Barnacles, mussels, and tunicates (sea squirts), and other fouling organisms are a nuisance to boaters, covering hulls and perhaps being the reason for the phrase “cuss like a sailor”; however, they provide three dimensional structures for small fishes and invertebrates to hide within, are a great food source (barnacles are like cheese-burgers for a hungry Sheepshead), and many of them also filter the water we swim in. Despite their importance both from an economic and ecological stand point, these spineless critters are often overlooked.
We currently know very little about the diversity of fouling organisms found within Northeast Florida and I want to change that. My project takes place within the 73,000 acres of submerged lands of the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, which surrounds the city of St. Augustine, FL, and has three main focuses:
Still not convinced that barnacles and the like are important? Well here are just a few reasons why you should care:
Information on where these animals occur (both native and invasive) can be used to manage commercially important species, monitor harmful species, and help people understand how they can help keep our waters healthy.
The goal of $2,500 is to purchase a microscope camera for taking high quality photographs of specimens we collect, which is an essential part of this project; these photographs will be used as vouchers for species we collect, and will be sent to an expert taxonomist when we are unable to identify specimens ourselves. The handheld digital camera that we are currently using is not capable of taking the high resolution images needed to capture small details necessary for the identification of some species. The camera, purchased with your support, will also be used by biologists at the reserve that are studying native bees, fishes, and mosquitoes.
Any donations over the goal of $2,500 will go towards purchasing books on marine invertebrate identification and for travel to conferences where we will report on our findings.
This project will be the first study of the diversity of fouling organisms in northeast Florida. The number of potential discoveries is endless: we may detect range expansions in some species (we have already found one species of snail that had never been reported in the continental US), be the first to report the presence of a new invasive species, and may even discover some new species! The information from this study will also show what conditions many of these animals can tolerate, which can be useful for predicting where else they may be found.
Most people that have visited a beach in Florida have seen a dolphin or turtle nests marked on the beach; however, most people have probably not examined a colony of sea squirt that uses fecal pellets as bricks or watched an oyster leech prey on an unsuspecting barnacle. To me, these spineless critters are some of the most interesting, although often the grossest, animals out there.
I, Wendy Eash-Loucks, am a proud supporter of spineless animals everywhere and am a biologist at the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve (GTMNERR) where I specialize in studying all the little critters that most people overlook.
I completed my Master’s in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology in 2010 at the University of Kansas where I studied deep sea anemone taxonomy and described four new species of anemone (yes I know, Marine Biology in Kansas makes no sense but it does work). I have been working at the Reserve since January of 2011 where I have initiated the fouling community study and additionally study nekton, invasive crabs, and benthic invertebrates.
The Friends of the GTMNERR website provides information about the Reserve, research being conducted, and how you can visit.
Thank you everyone who has donated to the project so far. I am optimistic that we will reach our goal of $2,500, but there are only six days left so tell a friend!
I will be collecting my September settlement plates on Monday October 1st and am looking forward to sharing any exciting findings with everyone. Another update will come soon.
I just completed the identification of the fouling organisms that settled on my experimental plates for the month of August.
The final species count for seven sites totaled a whopping 43 species with the highest diversity found near the Matanzas Inlet, a total of 22 species at one site!
This month also marked the collection of my first coral to settle on the plates, a small purple octocoral (likely the colorful sea whip, Leptogorgia virgulata).