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Students studying seagrass decomposition at Marine Lab

By Staff | Jul 22, 2020

SCCF Student Jivan Khakee, who is working with student Willow Vince on the experiment.

The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation Marine Lab is hosting two students this summer who are gaining field and lab research experience as they study how seagrass responds to low oxygen conditions in an experiment.

Jivan Khakee is a junior at the University of California Santa Barbara. He is carrying out the research in the field and lab on Sanibel after a 14-day self-quarantine. Willow Vince is participating virtually from New York through weekly video conferences. She is helping to design the project through the review and study of existing research. Vince has written an annotated bibliography and is keeping all files and notes together in a shared drive in the cloud.

Led by the lab’s scientists to design and carry out a research project, the students are working together on a project to study seagrass decomposition rates under low and high oxygen conditions.

“Low oxygen conditions in estuaries and coastal areas can lead to fish kills and loss of habitat,” SCCF Marine Lab Director Dr. Eric Milbrandt said. “Low oxygen conditions can occur because of an algae bloom or stratification of the water column.”

The warm water temperatures typical in the summer further reduce the carrying capacity for oxygen in water.

SCCF Mesh bag with seagrass.

“Low dissolved oxygen events have been increasing in coastal areas and estuaries worldwide and the effects of this on ecosystems are not well understood,” Milbrandt said. “The goal of this project is to better understand the energy transfer from seagrass shoots to the food web by measuring the decomposition rates of seagrass in low and high oxygen conditions.”

For the experiment, mesh bags were sewn together with fishing line and a shoot of seagrass weighing 10-14 grams was placed in each bag. The three treatments are low oxygen conditions, high oxygen conditions and a lab control.

The experiment will run for eight weeks and each week, three decomposition bags will be randomly removed from each treatment and the seagrass weighed, dried and re-weighed. The hypothesis is that low oxygen conditions decrease the decomposition rate and therefore slow the transfer of energy from seagrass to the food web.

The experiment began on July 15 when the mesh bags were deployed in the field. At the end of the summer, the research will be summarized into a short 15-minute talk that the students can share with their peers when they return to classes. The SCCF will also share the results later this summer.

SCCF Weighing dried seagrass.