Sunday, May 2, 2010

The sun sets on algae!

After two days of algae last week, we jumped into a full, and final week of algae after a very relaxing weekend. Students were frantically working to complete their species identifications on time, and we were beginning to think of the impending final that lay before us at the end of the week. Lecture and lab carried on as usually, but this week was a little different because we went on another field trip, displayed and discussed projects on algal groups, and finally had our finals on Friday to finish the section that is... Algae.
On Friday of last week, after our lecture on algal systematic, we met at the lab at 2pm for our trip to seal rock. Once each seaweed team had equipped themselves with scrappers, clipboards, Zip-lock bags and buckets of various sorts, we divided into two groups, one for each van, and were off. Twenty minutes later we had passed the local fudge shops and were wondering just what went into an “Evil Brownie”, when we arrived at our destination. We got out of the vans and made our way to the viewpoint where our instructor, Annette, pointed out the various features of the landscape. As we made our way down the slope, we noticed the spectacular waves crashing against the rocks in the distance. This caused many of our group to stop and take pictures.

Students gather as Annette describes the various species at different elevations.

While there, we noted many varieties of seaweed from the three phyla. Red, or Rhodophyta, was most prominent as we neared the tide pools. There we saw Mazzaella splendens, M. parksii, multiple coralline species, Mastocarpus species, as well as a variety of kelps and green algae.

Various Algae in a large tide pool at Seal Rock

Then on Wednesday morning we embarked on our second field trip to Boiler Bay. It was a dark and stormy morning when we met Annette at the lab at 6am for our trip to Boiler Bay. At this point in the section we had collected many samples already, so our mission this time around was to collect species we did not have or to collect specimens to replace the ones dying in our lab. The drive up was interesting. As we went farther north, we encountered heavy rain mixed with hail and began questioning the sanity of our instructor when, all of a sudden, the weather cleared up. We came to the public view point where Annette and our TA, Orissa, got out to talk strategy. We soon learned two things: 1) one of the benches was no longer available due to increased sea levels, and 2) we had not quite arrived at low tide as expected, so we couldn’t go as far out as planned.

Once down there, we split up into our groups and searched for new specimens. Every once in a while, Annette would summon us with her whistle to look at an interesting specimen or feature we couldn’t see in lab. It was nice to see our knowledge of invertebrates was still with us, as many of our number either sought out or happened across many different species. After a few hours it soon started to rain (harder), so it was time then to leave. When we got back to the lab, it was discovered that a Pacific Rock Crab, Cancer antennarius, had hitch-hiked its way back with us in Caleb’s sweatshirt pocket.

Wednesday afternoon finally rolled around and we all needed to present our projects that night at 7:00 pm, the only problem was that none of us were done! The good news is that after a brief lecture in the morning Annette let us have the rest of the day to prepare. The groups consisted of 2-3 students, and each group was responsible for a lab-like presentation of a specific group of algae. The groups were dominated by red algae, which seems to be the most common in these here parts, and the groups were as follows; green algae, small brown algae, coralline red algae, filamentous red algae, finely branched red axes, coarsely branched red axes, coarsely branched red blades, thin red blades, and finally the thick red blades... phew, that's a mouth full of algae!
Melissa, Shay, and Em showing off their Filamentous Reds

Once each group was organized and ready for a lot of research, they set about creating notecards for the species of algae that belonged to their group. The notecards were used in lab, along with fresh specimens from our previous field trips, to help explain to the other students the general information on those species, what to look for in the field and lab when identifying them, and of course similar taxa to look out for. Along with the thoroughly descriptive notecards, each group was also in charge of keying out two tricky taxa in their group that are both similar in looks and morphology, and explaining the minute differences between the two. Before 7:00pm the groups set up their stations to look like a normal lab, complete with pictures, descriptions, specimens, dissecting scopes, and even cross sections of the species in their group (we got awesome pictures seen below), and when everything was finally ready to go at 7:00, the fun filled algae fest began! Annette and Orissa provided the snacks and the students provided the entertainment, and between the excellent descriptions and first hand experience, all the students went away with a lot more than they came in with. The night provided a great experience for us all to get intimately acquainted with the diversity of of algal species along the Oregon Coast, and we all felt a little more prepared for the lab final that was scheduled for Friday afternoon.
Cross section of Acrosiphonia coalita hooks at 40x magnification.

By far, week 5 was the most demanding and stressful week yet...Half the class came down with a cold, sleep was a rarity (and commonly accompanied by nightmares of algal ID sheets), and to top it off, the weather took a slight turn for the worst. However, Annette's energy, enthusiasm, and poetry helped us through the gloomy week. Of course, getting a few hours of extra sleep due to a cancelled field trip always helps too. Caleb found a small pacific rock crab that hitchhiked back to the lab in his coat pocket, we became masters of keying out algae, learned about the various life cycles, and even got an ecology lecture on how summer neap tides and limpet grazing effect algal zonation.

(Note: not a Rock Crab, this is a very red Kelp Crab)

It was a lecture on a field study that Annette herself did and it was very interesting as it showed the natural history of the area by showing us how different climates can have differing affects on the local diversity. Because the summer tides are often so calm, even the high tides don't splash essential water to the higher growing algae, and in short, they die, which sends the limpets to lower zones to find food. Yes, it was an action-packed week of algae to say the least. And congratulations to Orissa Moulton on completing her masters program, and good luck with whatever the future may hold!! We had a great time with you as a T.A., and we know everyone here at HMSC will miss you greatly.

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