New microscope camera for KML

Thanks to proceeds from the sale of KML t-shirts, hats, and Tervis tumblers, we now have a new microscope camera! Moticam X2 with wifi capabilities. Here are some photographs taken recently of our purple sea plume babies (Antillegoria bipinnata) - 39 days old


Purple sea plume spawning at KML

Day 1:  New coral planulae emerge on the mother sea plume colony (November 23, 2016)

Dr. Mary Alice Coffroth (SUNY Buffalo) and her team from the BURR Lab (Buffalo Undersea Reef Research) captured the purple sea plume (Antillegorgia bipinnata) spawning event at KML. These corals spawned 1 week before the November new in  moon KML's new seawater well system.
Day 10: Planulae settling on tiles, mouth parts developing (photo by DJ Valent)

Day 15: New recruits! Planulae metamorphosed and settled on pre-conditioned ceramic tiles, polyp tentacles beginning to develop. Baby corals were inoculated with photosynthetic algae (Symbiodinium) harvested from the mother colony.
Day 21: Tentacles extended. These are octocorals (soft coral) so they have 8 tentacles on each polyp which capture small particles (zooplankton) from the water. Purple calcareous spicules (sclerites) are beginning to form in the base of the polyp, protecting the baby coral from predation.

Day 21: Brownish tinge in tentacles 6 days after inoculation, is evidence of the uptake of Symbiodinium which photosynthetically provides nutrients to the growing coral.

Day 23: More purple sclerites and brown algal symbionts visible

Day 31 


Elkhorn Coral Spawning at Turtle Rocks

Spawning! Gamete bundles rise from an Elkhorn Coral colony - 10:50pm 3 nites after full moon (photo K Neeley)
 KML staff divers had the opportunity to assist FWC/FWRI coral biologists with the Acropora spawning project at Turtle Rocks (Upper Keys). Scientists from 7 agencies combined forces to monitor various sites in the Upper Keys to witness the annual event and collect samples.

Divers head to the reef to monitor for spawning
Diver Bill Ferrell rigging a marker buoy at sunset
Elkhorn Coral colonies (Acopora palmata)
Staghorn Coral (Acropora cervicornis) provides a sheltered bed for a juvenile parrotfish (photo C Lewis)
Moonjellies dancing in the moon beams

Scientists measure oxygen consumption in coral sands

Diver checking on "tripod" of eddy correlation instruments at their monitoring site 
 Dr. Markus Huettel, from Florida State University, returned to KML in August 2013 with his colleague, Dr. Peter Berg from the University of Virginia and a team of divers to once again carefully deploy an array of equipment on the ocean floor. They are investigating the role of light, currents and dissolved organic matter on oxygen consumption of coral sands and carbonate mud. (permit: FKNMS-2012-137)

Despite several days of rough seas, the team returned to their site each day over a 10-day period to download data and re-deploy equipment.


Shark research continues at KML

Capturing Bonnethead and juvenile Lemon and Nurse sharks temporarily held in the KML Mesocosym for transport
Christine Bedore, Duke University (Durham, NC), used KML as home port while collecting lemon sharks for her PhD research. She is studying "Shark predation on cryptic prey" & "Oxygen demands of sharks during swimming". Assisted by Jack Morris and her colleagues from Mote Marine Lab, they captured juvenile sharks and held them in the KML's 120,000-gal Mesocosym for later transport.


Adaptation to loacal environment in corals?

Are corals genetically adapted to different habitats, or are they able to change their physiology to match novel environmental conditions? Carly Kenkel, a PhD candidate from the University of Texas at Austin hopes to answer this question for her model coral species, the Mustard Hill Coral (Porites astreoides), in the Florida Keys. She came to KML to set-up a large reciprocal transplant experiment to test for local adaptation of P. astreoides to differing thermal environments in the Keys. Because she was only able to spend 5 days here, the KML staff scientists helped with her collections and field deployment of the experiment. KML divers collected 15 P. astreoides colonies from a near-shore and off-shore site.

Healthy P. asteroides colony next to color reference card

Carly then fragmented these colonies using a tile saw, and mounted them on cement pucks with cattle tag labels to keep track of all the individuals.

Finally, Carly weighed all the fragments so that she can monitor growth during her experiment.

