Constant Flux

Every day you wake up thinking what events, tasks, are approaching: every day you are wrong. Every day, you try to walk across campus at FHL, and your schedule is bedazzled by running into a colleague, interested party, student, who wants to ask you, tell you, about the cool stuff they are working on in the ocean. Running this class with Morgan has been an exercise in 50% insanity (what changes? well, maybe organisms are dying; maybe the gel rigs don't work the way you thought they would; maybe some supplies are in high demand), 50% astounding overload of actually talking to people who on a daily basis give a loving damn about organismal biology. And 50% just gasping at the beauty and comfort of life on San Juan Island (I'm not a stats professor...).

So we are more than half-way done. We got to spend a day on the RV Centennial, we have been to several gorgeous intertidal sites. Temperature data loggers, sea tables, calipers, thermal cyclers, and plenty of R coding: all have been pondered alongside limpets, barnacles, echinoderms, and copepods. What a blast!

Mount Baker is always a good site from the shore


In Hot Water

We have several experiments and projects running at the same time, but a few notes on the Pisaster work - a much crazier project than I knew when we started planning it...

Individual P. ochraceus in small Vexar cages, at +3°C over ambient
One thing that is crazy: we have in custody 22 (now 21) of the Pisaster from the FHL field domain, about 1km of coastline, and of course everybody here is quite interested in making sure we return all of these seastars healthy to the rocks they came from. (We are down to 21 because one was injured and we put it back rather than stressing it out). So there is considerable ethical debt here: I worry all my waking hours about their health, even as I am intending to stress them out in the heated flow tanks pictured above.

The stress is to see how different genotypes respond to stress, and we can learn a lot. But the stress itself is... stressful. Getting this tank setup involves a lot of accidental near-electrocutions (thank goodness for GFCI outlets), tubing that gets trapped and expands into blocked-up sausages of sea water, days where the tanks drift up in temperature higher than we want, or suddenly get flooded with fresh seawater and they are colder than we want. So, if I were to do this again, I would have shipped my $1500 flow-through heater that has a lot more horsepower than the aquarium heaters we are using.

Then the seastars themselves, we have to maintain their unique identity throughout this experiment. But guess what? They all look very much alike. Here they are almost all purple, we have a cohort that are mostly very similar sizes. We have measured their arms but that is a somewhat variable thing depending on their hydration and health status, among other things. So, we caged them for the temperature trials. But one of them jammed an arm through the Vexar and got stuck, and then (they aren't smart) started twirling itself trying to get loose, nearly ripping its arm off. I freed it just in time.

The students are doing a great job keeping an eye on the whole precarious system, and fortunately we only have another week or so before we can start the remaining behavioral and tissue trials and return these gorgeous brainless deuterostomes to the wild. I will be relieved, and hopefully we will learn something interesting from it all.


One Week Down

Hello! Somehow we have made it through the first week of our class and it has been BUSY. First of all, Brian Helmuth, we found one of your old data loggers...

...and Morgan helped us get up to speed on installing our own. One of our exercises is understanding how tidepool copepods acclimate to very local conditions and what that can tell us about potential for adaptation, combined with lab selection to move their thermal tolerances a bit. We've also successfully amplified mtCOI gene region from some barnacles to see whether a canonical genetic cline has shifted northward (or flattened) in the 15-20 years since the original study was done. And today we head out into the lovely San Juan Island intertidal to collect more Pisaster!


Just About Ready

We are here, we found Pisaster, we found Tigriopus, we found Balanus - those are our guinea pigs of the sea for our time in Friday Harbor. Obviously all should be easy to find, but Pisaster is a challenge after the population has been ravaged by SSWD. Today is a final day of scrambling around trying to line everything up for the class, including a surprising quest to find pipettors (remember, this is a bio station renowned for inverts, embryology, phycology - great people doing great molecular work, but not always the focus of summer classes, historically). The more-fun type of prep work is going to involve setting up some heated flow-through tanks for one experiment the class will be running, and the even-more-fun type of prep work late this afternoon will involve a nice cold IPA!