again.

Here are the results of round 2:
It was again Jay and Janae in the finals, and the winner?  Janae!  Again!!

As those of you who know Janae would have guessed, she accepted victory with the dignity and modesty she is well known for.  (Ha ha)

And that was Day 10!  Or was it?

How could I forget to mention this?  Day 10 of our trip was May the 4th.  And in some circles this qualifies as a major unofficial holiday - "STAR WARS DAY!" 

So that evening the students were all invited over to my cottage where we watched "Rogue One" and snacked on goodies like "Chewie Chip Cookies", "Yoda Soda", "Ham Solo" (little sliced ham rolls), "Leia hair buns", etc.  It was a great time and just about everyone joined in.  My wife was right, we are a bunch of nerds!  And happily so.