KML divers returned all the mounted fragments to her field sites, and she’ll be back in the spring and again in the fall to see if her predictions are correct!


Spiny lobster denning behavior

What factors contribute to the denning behavior of Florida Bay's juvenile spiny lobster (Panularis argus) population? And how might shelter loss events, such as sponge die-offs, influence denning behavior and dispersal? What is the most effective way to conserve this important marine resource?
Katherine (Kat) Heldt, PhD candidate from Clemson University, has spent several months at KML, observing "social status" among lobsters and testing what mechanisms by which they choose shelters. Kat hopes to determine whether dominance status or familiarity can influence denning behavior and dispersal.

First, pairs of lobsters are housed in 15-gal replicate aquaria, plumbed to KML's seawater system. They are offered artificial shelter and observed at night for aggressive behavior under dim red lighting.

Next, the lobsters are transferred to KML's mesocosm ("The Shallows", KML's 122,000-gal flow-thru seawater pond) along with unfamiliar individuals (pairs housed in separate aquaria) equipped with artificial shelters. After several days of observing denning behavior and dispersal in the mesocosm, some of the shelter blocks are removed to mimic sudden habitat loss.

Finally, the tagged lobsters are released onto field sites (16 pre-selected 25m x 25m near-shore bay-side sites) for further observation.

Kat and her lab assistant, Frank, self-captain KML's 18' Parker, the R/V NariNari, to reach their sites.

BURR Team on hand for Coral Spawning Event in the Keys

Boulder Star Coral (Montastrea faveolata) setting gamete bundles prior to spawning (photo by P. Gillet)
Every August, several nights after the full moon, Boulder Corals along the Florida Keys reef tract synchronize their reproductive efforts in an amazing coral spawning event. Dr. Mary Alice Coffroth, professor at SUNY Buffalo, was on hand to capture the event for on-going projects exploring the many facets of coral-algal symbiosis.

An army of grad students, divers and snorkelers from Buffalo as well as volunteers from south Florida institutions, took to the water to arrange collection tents over promising colonies near Alligator Reef as dusk approached, then returned to the boat to wait. Teams of divers splashed again at 11:00pm to gather cupfuls of the coral spawn, handing them off to snorkelers who ferried them back to the boat. Weather was a bit rough but the team was fearless!

Returning to the dock at 2:00am, the army worked around the clock at KML's wet lab facility to carefully rear the developing coral larvae. Spawning was so successful at the Middle Keys site this year, that the BURR Team (Buffalo Undersea Reef Research) had plenty to share with fellow scientists in the Upper and Lower Keys.

The new coral recruits were allowed to settle on ceramic tiles in their special Kreisells at the wet lab and then placed back out on the reef to follow development. Dr. Coffroth's team will periodically return to KML to sample the new recruits on the tiles to asses the coral/algal symbiosis between near-shore and off-shore sites.

Check out the BURR blog for more on this project

The world of the Upside-down Jellyfish

Upside-down jellyfish, Cassiopea xamachana
Rachel Mellas, Masters candidate at SUNY Buffalo with Dr. Mary Alice Coffroth, spent 2 months at KML. She is studying the fitness effects and symbiont type in the upside-down jellyfish, Cassiopea xamachana.

Upside-down jellyfish right side-up!

In Cassiopea, establishment of the symbiosis occurs in the scyphistomae (polyp) stage of development where multiple strains of Symbiodinium can be acquired. Upon infection, the scyphistomae produce ephyra (young medusa) through a process termed strobilation. Once they reach the adult medusa form, they typically harbor one specific type of symbiont (Symbiodinium A1).

Cassiopea scyphistomae (polyp) stage

To understand the potential fitness advantages to the host of harboring different symbiont types, Rachel has set up laboratory experiments which look at the how different symbionts affect the growth rate, survivorship, and timing of strobilation of scyphistomae, and if strobilation occurs with only certain symbionts (A1). (photos by R Mellas)


Lionfish, Lionfish Everywhere!

KML staff recently participated in the Middle Keys Lionfish Derby, which was the first derby of REEF's 2nd Annual Lionfish Derby Series. The City of Layton was one the derby's major sponsors which was held at Fiesta Key Resort on Long Key.

Though the team was unable to improve upon last year's 2nd place finish, they had a great time and were able to catch 66 lionfish, which was just a few fish behind the 3rd place team that had 69.

