Smith Lab & colleagues march (& swim) for science on Earth Day 2017!

This year on Earth Day (4/22/17) scientists, researchers, and science-supporters marched in 600 cities worldwide to show support for scientific research and scientifically informed public policies. During the Science March Dr. Jennifer Smith was conducting field research in Maui Nui along with Smith Lab members Dr. Emily Kelly and Samantha Clements, and Sandin Lab researcher, Nicole Pedersen, to collect coral reef images from Molokai, Lanai, and Kahoolawe for the 100 Island Challenge. The research team didn’t want to miss out on the global march and their chance to voice their support for scientific research, so they took their message underwater!

In addition to their underwater march for science, the research team also partnered with local scientists, managers, and enforcement officers on Maui at the Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area to host a “Swim for Science” and talk story event held in conjunction with the March for Science event held earlier in the day at UH Maui College and the Smithsonian Institution’s Earth Optimism Summit. The event attracted an estimated 50 community members, resource managers, scientists, and conservationists to the Kahekili Beach Park, where participants made signs on underwater paper to parade around the beach park before taking their message to the water. In the water, participants swam in front of underwater cameras with their signs displaying messages in support of scientific research and expressing #EarthOptimism and #OceanOptimism for the conservation success story of Kahekili’s Management Area. After the march, participants had the opportunity to talk story with scientists, managers, and enforcement officers about their work and how to engage in communicating with elected officials in supporting resource management and enforcement. Click here to read more about the event!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Citizen-supported science in the Gulf of Maine

Dr. Walter Adey has dedicated his career to studying the importance of seaweeds in the marine ecosystems of the Northwest Atlantic. Walter first surveyed the benthic communities of the Gulf of Maine fifty years ago. In the wake of the collapse of the famed New England cod fishery and half a century of climate change, the Gulf of Maine is no longer what it once was. This summer, Walter plans to revisit his original sites on his final voyage as captain of his hand built research vessel, the Alca i. The opportunity to resurvey these sites after 50 years will provide scientists with an unprecedented look at the effects of overfishing and climate change on marine ecosystems and will help us to better understand the challenges facing our oceans. Walter and several other early-career marine ecologists, including Smith Lab member Mike Fox, are working to raise money for the Gulf of Maine Expedition this summer. Please consider lending your support to this effort as the team prepares to examine the impacts of global climate change beneath the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. All donations to this project will directly support the expedition logistics and critically important research to unravel the impacts of global change on our oceans.

Click here to learn more & support this research!


American Geophysical Union (AGU) Eos article spotlights the Benthic Ecosystem and Acidification Measurements System (BEAMS) developed by a team of Scripps researchers

A paper published in 2016 by Scripps researchers, including some Smith Lab members, was recently featured in an American Geophysical Union (AGU) Eos article. The article spotlights the Benthic Ecosystem and Acidification Monitoring System (BEAMS) & its role in assessing reef health. Click here to see the full article!


A new study highlights the importance of surface biomass in the growth and recovery of giant kelp

Giant kelp is one of the largest and fastest growing organisms on the planet. Off the coast of California, this massive, golden-brown seaweed can reach heights of over 100 ft as it grows towards the well-lit surface waters. However, being this big can also have its disadvantages. Large waves can snap giant kelp fronds, removing biomass and sometimes even whole individuals. Understanding the consequences of this biomass loss on the growth of giant kelp is key to understanding the foundational role this species plays in giant kelp forests around the world.

Giant kelp forms elaborate underwater forests that have a way of making divers feel quite small (Photo credit: Scott Gabara)

Giant kelp forms elaborate underwater forests that have a way of making divers feel quite small (Photo credit: Scott Gabara)

As part of his master’s research at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, PhD Candidate Mike Fox conducted a manipulative experiment that found that the removal of biomass significantly reduces growth in giant kelp. Stable isotope analysis of young giant kelp blades showed that these younger blades rely heavily on resources provided by older blades at the surface.  Much like vascular plants, giant kelp can move carbon and nitrogen throughout its body to fuel new growth. So, when biomass is removed from an individual, the resources that typically support new growth are also lost. This study highlights that the spatial variability of biomass loss among individual giant kelp plants may play an important role in the regrowth of these underwater forests following large storm events.

Click here to learn more!

Fox, M.D. 2016. Biomass loss reduces growth and resource translocation in giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 562: 65-77. [pdf]

Book chapter recently published explores the role of marine macrophytes in nearshore systems


Smith lab Ph.D. candidate, Mike Fox, contributed to a book chapter recently published by colleagues in Marine Macrophytes as Foundation Species that explores the role of marine macrophytes as a source of energy and habitat for nearshore systems. A description of the chapter is below:

Foundation species disproportionately contribute energy and habitat to ecosystems and thus directly facilitate the maintenance of community structure and function. However, a foundation species may not provide the same energy and habitat from place to place due to variability in productivity and population dynamics. In this new book chapter our focus is to examine this important aspect of the foundation species concept through the lens of marine macrophytes (seaweed and seagrasses). Specifically, our chapter seeks to: (1) identify macrophyte taxa that are clearly disproportionate in their provisioning of energy and habitat to their associated communities; (2) describe some of the physiological features that facilitate the role of macrophytes as foundation species; and (3) discuss how variability in the productivity of marine macrophyte foundation species may impact their associated communities.

