Today was the first day of the ‘Phaeosaccion Project’. Today was also a balmy 30 degrees F without factoring in the 15mph wind chill factor. Thankfully there was a break in the snow til tomorrow. Winter fieldwork!? Whose idea was this anyway? Oh, that’s right, mine… oops!
So what is this ‘Phaeosaccion Project’ and why are we doing it? Phaeosaccion is a multicellular golden alga that lives attached to the seagrass, Zostera marina (you can find an image on Algae Base). Most golden algae are freshwater, single-celled creatures so Phaeosaccion is pretty complex compared to its relatives. Nahant (the island the MSC is located on) is Phaeosaccion’s type-locality, meaning it was first described right here in our own backyard!
The thing is it only appears for about one month every year in late winter – hence the need to do fieldwork this time of year. The fact that it is apparent only for a short time raises so many questions. Like why this particular time of year? Is it capitalizing on nutrients? Avoiding competitors or herbivores? Where does it “go” the rest of the year? While all these questions are interesting we just don’t have enough basic information about Phaeosaccion to address them. Other than a few lab-based studies by a few Canadian biologists in the 1970’s that show Phaeosaccion likes cold water and short days, we really don’t know much about it. So that’s where we come in with the Phaeosaccion Project. For the next few months we’ll be making observations on its abundance, growth, and reproduction along with a few environmental variables to get a basic understanding of its population ecology. We didn’t see any Phaeosaccion today but there were lots of pretty diatoms, like this stalked form (not the best picture – I am still getting a used to working with the microscope + camera):
The phycologist (=algal biologist or a person that loves seaweeds way too much) in me is super stoked to do a project like this. But I am just as stoked to be doing this project with my Bracken Lab family. All of us are working on this project together as a team. Although we often do help each other out with our separate projects (see the Bracken Lab webpage for details) we don’t normally have a group project we equally contribute to. We each have our own set of strengths as scientists and I think that will make this project both fun and successful.
So from now til the end of April (rain, shine, or snow!) we’ll be out in the seagrass bed hunting down that little golden alga. Thank goodness there’s a stash of hot chocolate back at the lab!