To see the complete derby results follow this link:

Then the week following the derby, researchers Carmen Schloeder and Andrew Sellers from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) in Panama visited KML and were also in search of the invasive lionfish.

They completed 9 dives in 3 days off of Long Key and were able to find lionfish on every dive except for 1. On the dives they were looking at density of the fish to compare to reefs in Panama and Belize. They also collected fish to look at gut content, size classes, distribution, and parasitology. In total they were able to catch 44 lionfish on their dives during the visit.

In search of Marine Gastrotrichs

William D Hummon, Emeritus Professor of Biological Sciences (Ohio University Athens, OH) spent the month of February at KML in search of marine gastrotrichia. Gastrotichs are microscopic animals, covered with cilia and found "running around" between sand particles.
Dr. Hummon and his able assistants, wife Meg and daughters Jules and Cheryl, gathered samples from 2 dozen intertidal and subtidal sandy banks throughout the Keys, from Harry Harris State Park to the beaches of Key West.

His seach turned up 33 different species of gastrotrichs for this trip, 8 of which are probably new to the scientific community.

MURI team model and measure underwater spectral-polarized light field

The MURI team of researchers joined forces at KML in January to study the dynamic spectral-polarized light field with hopes to identify mechanisms of adaptive camouflage in the near-shore littoral zone. Each team came with their own array of highly-specialized instruments, gathering data at several locations both on the ocean side and bay side of Long Key.

Dr. James Sullivan (U. Rhode Island) deploying their equipment overboard using their davit

KML Divers positioning equipment underwater in preparation for data readings

Dr. Alex Gillerson's team (City College of NY) positioning "the Octopus" at the surface for sunlight readings

Dr. Heidi Dierssen's (U. of Connecticut) and Dr. Molly Cummings dive team (U. Texas) worked underwater with instruments to quantify the spectral-polarized light field and the biological response to these dynamic optical environments. The team has plans to return to KML for summertime data collection.

Hot Summer Nights on the Reef

M. faveolata colonies tented in anticipation of the annual mass coral spawning event

Once again, Dr. Mary Alice Coffroth, from the State University of New York at Buffalo, staged her coral spawning research out of KML. Coordinating an army of 30 AAUS divers and snorkelers from multiple institutions, researchers assembled out at Looe Key Reef for the anticipated Acropora palmatta (elkhorn) spawning after the August full moon (Aug 25-28). But no luck this year!

Divers placing mesh nets over coral heads prior to spawning

Meanwhile, another team of divers traveled each evening to Cheeca Rocks on KML's R/V Diodon to capture the Montastrea faveolata (mountainous star coral) spawning event Aug 27- Sept 1. Success! The spawn was brought back to KML's Wet Lab and reared in special chambers of circulating filtered seawater, until ready to settle on ceramic tiles.

First coral rearing Kreisel is up and running!

Coral rearing activities in KML's Wet Lab

The new coral recruits will be used in various experiments to study algal symbiont uptake and selectivity both in the field and at the University of Miami coral nursery.

Divers setting out tiles with newly-settled coral recruits
Spectacular sunset from Cheeca Rocks

The evolution and development of polyclad flatworms

The tiger flatworm, Maritigrella crozieri on the ascidian Ecteinascidia turbinata.

A team of researchers from University College London (Professor Max Telford, Dr Kate Rawlinson, Fraser Simpson), University of North Florida (Kevin Olsen) and Cambridge University (Dr Andrew Gillis) are staying at KML for a month. They are collecting embryos and hatchlings of the tiger flatworm Maritigrella crozieri. This beautiful worm is abundant in the Florida Keys, and is commonly found in association with its favorite food item – the mangrove ascidian Ecteinascidia turbinata.

Andrew examining Ecteinascidia turbinata on the mangrove roots.

Fieldwork involves the collection of sexually mature worms from clumps of Ecteinascidia by snorkeling and kayaking in mangrove creeks. These worms are then brought back to the lab, where their eggs and larval stages are preserved for future genetic analysis.

Kevin diligently cleaning an aquarium of Maritigrella crozieri in KML's Common Dry Lab.

