Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Jump around

My office at WHOI is right on Water Street, so I have a front-row view of all the activity in the village. There's a ferry from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard that docks right across the street from my building. Every time the ferry takes off from the dock, it sounds its horn. One long blast, then three short blasts.

It sounds like the beginning of a rap song from the 90s, and my brain fills in the rest of the song. Oh boy.

On a more serious note, I legitimately love it at WHOI. I have several projects starting up that I'm very excited about. My main project, the one I proposed when I applied for my current position, concerns succession on subtidal substrata. Ok, let's break that down. Succession is the process by which organisms replace each other over time. "Subtidal" refers to any habitat permanently covered by water - that includes everything from the underside of a boat to the deep sea. For this project, I'm focusing on shallow subtidal habitats, or in other words, things that grow on docks.

An encrusting community on the underside of
a buoy in Eel Pond, just next to my lab.
How many species do you see?
So if you drop a solid object - a rock, a bottle, your boat - in the water, it's first going to get covered by barnacles. After a while, though, there will be other animals present. Soft sponges and squishy ascidians, delicate hydroids and crunchy bryozoans. There's some evidence that the barnacles help those other guys settle on top of them (essentially, the barnacles ensure their own demise), and I want to figure out why. Is it because of bacteria living on the barnacles? Is it because the barnacles change the way the water flows over them? Are the barnacles giving off a chemical signal?

My first step toward this new project is scoping out the subtidal habitats around WHOI. I've been on the prowl for publically-accessible docks where I can lay on my belly, lean my head over the side, and collect the organisms I need. I actually spent a good part of this afternoon walking around town and laying on any dock I could access. I probably looked like a crazy person, but hey, that's being a scientist, right?

I find encrusting communities fascinating. These species live next to, around, on top of, and entangled with each other. There is so much biodiversity in just one handful! I'm very excited to get my project started.

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