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Responding to a Changing World

All animals must sense and respond to changes in their environment…and in some cases the environments are changing quickly and dramatically. Some targets of current and recent research in this area have been effects of ocean acidification on pteropods, and molecular responses of the sea anemone Nematostella to diverse physical and chemical stressors.

Pteropods are oceanic gastropods sometimes called “sea butterflies.” Some pteropod species form shells from a form of calcium carbonate (aragonite) that may be particularly sensitive to the effects of ocean acidification. Recent studies in our lab have documented the development and early shell formation in the pteropod Limacina retroversa . We have conducted Illumina-based studies to assess effects of acidification on gene expression in L. retroversa, Clio pyramidata and Clione limacina. In our most recent publication (Maas et al. 2018), we conducted lab-based experiments to show effects of CO2exposure on metabolism, calcification, and gene expression in L. retroversa. We are continuing to analyze the results of these studies with the intention of characterizing seasonality in pteropod physiology and sensitivity to CO2 exposure. Amy Maas is a lead researcher and collaborator these studies.

Nematostella is a remarkably tough little sea anemone. Naturally found in salt marsh habitats, it tolerates nearly fresh to hypersaline water and can tolerate natural temperature swings of over 20 degrees Celsius within a day. It can tolerate low levels of oxygen, high levels of pollutants, and extended periods of starvation. We’re interested in how this little anemone is able to so readily adapt its physiology to dynamic and extreme conditions. Some of our recent and continuing work has focused on responses to Nematostella to oil and oil-derived pollutants. So far, we’ve found that Nematostella appear relatively tolerant of oil exposure, but are potentially vulnerable to damage by UV radiation and phototoxicity of UV-exposed contaminants. We’ve also conducted some exciting recent studies (led by Ph.D. student Hanny Rivera) to investigate genetic and physiological components of thermal tolerance in Nematostella. If you want a sneak preview of these results, check out our abstract from the 2018 SICB meeting.