Week nine is here. The culmination of eight weeks of trial, error, frustration, successes, and discoveries have been condensed onto a single poster. After at least five vocabulary and phrasing revisions, and countless minute adjustments, the posters were sent to the printer Monday morning. On Tuesday, Nancy Treneman offered to do a mock presentation with me to practice my delivery and to quiz me on any questions I may be asked.
The day of the poster symposium arrived, and to be honest, I was a nervous wreck. I envisioned myself being grilled by everyone who walked by and not knowing the answers to their questions. How wrong I was! Yes, there were questions I could not answer, but that will always be the case, and I was not belittled or depreciated for admitting it. This was an opportunity broadcast my studies. In my poster I showed how I explored my question, which leads to more and more questions, which is the very essence of science: the concerted effort to better understand the world around us. The attendees were not there to test us, they were there to learn about what we had been researching this summer, and to support our work.
The nerves quickly wore off and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of sharing my results, thoughts, and enthusiasm. I was fortunate to have friends from Washington drive all the way to Charleston to attend the symposium, making the day even more exceptional.
So what were my results? There was no significant difference in numbers of larvae settled or numbers of burrowers on hard wood vs. soft wood, and wood density does not effect the number of burrowers. Initially, I was surprised by my results, but when I started to take variables other than wood density into consideration it started making sense. The less dense wood species (Hemlock, Pine, and Fir), that had the lowest responses, are from coniferous trees which contain more resins and saps than hard woods. It is possible, even with consistent water changes, that these substances a) contaminated the water enough to kill a many of my larvae and/or b) deterred them from burrowing into the wood. If I were to move forward with this research I would let the wood soak in running seawater for at least a week before exposing the larvae, and I would place all six wood blocks in one container and give the larvae a choice of which wood type to settle on.
I am so fortunate to be among this great group of individuals, and to call them my friends.
What am I taking away from the nine weeks here at OIMB? Looking back at my first blog post, I set three goals for myself: develop experimentation skills, make connections in the marine science community, and gain confidence in myself as a scientist and researcher. I have positively accomplished each of these, and additionally I have made a handful of lifelong friends. To my mentor, Richard Emlet, Nancy Treneman, program coordinator Maya, and graduate students Nicole and MacKenna I offer my sincerest gratitude.
Signing off from OIMB!
Wow, how is it already the last week of my internship!? Honestly, I feel as if I’ve only been here for, at most, one month. Time flies when you’ve got shipworms to keep you busy.
This week has been focused 100% on translating my research into visual form for our poster session next week. Choosing how much, or how little to share on a poster is a challenge. Too many words overwhelms the reader and they loose interest; too little and insufficiently explain your research. Then there are the other fine tunings like colors, alignment, borders, fonts……the list goes on and on! The REU group met this week to critique each other’s poster drafts, which was an exercise in the art of accepting constructive criticism. I am thankful for the suggestions that I received. Knowing that they come from a place of encouragement, not judgement, makes them easier to accept. Criticism is part of life, and part of science, and this is the path that I have chosen for myself so I had better learn how to receive it.
Now that my experiment has concluded, the question remaining is: how do I squeeze the most lab experience into my last week? I would like to attempt extracting a juvenile shipworm from one of my test block to see how it has metamorphosed since burrowing. Capturing some microscopic images of it and take detailed notes would feel like a fitting conclusion to the 9 weeks I have spent reading about shipworms, finding them, observing them, and becoming a shipworm enthusiast.
The second run of my experiment took off like a shot! Whereas it took at least six days for larvae to burrow with my first experiment, this second round of larvae got to it in a mere 72 hours! Not only were the larvae quicker to burrow, the number of burrowing individuals has been much higher. While all of this is excellent for data collection, it has made the task of observing and classifying behavior of many larvae, on 36 individual blocks of wood, extremely time consuming. Getting such a high response from my larvae has allowed me to capture some great images and video clips of different classifications of behavior; swimming, crawling, settling, and burrowing. My task this weekend is to sort through to select the images that best convey my observations to use on my research poster, which is due in just over a week!
This week we had the opportunity to share our research with the public at the Charleston Marine Life Center. This was a chance to practice the fine art of talking about technical and extremely specific topics to a broad audience. The visitors I spoke with came from all walks of life; local families, international families, young couples, older couples, retired teachers, post-doc researchers, and many more. Tailoring how you convey your research from one individual to another requires tact. More than anything though, I firmly believe that the level of enthusiasm and passion a presenter has for their research is what will engage an audience and hold their attention. Fortunately, my enthusiasm for these strange little creatures is not in short supply! I got so much joy from sharing my knowledge, getting questions that stumped me, and even the wrinkled noses and “ewww”s when someone took a look at an adult shipworm under the dissecting scope. It is a truly unique creature and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to study it.