Graham, M.H., Fox, M.D., and Hamilton, S.L. Macrophyte productivity and the provisioning of energy and habitat to nearshore systems. 2016. In: Marine Macrophytes as Foundation Species (ed. Olafsson, E.), Science Publisher/CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. ISBN 978-1-498-72324-4,pp. 131-160


Click here to read more!

Smith lab and colleagues find that Crown of Thorns (COTS) larvae can take up organic matter derived from corals

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish Larvae can feed on Organic Matter Released from Corals

Ryota Nakajima, Nobuyuki Nakatomi, Haruko Kurihara, Michael D. Fox, Jennifer E. Smith, and Ken Okaji

Abstract: Previous studies have suggested that Crown-of-Thorns starfish (COTS) larvae may be able to survive in the absence of abundant phytoplankton resources suggesting that they may be able to utilize alternative food sources. Here, we tested the hypothesis that COTS larvae are able to feed on coral-derived organic matter using labeled stable isotope tracers (13C and 15N). Our results show that coral-derived organic matter (coral mucus and associated microorganisms) can be assimilated by COTS larvae and may be an important alternative or additional food resource for COTS larvae through periods of low phytoplankton biomass. This additional food resource could potentially facilitate COTS outbreaks by reducing resource limitation.

Click here to read more!

Do different species of herbivorous fish have unique grazing roles on coral reefs, or are they all grazing alike?

Coral reefs are home to a large diversity of organisms.  The herbivorous fishes, those fish that eat algae in competition with corals, are no exception to such diversity.  But do the many species of herbivores have unique grazing roles on reefs or are all herbivorous fishes grazing alike?


This was the focus of a study recently published in Oecologia by marine ecologist Emily Kelly and colleagues in the Smith and Sandin Labs of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps, along with researchers at the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources, and NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Program in Hawaii.


The research team quantified fish foraging behavior, stomach contents, and feeding selectivity to determine the role of individual herbivore species on a reef in Maui, Hawaii.  They found important differences across herbivores in the types of algae different fish consumed and the impact of each bite.


“At first pass we often think about all herbivores consuming the same algae in the same way on coral reefs- these fishes are the lawn mowers of reefs, mowing down algae that competes with coral.  But what we find is that in fact these herbivores could be seen as many different types of gardening tools, each with a slightly different function in grazing. Therefore, understanding the role of individual herbivorous fish species is important for knowing how the herbivore community as a whole can influence reef composition and reef health,” says Kelly, lead author of the study.  “This finding is especially important given that we as humans put a lot of pressure on coral reefs, including through overfishing.  Knowing that herbivore species are grazing different algae and in different ways is important for managing a diverse community of herbivores to promote healthy reefs,” she says.


Further, the researchers found that using only one method of inquiry into feeding suggested that all fish were grazing similarly on the reef, but using three methods revealed more differences in feeding across fishes.


Along with Kelly, Scripps researchers Yoan Eynaud, Samantha Clements, Molly Gleason, and Jennifer Smith were co-authors on the study.

Click to read more!

Investigating functional redundancy versus complementarity in Hawaiian herbivorous coral reef fishes
Kelly, E.L.A., Eynaud, Y., Clements, S.M. et al. Oecologia (2016). doi:10.1007/s00442-016-3724-0

Smith lab and colleagues present an autonomous approach to measure coral reef net calcification and production rates

Assessment of net community production and calcification of a coral reef using a boundary layer approach

Abstract: Coral reefs are threatened worldwide, and there is a need to develop new approaches to monitor reef health under natural conditions. Because simultaneous measurements of net community production (NCP) and net community calcification (NCC) are used as important indicators of reef health, tools are needed to assess them in situ. Here, we present the Benthic Ecosystem and Acidification Measurement System (BEAMS), to provide the first fully autonomous approach capable of sustained, simultaneous measurements of reef NCP and NCC under undisturbed, natural conditions on timescales ranging from tens of minutes to weeks. BEAMS combines the chemical and velocity gradient in the benthic boundary layer to quantify flux from the benthos for a variety of parameters to measure NCP and NCC. Here, BEAMS was used to measure these rates from two different sites with different benthic communities on the western reef terrace at Palmyra Atoll for two weeks in September, 2014. Measurements were made every ∼15 minutes. The trends in metabolic rates were consistent with the benthic communities between the two sites with one dominated by fleshy organisms and the other dominated by calcifiers (degraded and healthy reefs, respectively). This demonstrates the potential utility of BEAMS as a reef health monitoring tool. NCP and NCC were tightly coupled on timescales of minutes to days, and light was the primary driver for the variability of daily integrated metabolic rates. No correlation between CO2 levels and daily integrated NCC was observed, indicating that NCC at these sites were not significantly affected by CO2.

Click here to read more!

scripps oceanography uc san diego