Restoration of nearshore habitats

Oyster reefs benefit coastal communities

Native Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) are an important ecosystem engineer throughout shorelines of the Northeast Pacific Ocean and especially within the quiet waters of Puget Sound. Olympia oyster populations suffered severe declines in the 20th century, but small populations exist throughout most of their historic range. We are working to create a pathway of ecological assessment to determine restoration priorities and efficacy.

Olympia oyster clusters form a hard reef habitat that shelters other species

Kelp creates marine forests

Bull kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana) is a large species of macroalgae that forms dense clusters of stipes and large canopies of blades. The resulting kelp forest habitat facilitates many species from microbes to mammals. We are testing in-water restoration methods for bull kelp, working to identify key stressors leading to kelp decline, and beginning to characterize the diverse communities unique to Puget Sound kelp forests.

Not bull kelp, but still worthy of kelp love.
Examining bull kelp reproduction in July 2021.

Behavioral thermoregulation in a slow marine invertebrate

The intertidal whelk snail, Nucella ostrina, moderates its exposure to high temperatures (thermoregulates) by feeding on reliably cool days of the two-week tidal cycle. I tested the effect of temperature on feeding preference behavior in experimentally created habitats in the field, used radio frequency identification (RFID) tags to track snail movements in their natural habitat, estimated snail body temperatures in microhabitats using physical thermal models, and assessed thermal performance as recovery time after stress.

Key collaborators: Emily Carrington (UW), Sarah Gilman (Claremont Colleges), Michael “Moose” O’Donnell (UC Berkeley)

whelk with radio tag

Mussel fall-off in a changing ocean climate

slip pt mar 17
Hilary recording habitat information in a mussel bed in Clallam Bay, WA.

Marine mussels are important habitat-forming foundation species on rocky shores and important source of food and revenue for the people of Washington state. Increased temperatures and decreased pH associated with climate change have been found to decrease the strength of mussel attachment (Laura Newcomb dissertation 2015), which could lead to high levels of fall-off on shorelines and at mussel farms. (Sci comm video of our work by Abby Lunstrum.) Our team tracked mussel attachment strength and health/condition as well as physical and chemical water properties for 3 years at two WA shellfish farms. We are working to correlate environmental variables to seasonal and sudden fall-off events.

Key collaborators: Emily Carrington (UW), Molly Roberts (UW), Laura Newcomb (NOAA), Ian Jefferds (Penn Cove Shellfish), WA Sea Grant

Climate change, tolerance, & performance of intertidal snails

Ocean acidification disrupts growth

FHL Ocean Acidification Environmental Lab

We predicted that decreased seawater pH due to ocean acidification would reduce feeding and growth of the predatory whelk Nucella ostrina. We experimentally controlled seawater pH by altering carbonate chemistry (adding CO2) for a range of treatments from pH 7.0 to 8.0. Snails in lower pH treatments consumed slightly more barnacles than snails in higher pH treatments, however, growth of tissue and shell in low pH treatments was the same or lower than growth in higher pH treatments. We presented these findings at the 2018 SICB meeting.

Key collaborators: Matt George (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia), Emily Carrington (UW)

Shell size and temperature change: using historical ecology to test climate change hypotheses

Hilary and Robin taught a research apprenticeship on this topic at Friday Harbor Labs in spring 2018 with open access to all course materials, including student results. Students C. May, C. Toler-Scott, & J.A. Fields presented their work at the Western Society of Naturalists Annual Meeting 2018 & the Mary Gates Undergraduate Research Symposium 2019.

Key collaborators: Robin Elahi (Stanford), Aaron Galloway (University of Oregon), Will King (UW)

Seasonal thermal tolerance

Seasonal changes in thermal tolerances in the intertidal snails Littorina spp. and Nucella spp. on San Juan Island, WA.

Key collaborators: William Stickle (Louisiana State University), Emily Carrington (UW)