Very exciting developments with T. bartschi this week! After six days of anxiously watching and waiting, I observed my first burrowing behavior seemingly overnight! Ridges along the ventral edge of the valves (shells) had formed, and the larvae were using them to scrape away at the wood. Debris, likely containing mucus and wood particles, was beginning to coat the larvae as they made their way into the wood. After two days of collecting data on burrowing, it was time to begin my second experiment with 36 new samples of wood, which meant ‘out with the old’. I’ll admit, it was a little heart-wrenching watching those little guys go down the drain, but that is part of the process. The next trial will have the same species of wood, same number of replicates, and shipworms from the same collection location.
Ridges along the ventral side of the shell have formed
Wednesday, Nancy, Richard, and I spent the morning in a skiff up the South Slough retrieving more of Nancy’s test panels. The tide wasn’t entirely on our side, as a few of the panels required some fancy boat maneuvering by Richard. Nevertheless, we persevered in collecting all 7 panels and replacing them with new ones.
On Saturday, our REU group had the opportunity to visit the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Lab in Newport. Hatfield is a very large facility that partners with six state and federal agencies on vast range of marine research topics. We met with some of their REU students and compared our summer research projects and experiences on two very different campuses. We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Oregon Coast Aquarium before making the drive back down to Charleston.
Trip to the Oregon Coast Aquarium
The highlight of my week was the opportunity to accompany OIMB instructor Nancy Treneman during her shipworm field research. Nancy has deployed wood panels in numerous waterways throughout the Coos Bay area and checks them periodically to see if they have been colonized by shipworms. Observing her experimental designs and methods for data collection have been enlightening. For me, this is the type of experience that has made the REU program so rich. Reading the “methods” section of a scientific paper conveys only a snippet of the amount of time, energy, and tenacity it takes to conduct research. There is no room for a story in the methods section. There we were, covered head to toe in mud, creating makeshift boardwalks to navigate the boot-sucking mud. We piqued the curiosity of many passersby, who did slow drive-by inspections and double-takes. It was an adventure. It was research.
My experiment hit a bump in the road this week. The discovery of excessive amounts of tannins leaching from my oak samples, which led to mass mortalities in the larvae exposed to that wood, forced me to select an alternate form of hard wood for testing.
Also, I committed an egregious error when preparing my wood samples. To prepare them for the larvae, I soak them in seawater for at least 24 hours which helps soften the wood and start the formation of biofilm. In my naiveté, I soaked all of the samples together, in one container. This exposed all 36 wood samples to the harmful oak tannins mentioned above, and contaminated everything I had prepared. Ahhhh, the joys of learning the hard way. Thus, most of this week was spent rebuilding and preparing another trial, which commenced on Thursday. So I finally have larvae in my treatments and now it’s all about watching and waiting for them to settle!
Our weekend activity will be a trip to the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Labs in Newport, with a stop at the Oregon Coast Aquarium. I have been scouting OSU Hatfield as a location for my master’s program, as they conduct extensive oyster research that I would like to learn more about. We will be socializing with the REU students there and I plan to ask lots of questions and take full advantage of this opportunity.
The odd little shipworm is starting to burrow its way into my heart. A few weeks ago I was telling myself “okay, so it’s not an oyster, but the larval stage is close enough so just be happy to study something similar.” Indeed, the shipworm was living in the shadow of the oyster. But nobody puts Teredo in a corner! So here I am, neck deep in shipworm literature (and boots stuck in the mud!), observing them every day and trying to learn as much as I can. They have been stigmatized as destructive pests that turn boats, pilings, and docks into swiss cheese. Their ecosystem services have been eclipsed by the damage they cause to manmade structures, when in fact, the holes that they burrow become refuges for other marine organisms. They cycle carbon just as their relatives the oyster and the clam. They break down wood and remineralize plant material, transforming it into nutrients to be used by other creatures within the ecosystem. Their benefits are vast, so let us not be so hasty in our judgement of the shipworm.
Week four has been all about gathering the materials to get this experiment off the ground. The low tide series gave Richard and me two days for shipworm collection. We successfully gathered wood with live adult shipworms from two locations, Shinglehouse Slough and the junction of the Coos River and Isthmus Slough. Cutting the wood blocks and tile, assembling them, then soaking for at least twenty-four hours before experimentation are the next items on my to-do list.
On Tuesday, the REU students were asked to submit research proposals to our PI’s and to give 10 minute presentations about those proposals to the entire group. What a wide range of studies we have! From isopod visual capabilities, to the biomechanics of comb jellies, to the prevalence of the invasive European green crab just to mention a few.
Rounding out the week, I had the pleasure of meeting OIMB instructor and shipworm researcher, Nancy Treneman. Nancy has sites throughout the surrounding waterways where she deploys wooden test pallets for shipworm collection. I have been invited to join her next week to retrieve and process the pallets. Her enthusiasm for these bivalves is infectious! I am so thankful for the opportunity to learn from her and work alongside her in the upcoming weeks.
It has been buckle-down time to get my experiment set up. Three weeks have already gone by leaving only four weeks to collect data and prepare a poster for presentation. With Richard’s help, I set up two tanks fitted with fine mesh filtration containers and filled them with the wood collected from Haynes Inlet last week. If any shipworms release their larvae I should be able to collect it and use it for experimentation. Friday I got my first naturally released pediveliger larvae! I was only able to collects 10 individuals and if I do not get enough larvae naturally I will have to remove them by dissection as I have done previously. I would prefer the natural way though, because the larvae would be at optimal development to begin their free-swimming life stage.