This material will be used as part of a long-term study to better understand how different marine invertebrates develop from a single cell to an adult, often via a series of seemingly very different developmental stages.The team, pictured here enjoying cold drinks from the Midway Café after a hot morning in the mangroves of Tavernier Key. From left to right; Kevin Olsen, Fraser Simpson, Kate Rawlinson and Andrew Gillis.

The role of predation on survivorship of coral recruits

Mike Evans, Masters candidate at SUNY Buffalo with Dr. Howard Lasker, has been at KML since early May. He is studying the role of predation on coral recruit survivorship of the gorgonian coral, Briarium asbestinum, and the scleractinian coral, Porites asteroides.

While grazing rarely results in mortality of adult coral, predation on single polyp recruits would presumably kill those individuals, with the potential to impact the abundance of adult colonies.
To assess the effect of predation on recruit survivorship, newly-settled polyps of each species were placed at East Turtle Shoals in one of 5 treatments that excluded different combinations of known coral predators.Hardware cloth cages which totally or partially enclosed settled recruits
Exposed polyps settled on branches (B. asbestinum) or plexi-plates (P. asteroides), floating above or attached directly to cinderblocks
Recruits were counted 3 times per week over a four week period to determine differences in survivorship between treatments and to assess the roles of various predators on coral recruit mortality.


In search of secondary metabolites with pharmaceutical value

A team of University of Florida researchers from the College of Pharmacy, led by Dr. Hendrik Luesch, assistant professor, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, recently stayed at KML. Using the Lab as their base of operations, the team collected cyanobacteria and algae from reefs in the Middle Keys, with the assistance of KML staff.

Once back at UF, the team will test the collected samples for production of secondary metabolites with pharmaceutical value.


Seasonal dynamics of Symbiodinium spp. in Porites divaricata

Porites divaricata (Thin Finger Coral) colonies after the January 2010 cold-water bleaching event

'Ann' Hui Lui, Master's candidate at SUNY at Buffalo, NY, recently returned to KML to collect samples for her 'Seasonal Dynamics of Symbiodinium spp. in Porites divaricata' project.
Symbiodinium spp., commonly referred to as 'zoozanthellae', are single-celled dinoflagellate algae which form an obligate symbiotic relationship with schleractinian corals in oligotrophic environments. These symbionts are diverse both genetically and in their physiologies. The symbiont type can vary both with specific coral host species, as well as with different environmental conditions..
P. divaricata samples in a seawater table before processing

Variation in symbiont communities within P. divaricata colonies at Craig Key (Middle Florida Keys) was investigated with colonies sampled seasonally since 2003 (with the exception of 2008) and found to typically have both Clade A and Clade B symbionts. Genetic analysis of the symbiont assemblages suggests that a major shuffling of the symbiont communities within the P. divaricata population at Craig Key occurred after the 2005 bleaching event, resulting in a loss of Clade A symbionts and a shift to primarily Clade B symbionts.

Ann working on samples in Lab II at KML

Ann returned to Buffalo after her 2 weeks at KML, where she will analyze her most recent samples to see how the January 2010 Keys cold-spell affected her P. divaricata colonies at Craig Key.

Ann snorkeling at her study site at Craig Key

Do rays modulate their feeding behavior with different prey types?

Samantha Mulvany
University of South Florida
Department of Biology
Tampa, FL

Samantha Mulvany, graduate student under Dr. Philip Motta at USF, spent several days at KML while capturing yellow stingrays (Urolophus jamaicensis) for her research project. Sam is studying the feeding kinematics in a variety of batoid species and is hoping to relate any kinematic findings to their morphology. Some derived batoids have cephalic lobes (lobes on the head) which aid in feeding. It will be interesting to see if having these cephalic lobes increases their ability to modulate feeding behavior or capture more elusive prey. Sam will be running phylogenetic comparisons to explore differences among species and determine any evolutionary correlations.

Bay side of Long Key: seawall overlooking a prime seagrass and hardbottom habitats where rays are typically spotted

A visit from curious local law enforcement while collecting rays

Captured rays were transported back to USF for further behavioral studies.

How well do sharks smell?

Tricia Meredith
Doctoral Candidate
Department of Biological Sciences
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, FL

FAU PhD student, Tricia Meredith, recently conducted experiments at Keys Marine Lab to determine how well sharks can smell odors. There are many myths about the extreme olfactory sensitivity of these animals with very little scientific evidence to support these claims.

