Eelgrass (and Wasting Disease) in Charleston!
Whew, this is my first post in a long while. It's coming up on a year since I started here at OIMB (yikes, time is zipping by), and I'm getting a stronger idea of where I'd like to take my dissertation work.
I didn't think this is what I'd do, but lo and behold, I'm going to working in the eelgrass wasting disease (EWD) system. I'll be doing something different from what I did in the Harvell Lab (with which I'll be collaborating nonetheless!) and be focusing on the food web consequences of the disease. You can read more about these directions in my research section.
Above: a bad pic of an eelgrass bed under the docks of the Charleston Marina.
The first step, though, is to get a better grasp on the local eelgrass ecosystems around OIMB. I'm very lucky to have the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR) right up the road from OIMB. As the first unit in the National Estuarine Research Reserve system, which includes Padilla Bay in WA and the newly established Heʻeia NERR in Hawaiʻi, SSNERR has a historical backing of research and conservation. This makes it an ideal location to study eelgrass ecosystems and possibly EWD. I had the great pleasure of meeting with researchers at the SSNERR yesterday.
The worrying thing is that SSNERR has experience rather drastic eelgrass declines over the lat few years, especially between 2016 and 2017. You can see this here in their SeagrassNet data:
An interactive plot of the data can be found on the SeagrassNet's site for SSNERR. This particular site is Valino Island, which I hope to visit in a few weeks.
The cause of this decline is puzzling, and the researchers at South Slough are working to figure it out. Any number of factors could contribute to the loss of eelgrass. EWD has been suggested as a possible cause, but of course that requires further investigation. I haven't seen the beds yet so I have no idea, either.
What I do know, though, is that EWD is present in the area. It'll take further observation to see if the disease is harming the beds, but lesions on washed up blades and growth of (probable) Labyrinthula zosterae (Lz) from lesions on plates clearly confirm EWD (see below). This is concerning in the light of the eelgrass declines but exciting in terms of my research (it's a weird feeling, I know).
Above: a EWD lesion on washed up eelgrass at the Charleston Marina.
Above: Probable Lz growing on a plate. This was isolated from a disease lesion from the Charleston Marina.
Hopefully I'll see the beds and recon my sites soon! I'm excited to get moving on my research and will hopefully learn lots of cool stuff!