Damn, That’s Some Big Kelp!

I’m not sure what it is this year, but the kelp we’re seeing in the Southern Gulf of Maine is just fracking huge. Last year, yeah, there were kelpy areas, and there were kelps that were ~1-1.5 meters long, which, you know, impressive. But this year…

It started when Team Dive (this summer, we have Team Marsh – #marshlife – and Team Dive going on) hit up the outer Boston Harbor Islands. We hadn’t been out much since winter. They found vasty fields of Laminaria digitata and Saccharina latissima (well, with their super-long stipes, they looked like S. longicruris, but it looks like they are now the same species – e.g., Cho et al. 2000 and others). How big? Twice the size of a grad student!


But this was at the mouth of Boston Harbor. Maybe a fluke, or eutrophication?

As we kept working up in Salem Sound, though, the kelp seemed…well…big! But, eh, still urban-ish, still maybe an urban thing… (although it was *not* so big last summer).

If anywhere should be free of the urban influence, it should be Appledore Island in the Isles of Shoals. It’s a few miles offshore, and has lots of microenvironments. And yet, everywhere we look – big-arse kelp! Super dense kelp area where last year an intern almost lost her mind counting kelp stipes? Still mind-exploding. Except now you have to count stipes by feel while your face gets wrapped up in the giant lasagna-blades of Saccharina. And it’s just as big.

OK, I’m 6’2″. And a half. (~1.88m). Here’s me, with my fins just barely touching the seafloor.

It’s everywhere! Even in the wave-protected low-kelp density Heterosiphonia sites, while we do find lots of smaller kelps, the monsters still abound. See how it compares to the size of Team Dive.


This isn’t to say it’s *all* that huge. A size distribution from the site that piece came from for reference:


But, still, what is up with this? Big kelps coupled with very cold water temperatures of course has my California trained brain thinking more time with high nutrients, but I don’t know whether that relationship is as strong here in the southern Gulf of Maine. It’s making me very excited to see the oceanographic work that comes out in the next year or so to see just what forces are driving all of this!

And even more curious to know what’s going to happen next year, as we’re seeing massive numbers of tiny urchin recruits (and a lot of sea star recruits) often folded up in the eroding tips of many of these big honkers. Or on Desmerestia, like ornaments on a Christmas tree (240 in a square meter plot yesterday!).

Cho, G. Y., H. S. Yoon, S. M. Boo, and C. Yarish. 2000. Atlantic kelp species Laminara longicruris and L. saccharina (Laminariales) are conspecific. Journal of Phycology 36:12–13.

The Launch of the R/V Botryllid

Woohoo! It’s another amazing research season out here at the Shoals Marine Lab. We’re in the midst of our push to sample SML, Salem Sound, and the Boston Harbor Islands. The weather is glorious, and the water is…ok, not warm. 47F this year. Last summer at this time it was a good 5 degrees F warmer. But, either way, here we go on our summer Shoals sampling adventure!


Marshall the generalists! Generalize the marshallists!

While working more on the bacterial network stuff, Jen and I realized I was wrong. Yep, I was wrong on the internet. Namely, in my post on bacterial networks, I got the answer wrong on the abundance of OTUs with different degrees of specialization. I had a rowSum after inverting a matrix instead of before, producing wonky vertex sizes. Jen cleverly discovered it when totaling up some of the data by hand, and after alerting me to the issue I produced the following plot which doesn’t agree with the network at all:

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 1.29.24 PM

So, I went back in, found the error, and now I give you the corrected network. Still very interesting – and it really shows that in the marsh, generalist bacteria dominate numerically, although they are relatively rare with far more specialists.

Screen Shot 2013-07-02 at 1.23.17 PM

Updating the github soon…

Beautiful Bacterial Networks in the Marsh

“So,” I’m sure you aren’t wondering, how did that creating ‘ecospecies’ from bacterial sequences based on sequence similarity, co-occurrence, and network theory work out for you?”

Quite well, thanks for asking! Heck, have a git repository, why dontcha!

