Sunday, May 18, 2014

Week 7: Community Ecology (week 1)

This week was our first week of Community Ecology, taught by a new professor, Dr. Bruce Menge! Community Ecology is (nearly) a 2-week class. The first week involved 4 field trips, about 5 lectures, and 4 guest lectures from graduate students in Bruce's lab. These four field trips made this week a very tiring week; we had to wake up before 6 am every day to catch the early low tide! We traveled to various sites along the coast spanning from Fogarty creek (in the north) to Tokatee Kloochman (in the south). Even though we were extremely tired by the end of the week, we still had a lot of fun learning about community ecology and collecting valuable data. We had to struggle though early mornings, but the week was still not overwhelming because we had plenty of free time to enjoy the beautiful warm weather in Newport (reaching record highs in temperature and being sunny ALL week!!).

Recreational kite flying with Octie the 
Octopus at Nye Beach

Monday was our one day this week without a field trip. We had lectures covering the topic of Structure and Biodiversity of Marine Community and a guest lecture from our very own TA Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, on Environmental stress and the foraging ecology of whelks.

Tuesday was our first field trip! The entire class went to Boiler Bay, a favorite site of BI 450, to collect data on percent cover of algae and invertebrates, tide pool height, whelk diet, tide pool diversity, and more! For half the class this day was spent quantifying the percentages of plants and animals living in the rock shores (using quadrats), while the other half of the class was split into pairs to measure the other variables. Though the weather at Boiler  Bay was sunny and warm, we could not collect data from the wave-exposed high intertidal due to the tides, so we had to complete the quadrat data for this site on Thursday.

     A quadrat at Boiler Bay, used to measure 
    the percent cover of invertebrates and algae

This day we visited Strawberry Hill, another favorite site of the BI 450 class, to collect data from the same categories as Boiler Bay. Compared to Boiler Bay, we saw a lot more Pisaster ochraceus, the common sea star. We even saw one sea star that had two arms missing. Bruce thought the cause might have been predation.
Pisaster ochraceus with two missing arms found
at Strawberry Hill in the low, exposed zone

Some of our students had the pleasure of discovering a new animal that they had not encountered before. Though they originally thought that this specimen might be an alga, they learned that it was actually a hydroid, of the genus Aglaophenia. This genus of hydroid is often found associated with small, jumping amphipods.

Above: Aglaophenia sp.

On Thursday, our class split up into two groups (for the first time!), half going to Boiler Bay and the other to Strawberry Hill to collect data on biodiversity of algae and invertebrates. Some students were responsible for collecting information on biodiversity of algae and others of invertebrates. The students spent 20 minutes at each zone (low, middle, high) in the protected and exposed areas of each site. After the field trip, we reconvened for a lecture on Modification of Biotic Effects on Community Structure. In the evening, we listened to another guest lecture from a returning graduate student, Allie Barner, about her research on canopy and understory algae in the rocky intertidal.

Friday we all broke up into pairs. In pairs, we were divided into various sites along the coast, from Fogarty Creek to Yaquina Head to Tokatee Kloochman, to sample hundreds of Pisaster orchaceus for the upcoming wasting disease. As some of our students broke into pairs, they had to endure treacherous conditions, some even climbing cliffs that were not accessible to the general public. 

Two students, Rachel Palmer and Ashtyn Isaak, about to scale cliffs in the search for scientific data. Who says that scientists can't be rebels?

This wasting disease is often seen as lesions on the body, missing arms complete with lesions, twisting, and body deflation. 
 Two Pisaster orchaceus observed with various stages of wasting disease. On the left, the sea star is heavily deflated, and on the right, the sea star has a white lesion and a missing arm.

Previous data collections by our professor, Dr. Bruce Menge, and his lab determined that the wasting disease was present on the Oregon coast at a prevalence of about 1%. Our class data has not yet been finalized and/or analyzed, but at this point we have determined that the prevalence of the disease is significantly higher than what the Menge lab had originally observed. Even though Friday's field trips revealed some alarming and dismal information, the class got to have a lot of fun surveying new sites without direct supervision. Some of the class even got to visit the site of Fogarty Creek, where we observed multiple seals, some of which were dead on the rocks.

   Above: Dead seals observed at Fogarty Creek

Overall this week was very enlightening to us on how species interact on a community level. This was easily seen as we analyzed the data from this week. The lectures presented by Dr. Menge have enhanced the knowledge we collected in the field and explained phenomena that we have observed as well as provided us with examples that we could not observe in the field. We all look forward to the second week of Community Ecology with Dr. Bruce Menge and Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, to learn more in-depth about Community Ecology as we create figures from the data we collected. Many students who do not already have an idea of what they might do for their formal research projects (in the last two weeks of the course) have been brainstorming with the help of this section, and are likely to form a mature research project idea in the next week! We look forward to the intellectual journey ahead of us.

Blog this week by: Celeste Moen (left) and Mackenzie Mason (right)
                               sealifies taken Friday at Fogarty creek

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