Friday, August 30, 2019

Our scientists contribute to “global biodiversity library”

Eyes Under Puget Sound

Video provided by

Last week I was in sunny Los Angeles for the third and final west coast invertebrate “bioblitz” of the summer — the LA Urban Ocean Expedition (LAUOE). While the LA scenery was certainly different from home, the work I did there was a continuation of my previous work helping other marine scientists catalog invertebrate biodiversity! This work is crucial for documenting species before they disappear. The event also gives us an opportunity to communicate to the public just how important invertebrates are to the healthy function of marine ecosystems.

Bioblitz selfie! I had just settled in at my microscope station.  Working alongside some of the West Coast’s expert taxonomists
for a week was an incredible experience.

Crack the code

Our marine scientists held a similar bioblitz this past spring, where we collected and identified as many live sediment-dwelling invertebrates as possible from Puget Sound. “DNA barcoding” events like these are happening all over the U.S. and worldwide. Washington, Oregon, and California are just the latest to join in the effort.

During a bioblitz, tiny pieces of tissue are taken from each animal collected. These tissue samples will be sent to the Smithsonian Institute, where DNA will be extracted and analyzed to determine a unique genetic sequence for each species. The resulting DNA barcodes will be added to a global biodiversity library that taxonomists like me can use to identify species and determine if species are new to science — including undescribed species from Puget Sound! We can use this information to better understand how invertebrate communities respond to environmental stressors, like those associated with climate change.

Under the microscope

Daily operations are continuing for the rest of this week at the AltaSea facility at the Port of LA, where a pop-up lab is staged with flow-through saltwater systems, microscope stations, and docks for dive boats to pull up with fresh specimens. Taxonomists from all over the country were invited to participate, so I felt very fortunate for the opportunity to learn from them about the intertidal invertebrates of Southern California. Some species were familiar, but many aren’t found as far north as Washington, so this gave me a bit of a challenge. One of the highlights was having a worm I identified — the Sandcastle Worm, Phragmatopoma californica — win a “Species of the Day” contest!

Los Angeles BioBlitz Critters

Reaching out

LAUOE is sponsored and organized by staff from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. They invited school groups, community members, and business professionals to meet ocean scientists, tour the lab, and even touch and sort live critters.

Many people living in urban environments don’t realize how many amazing animals live right at their doorstep. Engaging the public in these types of events fosters an appreciation for the natural world that can later translate into more successful conservation efforts.

By: Dany Burgess, Environmental Assessment Program

Critter of the Month

Our benthic taxonomists, Dany and Angela, are scientists who identify and count the benthic (sediment-dwelling) organisms in our samples as part of our Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. We track the numbers and types of species we see in order to understand the health of Puget Sound and detect changes over time.

Dany and Angela share their discoveries by bringing us a Benthic Critter of the Month. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound’s least-known inhabitants. We’ll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role each critter plays in the sediment community. Can't get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr.

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