For this research Dr. Stephen Kajiura, Tricia, and a few volunteers long-lined for Bonnethead Sharks (Sphyma tiburo) in shallow seagrass meadows and mangrove habitats near Long Key. The sharks were quickly transported back to KML and kept in flow-through seawater tanks until used in the experiments. One female shark gave birth to 6 pups while in the holding tank over-night. All 6 pups can now be found swimming in KML's Shallows.

To determine the olfactory sensitivity of Bonnethead Sharks, they used a technique called an electro-olfactogram (EOG). During an EOG, odors are delivered into the nose of an immobilized shark while an electrode positioned over the olfactory organ detects the shark's response to the odor.

So far, Tricia has found that while sharks are very sensitive to odors, they are no more sensitive than bony fishes - disproving many of those shark myths.

Bonnethead Shark pups at KML

A gravid bonnethead shark (Sphyma tiburo), gave birth to 6 live pups while being held for a visiting scientist in one of the large seawater tanks at the Lab .

Actively swimming at birth and measuring 8-10" from nose to tail, these miniature replicas of their mother have been transferred to our Shallows where they are chasing small fry and slurping squid tentacles.
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South Florida Student Shark Program

Graduate student Neil Hammerschlag, under the guidance of David Die, University of Miami-RSMAS, recently brought a group of students to KML for their June shark tagging in The Everglades National Park. The South Florida Student Shark Program is a partnership between the University of Miami, NOAA Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center, The Exlorers Club, and the Herbert W. Hoover Foundation. The research objectives focus on
1) determining the relative abundance, growth rates, and sex ratios of coastal shark species;
2) determining the presence and concentrations of mercury toxicity in coastal sharks;
3) characterizing sites important to the life history and ecology of sharks;
4) developing geographic information systems maps that incorportate data on shark population dynamics, genetics, eco-toxicity, and habitat use;
5) delineating areas of important for shark congregation, foraging, migration, and parturition as well as areas where sharks are susceptibale to bio-accumulation of mercury toxicity.

Bullshark being brought alongside the boat for measuring and taggingAnother important aspect of the project is to foster marine sciences, environmental stewardship mentoring, and public awareness through a network of interaction among high school, undergraduate and graduate students.

Magnificent 11' Great Hammerhead

14' Small-toothed Sawfish: Sawfish are an endangered species and require special permits to handle and tag. This fish was released unharmed, as quickly and safely as possible.

A very successful day in the field!
(photos by M. McCallister)
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How important is structure?

Studying the effects of habitat complexity on coral community diversity and abundance

Brittany Huntington,

PhD candidate

University of Miami

This study will use the Long Key Bridge Rubble, an existing artificial reef structure in the Florida Keys, to explore the role of habitat complexity and spatial configuration in structuring coral communities.
Coral reefs are valued as unique ecosystems with high levels of biodiversity; however, little is known about which features of reef structure are crucial in supporting the diverse coral assemblages found on these reefs. While studies have linked greater reef complexity to greater fish diversity and abundance, the role of structural habitat complexity on the stony coral community remains unclear. By utilizing an existing artificial patch reef array with varying physical structure and a distinct spatial arrangement among patches, we will test the hypotheses that greater habitat complexity (‘habitat heterogeneity hypotheses’) and great proximity to neighboring patches supports greater coral diversity and abundance. This approach capitalizes on the unique structural variations within an existing artificial reef complex to test predictions of habitat complexity that would be difficult, if not impossible, to manipulate on natural reefs. In addition, we will be able to test the impacts of patch spatial arrangement on recruitment rates and coral abundance by monitoring both ‘edge’ and ‘middle’ patches within the artificial reef complex.

Field sampling will consist of extensive surveys of existing coral reef communities across similarly sized artificial patches of varying substrate complexity and spatial configuration. Percent cover of benthic organisms and coral species richness will be determined for each patch. Lastly, rates of coral recruitment will be measured using coral settlement tiles attached to each study reef.
Initial mapping of artificial patches was completed in March 2009, and complexity of each patch was recorded. In mid-March, a 6-member dive team conducted the initial sampling of the 16 study patches. Fish counts, benthic cover, coral demography and patch complexity data was taken for each patch. Recruitment tiles could not be hammered into the concrete of the artificial reefs, hence the tiles were not deployed. We are currently testing and building alternative rigs to hold recruitment tiles for deployment at our study reefs and hope to install the tiles in early May 2009.

