A huge part of the research that goes on in the Smith lab involves algae and seaweed – known as limu here in Hawai’i. The study of algae and seaweed is called phycology, and the scientists who study it are phycologists. Phycology is an essential field of study in the world of coral reef ecology, as we must understand the role and behavior of the algae that inhabits coral reef ecosystems as much as we understand that of the invertebrates (including corals) and the fishes.
Emily and I are currently carrying out an experiment with a few different types of limu – a leafy, green species that looks like lettuce (Ulva) and a spiky, branched species (Acanthophora spicifera). For this experiment we collected as much limu as we could fit into a cooler from a site with very high nutrient input. We then transported the limu to a friend’s house where we will be carrying out our experiments. Everyday we transport about 80 gallons of seawater from a site with very low nutrient input to our experimental site. Half of our experimental tanks are fertilized and the other half are not. Once we have enriched the limu, we will place them out in the ocean to see if the herbivores show a preference for limu with high or low nutrients.
The purpose of this experiment is to discover if fish prefer limu that is high in nutrients. If they do, then this relationship could help to mitigate the increase in algal cover due to nutrient input from terrestrial runoff and pollution.
I haven’t had much time to blog lately, since I’ve been too busy lugging 5-gallon jugs of water around. I move about 40 gallons of sea water a day from the ocean to the car, and from the car into the tanks. It’s hard work, but it’s fulfilling to see progress and to be able to walk away at the end of the day knowing I’ve accomplished something. It’s also a great workout!
I have so many things to post about, but they may have to wait a little while. Stay tuned for stories about coral spawning, night dives, and more research adventures!