Journey through DeepEnd
The DeepEnd experience through the eyes of a grad student. This will be a collection of science updates-either dealing with my own progress or news from other team members-as well as summaries of outreach activities I get to experience!
I am pursuing my Master’s degree at Nova Southeastern University where I am working with Dr. Tracey Sutton in the Oceanic Ecology Lab. I received my B.S. from The University of Tampa in Biology and Marine Science. I am interested in understanding the structure of marine ecosystems and how the biotic and abiotic processes shape these communities. I am particularly attracted to food web ecology and trophic linkages of an ecosystem. For the DEEPEND project I will be examining food web dynamics of key species from the bathypelagic realm.
Hi folks, welcome back to the blog! This edition of Master’s Monday will be brought to you by Mike Novotny. I am a Master’s candidate at Nova Southeastern University, working under Dr. Tracey Sutton in the Oceanic Ecology Lab, where I study the bathypelagic zone and the fishes that call this environment home.
The ocean is commonly divided into three layers based on sunlight penetration with depth. The midnight (aphotic/bathypelagic) zone is the deepest layer, which starts around 1000 meters. The bathypelagic zone receives no sunlight, has consistent near-freezing temperatures, contains pressures exceeding 100 times that found at the surface, and is the planet’s largest ecosystem! It is within the depths of the bathypelagic zone that you will find the very intriguing group of fishes that belong to the family Platytroctidae, known also as Tubeshoulders. Due to the rarity of specimens, there is very little information known about these fishes, which is where my research takes off!
Tubeshoulders get their name due to a unique tube-like structure that can be found in the shoulder region of all fishes in this family. This tube leads to an organ that contains a luminous blue/green fluid, which allows the luminescent material to be expelled, possibly, for a potential defense mechanism by temporarily distracting the would-be predator. Below is a great video about bioluminescence, but jump to 10:40 to see how platytroctids get their name!
Tubeshoulders have very large eyes, especially for a deep-sea fish! These large eyes are excellent at detecting low-level, point source light and distance ranging, suggesting they may be visual predators, however, the diet of tubeshoulders has yet to be examined. My thesis research addresses this crucial data gap by exploring the feeding behavior and documenting prey preferences of this bathypelagic fish family. Based on stomach content analysis these fishes seem to feed infrequently. I visually examined and identified the gut contents under a compound microscope, which revealed that members of this family tend to be generalist zooplanktivores, consuming a wide variety of taxa such as, copepods, ostracods, chaetognaths, gelatinous taxa, and even the occasional squid! This study represents the first investigation into the diet of this fish family, and adds to the sparse community data of the bathypelagic zone, by identifying nutrient pathways that connect this deep-sea ecosystem to the upper ocean.
Cheers DeepEnd Crew!!
I have another tale to tell you! On Friday March 4, 2016 Nina Pruzinsky and I went to New River Middle School to present our deep-sea knowledge!! Thanks to Creep into the DEEPEND lecture series, members of the DeepEnd team are able to share their knowledge and experiences to classrooms both near and far! New River Middle School, located in Fort Lauderdale, has a unique magnet program for marine science filled with bright, eager student ready to learn!
We arrived at New River Middle School on Friday afternoon to be the guest speakers for Mr. Kyle Lendick 6th grade marine science class. As part of their class work Mr. Lendick fully utilizes the online teaching material found on our website and as such the kids were eager to meet some of the scientists they have been following the last few months. For all three classes we did a quick introductory PowerPoint covering the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, research activities of DeepEnd and our thesis topic. During the presentation we strongly encouraged questions and we were not disappointed!! Kids wanted to know things ranging from our favorite ocean critter to what happens to the fish during the trawling process.
Once we finished our presentation we had a full blown Q&A session where the kids were able to continue their line of questions for a short while until the real fun started! Nina and I were able to bring in some deep-sea fish for the kids! This was a truly unique opportunity for the kids because they were able to see fish that most people do not even know exist!! We divided the class in half and we talked about deep-sea adaptations exhibited by the specimens. Some of the adaptations we were able to highlight include bioluminescence, pigmentation changes with depth, decrease musculature and feeding strategies. During this show and tell we got to have more of a one-on-one experience, which the kids truly enjoyed!
Thank you New River Middle School for signing up for Creep into the DEEPEND and I, along with the rest of the DEEPEND crew hope to see you again!
Hello DeepEnd readers!
I want to let you know about a special opportunity that I had recently! On February 18 2016 I was a guest speaker at Sheridan Technical High School!! Ms. Brittney Smith, who is a first year teacher down in Fort Lauderdale, invited me to speak to her AP Environmental Science class. Their recent unit dealt with different biomes found throughout the planet, the variety of life found within, and how human activity has altered the environment.
The reason for my visit was to dive a little deeper into the oceanic environment and teach the kids about an area of the ocean that is little understood or explored. The deep sea is considered to be the world’s largest biome, with 90% of the ocean classified as deep sea. Contained within this massive volume are some truly unique ecosystems each with their own challenges, organisms, and adaptations. We discussed general challenges that organisms face in the deep-sea such as: increased pressure, lack of down-welling light, low temperatures, and a food poor environment. The kids learned some adaptations commonly seen in deep-sea critters: bioluminescence, transparency, red, brown, and black skin pigmentation, slower metabolism, delayed sexual maturity, longevity, brittle bones and flabby muscle tissues. Much to the students delight I was able to bring some specimens along so they could see what these amazing critters look like and how different they are to the classical fish image that comes to their minds.
I reintroduced the kids to the unique ecosystems that the deep contains, such as hydrothermal vents, methane seeps, brine pools, and whale falls. We also learned about some of the critters associated with these unique oases.
Human impact is a very consistent theme for AP Environmental Science. We learned how and why deep-sea fisheries are unsustainable by looking at case studies of Orange Roughy and Chilean Sea Bass. We learned the dangers of bottom trawling and how plastics can impact the oceans.
As my time with each class came to a close I was able to tell them about all the cool stuff we are doing with DeepEnd and how they can follow us on social media and even ask us questions! The students left the classroom seeing fish that most of the world does not know exist and with a deeper understanding and sense of wonderment of the world’s largest biome!!
Well, there you have it folks, another workshop in the books. On Saturday February 20, 2016, the DeepEnd crew hosted a diverse group of educators for the Teacher Workshop at the Oceanographic Campus of NOVA Southeastern University. This year we had 16 participants, ranging from first year teachers to seasoned veterans. The day started with introductions from members of DeepEnd and a fun game of Get-2-Know BINGO! A short pretest was all that was standing in the way of activities and deep-sea knowledge!
Teachers were given a flash drive loaded with tons of deep-sea information and fun labs they can incorporate into their lessons. The rest of the day was centered around demonstrating and participating in some of these labs. As every class is different the teachers always had helpful hints and tips to improve or tweak the lab to fit a specific curriculum.
The workshop focuses on how to bring deep-sea research into the class room, and what would a deep-sea workshop be without some show and tell!! These teachers were able to see a variety of deep sea critters, most of which many people don’t even know exist!!! Challenges of the deep ocean and special adaptations were discussed to give the educators a better background when they cover oceanic environments in class.
As Saturday afternoon turned to early evening we wrapped up the workshop. A day filled with interactive labs and deep-sea facts was coming to an end. The post test was handed out and applications to Teacher at Sea were distributed. Who would have thought that spending a Saturday with a bunch of teachers would be so fun!! We hope the information gained on this day helps them continue doing an amazing job both inside and outside the classroom!
Thank you teachers for joining us!