Given the current degradation of reefs from bioerosion, coral disease and habitat fragmentation, there is a pressing need to elucidate the importance patch quality and spatial configuration to coral community dynamics. Results from this study will enhance our ability to manage reefs for abiotic features that contribute to robust coral communities, shaping future restoration efforts and design of coral reef reserves.


Studying Kin Conflict in the Elongate Twig Ant (Pseudomyrmex gracilis)

Volker Schmid, PhD student

University of Regensburg, Germany

My research topic is the social behaviour of ants, especially conflicts among members of the same colony. Because all ants within a colony are related to each other to a more or less high degree, each colony can be regarded as a kind of family. As in human families, conflicts may arise between individuals within a colony over certain matters: e.g. how many resources should be invested in the production of either female or male sexuals (those ants which spread out and reproduce, the females eventually founding new colonies); or who produces the male offspring, which is not necessarily only the queen. In the absence of a queen, evolutionary theory predicts that worker ants begin laying eggs which develop into males (workers usually cannot produce female offspring).

Elongate twig ant sucking honey placed on a leaf in the field (Curry Hammock State Park)
I will be testing this evolutionary theory on the Elongate Twig Ant (Pseudomyrmex gracilis). Native to Mexico, this species invaded Florida during the second half of the 20th century and can be found today at many locations in disturbed habitats or habitat edges (e.g. along roadsides). Using the Keys Marine Lab as my base of operations, I have collected colonies from various locations throughout the Florida Keys (Long Key State Park, Curry Hammock State Park, and Fort Zachery Taylor State Park). Captured colonies will be taken to Germany where I will continue observations of the social interactions and kin conflict of these ants.

Can corals change their feeding mode based on environmental conditions?

The feeding ecology of corals of the Florida Reef Tract

Co-PIs Dr. Diego Lirman (University of Miami) and Dr. Mark Teece (State University of New York) were at the Keys Marine Lab during the first week of June 2008, conducting research on the feeding ecology of corals of the Florida Reef Tract. The goals of this project, funded by the Mote Marine Laboratory “Protect Our Reefs” License Plate Grant Funding, are to document: (1) the relative contribution of autotrophic and heterotrophic sources of nutrition and the nutritional status of corals under different environmental conditions; and (2) the role of nutritional sources and status on coral growth and survivorship.

To accomplish these research goals the researchers will use a combination of field collections, field transplants, microcosm experiments, and the application of novel molecular-level biochemical and stable isotopic techniques to determine the relative importance of heterotrophic feeding versus autotrophically-derived organic matter in satisfying the nutritional requirements of the coral host. The results of this study will provide important insights into how corals may be able to adapt to declines in water quality associated with increasing coastal development and environmental change, and will therefore have direct implications for the conservation of corals in Florida and elsewhere.

Recent research has clearly shown that the vulnerability of corals to disturbance can be influenced by their energetic status and that the lipid reserves stored by corals may allow them to increase their resistance and resilience to stress. Moreover, the ability of corals to switch their main feeding mode, from autotrophy to heterotrophy, under marginal conditions marginal (i.e., high turbidity, sedimentation, high nutrients) can provide an adaptive mechanism for sustained growth over the short-term that may be fundamental to corals exposed to multiple stressors. The increased availability of heterotrophic energy and nutrient sources in nearshore coastal habitats has already been linked to higher coral growth, increased energy storage, and increased resilience to disturbances such as coral bleaching. These findings have led to the hypothesis that inshore habitats in the Florida Keys may provide an expanded heterotrophic niche for corals not available to offshore corals that will be tested in the proposed project using molecular-level biochemical and stable isotopic techniques.

With logistic support provided by KML’s science staff, Lirman and Teece completed coral collections at 4 reefs in the Middle Florida Keys. At each reef (2 inshore and 2 offshore reefs), small (2-4 cm2) tissue shavings were collected from 2 abundant coral species, Porites astreoides and Montastraea faveolata, using a wood chisel. Some of the samples were kept for isotopic analyses and the remaining coral chips were used for a reciprocal transplant experiment established between inshore and offshore coral reefs. In addition to the coral tissue, researchers collected water, macroalgae, zooplankton, and sediment samples to analyze the isotopic composition of benthic primary producers and potential coral food sources. All samples were initially processed at the lab facilities provided by the Keys Marine Lab at Long Key, Florida.