Jen is furiously writing the manuscript, but, the technique indeed seems to indicate that 12% sequence similarity was the optimal number.

Once we got that down, and started plotting the network with individual Operational Taxonomic Units (OTU) each connected to one or more of the 8 plots they were found in, we started seeing some neat things. More more than that, they were just pretty pictures! I mean, come on, these plots are always cool.

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 4.18.40 PM

First, you can see that there is indeed some separation of species by plot and treatment (# is plot, letter is treatment). We got really excited about this, and so dug deeper to produce…

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 4.19.49 PM

Yes. Not you can see that most OTUs are specialists. True generalists are exceedingly rare.

We had one other piece of information up our sleeve, though. Abundance. We have abundances of OTUs. Playing around with edge widths (abundance in plot) didn’t produce anything striking. But then we looked at total abundance of an OTU across the whole marsh, and resized OTU nodes accordingly. I think this is exceedingly beautiful. And shows some striking patterns with respect to treatment and who is most abundant.

Screen Shot 2013-06-26 at 4.19.10 PM

Jen knows this experiment backwards and forwards, so is writing a much more nuanced discussion of what this means, and analyzing the data in more detail. But it’s pretty awesome. And pretty beautiful.

Just another way of viewing the wonder of nature.

p.s. I am learning to love RColorBrewer in a serious way

Walkin’ in an Invasive Wonderland

Last day of dives before heading back. We hit two sites on either side of the northern head of Appledore. It’s a remarkable break, as on one side you have fairly decent expsore to waves from the West. On the other, things are fairly protected. So, there’s a strong physical gradient. And, though perhaps just a few hundred meters apart, the two sites could not be more different. At the first site, the photos didn’t come out terribly well, but this gives you a general sense –

It was Halosiphon as far as the eye could see - like diving in a bed of furry ropes.  Or very thin muppet arms.  No, wait, that's just odd... although it would fit nicely in  Dark Crystal or Labyrinth.

It was Halosiphon as far as the eye could see – like diving in a bed of furry ropes. Or very thin muppet arms. No, wait, that’s just odd… although it would fit nicely in Dark Crystal or Labyrinth.

Lots of adorable cunner swimming about, but, man, churned up. A little Heterosiphonia about, but, not too bad.

Then we rounded the corner. And saw…


It’s like somebody defauntated the rumpus room and decided to give the entire subtidal a nice shag carpet. I mean, sure, it hides the stains, but…

More than that, the site was quite bouldery. But what invertebrates were on the boulders?


Oh, look! It’s my old friend Didemnum vexillum from the Left Coast. It’s here, in force. I’ve seen spots of it all week, but, nothing like the giant area covering colonies of the Bodega Harbor jetty or the docks. And yet, here it is. Sure, there’s some Desmerestia thrown in for good measure, but, more or less, it’s all invasives, all the time down here.

What is going on? How long will this state last?

Undersea Carpets?

The second site of the day was a surprise. 10 years ago, Smith’s Cove was a mixed mussel bed and urchin barren. Previous, it has been a Codium meadow. Now… It’s just a giant red algal carpet. Wall to wall. Thick, easily fragmenting, ubiquitous, invasive red Heterosiphonia japonica. Also, big tufts of Ulva. And some other bushy filamentous algae scattered about, along with a few crabs.


What a weird landscape. What is that red carpet doing? Smothering things? Creating habitat for mobile invertebrates? Providing food, or is it not that edible? The reef was like this as far as we swam and looked around – hundreds of square meters. Weird.

Yeah, that's 100% cover.

Yeah, that’s 100% cover.

Kelp on a Ledge!

Day 2 of dives with Sarah out at SML. Today we hit two sites that were quite different – both from each other and from Norwegian Cove the other day. The Ledges are in the channel between Appledore and Smuttynose, so, they get good flow running through. This was key, as it blew sediments from the previous day’s storm out fairly quickly. And viz was really quite nice. While it used to be a barren (at least on one side) 10 years ago, it appears that it’s now a mix of kelps and Desmarestia with some Chondrus, filamentous reds, and others thrown in for good measure.