I have also begun preliminary tests with my previously collected larvae to see if they will settle and burrow into small submerged wood squares. The wood has been affixed to pieces of slate to keep them weighted down and placed into small dishes with 20 larvae added to each dish. So far I have observed six larvae using their foot to move around on the wood, but no burrowing behavior.
Myself and the rest of the REU interns went camping this weekend at Sunset Bay State Park and were joined by biology REU interns from the U of O main campus in Eugene. We spent the afternoon exploring Sunset Beach and the evening roasting marshmallows and telling stories.
Sunday morning, we were treated to a low tide that exposed an extensive intertidal zone at Cape Arago, perfect for tidepooling. When tidepooling in the San Juans, the elusive gumboot chiton, Cryptochiton stelleri, was the most prized discovery for my sister and I. To my delight, C. stelleri was everywhere I looked at Cape Arago! Nicknamed the “wandering meatloaf”, the gumboot chiton is the largest species of chiton in the world. It is a member of the phylum Mollusca (along with bivalves, octopus, and snails), and can grow up to 13 inches and 4 pounds!
The REU Crew!
This week I’ve been feeling a lot like the very planktonic larva I have been studying: drifting in a general direction, waiting for the right place to settle.
To my dismay, Ostrea lurida, the Olympia oyster, does not seem to be a reliable source of larva at this point in the season. After opening 10 more organisms and finding none containing larva, I had to forfeit the hope of using them as the subject for my summer project. It was back to the drawing board to find a suitable brooding species.
What is a brooder? And why must I select one? Brooding refers to the act of incubating one’s fertilized eggs within the body wall until they reach a certain developmental point, then releasing them into the environment. By selecting a brooder, I can acquire a large number of larva from one individual, and if I can identify the species of the adult from which the larva came, I will know exactly what organism I am studying. The alternative would include the extra step of filtering free-swimming larva from the plankton then having to identify that organism. This can be a painstaking process as many larval organisms do not have well-defined characteristics at such an early stage in development.
Enter the shipworm, Teredo bartschi. Not the first organism that comes to mind when one thinks of bivalves. The shipworm is not a worm at all, but is named as such due to its worm-like body that is not covered by a shell, as bivalves typically are. Its valves (shells) are found at the anterior tip of the body and have been modified to burrow into submerged wood. Their ability to effectively turn a solid piece of wood into swiss cheese has been well documented. In 1588, the shipworm species Teredo navalis is credited with weakening the wooden ships of the Spanish Armada giving England an advantage that eventually led to the armada’s defeat.
My mentor, Richard, and I set out a mission to collect wood samples containing T. bartschi in nearby Haynes Inlet. Thus far, the shipworm has been much more cooperative! Extracting them from the wood is a challenge, as their bodies are extremely delicate, but five of the six I managed to collect contained larva in various stages of development. I am interested in the settlement and metamorphosis of larva, and experimenting with different salinity levels. At last, I have found an organism to use as my research subject. I have settled, and now I can begin my observations.
It’s not all work here at OIMB. Last Friday the REU interns, along with my mentor Richard and two graduate students, Nicole and Makenna, went on a dredging trip aboard OIMB’s research vessel R/V Pluteus. Captain Knute even let me steer the boat! Among our haul were numerous sea cucumbers, basket stars, brittle stars, and crab. The sun shone brightly for our entire outing and an afternoon on the water was the perfect way to celebrate the end of a great first week here at OIMB!
Welcome! My name is Tiffany Spendiff, I am a marine biology major that just completed my sophomore year at Whatcom Community College in Bellingham, WA. Growing up in the San Juan Islands of Washington State I was surrounded by a rich marine ecosystem that served as my inspiration to enter this specific field of biology. My main area of interest is bivalves, particularly bivalve pathology.
For the next 9 weeks, I will be working with Dr. Richard Emlet studying larval-stage marine invertebrates. Week one has been focused on isolating larval bivalves from local plankton samples and observing their behavior. Earlier this week I had what I am calling a “defining moment” in my education: the opportunity to observe a newly fertilized oyster egg divide before my very eyes! I was opening an Ostrea lurida (Olympia oyster) specimen in hopes of determining if the local population was brooding. The very first one I opened was a female with eggs dispersed throughout her mantle cavity. To confirm these eggs had been fertilized, Richard and I examined them under the compound microscope and it was clear that these eggs were dividing and currently at the 2-cell stage.
The remaining eggs were extracted from the shell and placed in an incubator, then observed again 15 minutes later. They were up to 4 cells! I know this is happening all the time out in nature, but having the opportunity to observe it, the generation of an organism from just two cells, is magical to me. The following morning, they appeared to have at least 16 cells. I have half of the collected eggs in culture in an incubator, and the other half in stirred culture in a sea table, and I plan to continue monitoring and recording their progress.