In June, 2008, reciprocal coral transplants were performed using tissue chips from colonies from inshore and offshore habitats to document changes in nutritional sources and lipid and protein storage as corals are transplanted to different habitats, and to evaluate the role of nutritional sources and reserves on coral growth and survivorship. Coral chips were glued to terracotta tiles and placed on PVC platforms at Coral Gardens (inshore site) and 11-ft Mound (offshore sites). The growth and survivorship of the transplants will be monitored at bi-monthly intervals, and a subset of transplanted coral chips will be collected after 2, 4, and 6 months for isotopic and lipid analysis.

For information on this project, please contact D. Lirman ( or M. Teece (


embryonic skeletal development in brittle star

guest submission by:

Mitch Ruzek, Ph.D. canidate

University Of South Florida (USF)

Tampa, FL

My colleagues and I in the Brian Livingston lab at USF are interested in mechanisms of control within cells that help to determine when and why certain cells take on certain fates at defined times in a developing embryo. We are specifically interested in the group of genes that is responsible for embryonic skeletal development in the brittle star Ophiocoma wendtii that is common in the Florida Keys. While utilizing the facilities at the Keys Marine Lab we collect brittle star specimens in ten to thirty feet of water around Long Key.

We carry out a great deal of our wet laboratory work directly on premise at the Keys Marine Lab. While staying in the dormitories on site we can spawn animals, collect fertilized eggs and developing embryos at various stages of development where the larval skeleton begins to form. We can preserve animals, extract both DNA and RNA as well as perform microscopic injection of embryos while at the KML.

Work continues on the embryos and genetic material collected while at KML when we return to Tampa. Once back at USF we work to determine what genes are responsible for the larval skeleton that is characteristic of the brittle star. Our work will help to contribute to a better understanding of the networks of genes found within all cells that function as groups to accomplish individual functions or tasks. Without the facilities and staff of the Keys Marine Lab our work with this fragile and difficult-to-transported species would be nearly impossible.


Effects of Climate Change on Corals in Florida Bay

Chris Langdon, Remy Okazaki, Peter Swart

Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmoshperic Science

University of Miami

Scientists working from the Keys Marine Lab are doing their part to investigate the effects of climate change, in particular, the phenomenon of ocean acidification. The University of Miami (UM) scientists are studying two species of corals growing in Florida Bay and whether these corals may have adapted to changing CO2. These star and starlet corals appear to be healthy and growing without any detrimental effects, despite the fact that Florida Bay’s highly variable environment makes it a potentially harsh habitat for corals and other organisms. Because of Florida Bay’s unique environment and environmental variability, it is an ideal “natural laboratory” to study climate change and corals.

Florida Bay experiences daily, seasonal, and regional fluctuations in many water chemistry parameters, including salinity, pH, and CO2. As a consequence of these changing parameters, the bay experiences extreme conditions, including CO2 levels that can be twice as high as levels that are found at the reefs on the Keys. These high-CO2 times in Florida Bay mimic future predicted conditions for the world’s oceans as greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase. As more and more CO2 builds up in the atmosphere, more of it fluxes into the oceans where it becomes carbonic acid. This is the concept of ocean acidification. This acid neutralizes carbonate ions in the ocean, which marine calcifiers, such as corals, require to build their skeletons. Consequently, calcification is slowed. With their ability to calcify and grow impaired, corals are more susceptible to erosion, storm damage, and other processes that break down reefs. Hence, coral reefs and the ecosystem services they provide are threatened by ocean acidification.

Based out of the Keys Marine Lab, the UM scientists are measuring coral calcification and photosynthesis in a wide array of environmental conditions. Additionally, the scientists are analyzing a 190-year old coral skeleton from the study site to reconstruct the water chemistry and determine how the coral has grown during the last two centuries. These experiments should indicate whether corals have indeed adapted or acclimated to changing CO2. If they have, then hope exists for corals in the future.

(photo: This core sample is from a star coral skeleton and represents ~50 years of growth. Scientists will attempt to reconstruct the history of Florida Bay from this skeleton.)

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