A nice mixed algal assemblage.  And a mix of kelp ages and sizes.

A nice mixed algal assemblage. And a mix of kelp ages and sizes.

Indeed, some parts were super kelpy, although, not dominated by large adults. The mix of sizes was fairly astounding, even where thing were at high densities.

Note all of the little guys hanging about.  I mean, it is still early June, so, it may be recovery.  But how cute are these little ruffled kelpies!

Note all of the little guys hanging about. I mean, it is still early June, so, it may be recovery. But how cute are these little ruffled kelpies!

Note all of the holes you see, though. The site was also packed with little snails like Lacuna vincta that appeared to be doing quite a job on the kelps.


What will this mean for later in the summer? Particularly with Heterosiphonia around in patches.


All in all, a nice site to sample. More soon on Smith’s Cove. Which was…

Day 1: Back in the field!

Well, today was it. After a 2 year hiatus behind my computer screen, my skin now softer and more delicate from its soothing rays, I hopped back in the water FOR SCIENCE! Not only that, but it was my return to dry suit diving. Oh, dry suit diving. I really didn’t miss you and your weird buoyancy tricks (note to self, get ankle weights, as old ones have desintegrated).

It was a great day, despite feeling kinda like the first day back at school. Ted (lab manager) and I came out to SML to work with a fantastic undergrad I’m advising for the summer, as well as do some site scouting of our own. The weather report said that things would turn awful in the afternoon/early evening (and was right), so, a morning dive on the backside of Appledore was just the thing.

This truck is loaded WITH SCIENCE!

This truck is loaded WITH SCIENCE!

Ted ready to go

Ted ready to go

We were there to help Sarah census the invasive Heterosiphonia japonica to look at its distribution with respect to a depth and exposure gradient (see also this kick butt paper by Christine Newton et al.). And the backside of Appledore is quite exposed. The transects we were sampling are next to a spot in the intertidal that got wiped bare by this winter’s storms.

Photo by Ted of Sarah (L) and I about to plop down our first transect.

Photo by Ted of Sarah (L) and I about to plop down our first transect.

What intrigued me about the transects was two things. I remember this area being super-kelpy. Indeed, the wave exposure limited Codium back when that alga was the big bad (I’ve heard it’s quite rare here, and in a quick checkout at The Cribs, I only saw 3 individuals). But now…well, there are some kelps, but, mostly, it’s red and brown filamentous algae. A lot of Desmerestia viridis to be sure, but a lot of red and brown puffiness. That, and a lot more Chondrus. I mean, we were fairly shallow, but, still. Interesting.

Photo by Sarah of one of her transects

Photo by Sarah of one of her transects

Not a lot of Heterosiphonia, though. It’s going to be interesting to see how Sarah’s project turns out. Some sites have been heavy with it, some light.

I’m just glad to be back in, and seeing how the place has changed. Steneck’s Flips & Locks paper was an interesting update on how this system is doing. I’m going to be curious to browse around and try and take the big whole community perspective I honed at the SBC LTER and see what there is to see here.

A great photo by Sarah of a school I totally missed.

A great photo by Sarah of a school I totally missed.

Living a Dream: Back to SML

So, today, I’m going to catch a ferry out to the Shoals Marine Lab. I’m just going to be out for a day to meet with the undergrad intern I’m mentoring. I’ll be back later this summer to work with her and setup some permanent monitoring transects.

I have to be honest, this is one of those moments in my life where I am watching a dream come through. I went to SML in the summer of 1999 to take some classes. It changed everything for me. I cannot recount the number of paths that opened up due to that summer than I have run down, higgledy-piggledy. To return now as a mentor and researcher? To have the chance to really learn the secrets of the sea around the Isles of Shoals? To come back with new eyes after a decade of developing as a scientist? I’m having a hard time expressing my excitement and joy.

Rather than kvell any more about the place and my excitement, here’s a video from the participants of the Underwater Research Course at SML (which, also, totally formative to who I am as a scientist – thanks, Jim!) I think it conveys a lot of what I could say, but in images and video that’s much more telling.