Building artificial seagrass units

Senior Ja’Kaila Jefferson is getting to work early on her senior thesis examining the impacts of habitat density on pipefish, Syngnathus scovelli, copepod feeding preference.

The Indian River Lagoon (IRL) has faced declining seagrass density and seagrass loss due to water quality issues and algal blooms. Dr. Krejci’s previous research determined a switch in pipefish prey items in field samples from the IRL between 100% and 50% density seahorses beds, and it was unclear if the switch was due to changes in prey abundance or pipefish preference. This study will help isolate how habitat density influences feeding.

The artificial seagrass units (ASU) are modeled after shoal grass, Halodule wrightii, and are made of 0.2 mm x 15 cm green ribbon Ja’Kaila is constructing three densities of seagrass shoots based off of field densities from St. Johns River Water Management District seagrass surveys (around 3,000 shoots per m2 for 100% density). She’ll also be examining 50%, 25% and 0% seagrass coverage.

The first step will be running pilot studies of the ASU and copepods without pipefish to ensure 100% recovery of copepods is possible. Pipefish will be field collected once we receive our FWC permit in Spring semester to begin the feeding trials.

Way to go Ja’Kaila using your time over winter break! We have no doubt she will have a fantastic senior thesis to present in April.

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