Our lab studies the interactions between marine organisms and their environments. This includes both how animals and plants respond to the physical elements that surround them- temperature, salinity, etc. - as well as relationships between species, such as competition, symbioses, and facilitation. Much of our work focuses on the tremendous diversity of marine invertebrates, and how this diversity responds to anthropogenic stressors.
Benthic Ecology of the Indian River Lagoon
The Benthic Ecology Program is a long-term study focused on the benthic invertebrates of the Indian River Lagoon. Benthic refers to organisms found on, among, or within the sediment, bottom, or “benthos”. Since 2005, the lab has been collecting benthic samples quarterly at 15 discrete sites within the Southern Indian River Lagoon and St. Lucie Estuary. These samples are then sieved, preserved, and benthic invertebrates are sorted out under a microscope, counted, and identified to the lowest possible taxon. By determining the biodiversity at each site, the lab can make inferences on the environmental health of the sites and see if they are changing over time.
Why Benthic Invertebrates?
The small organisms found in the muck or sand of the Indian River Lagoon can actually help show and predict larger environmental trends within the IRL due to their following qualities:
- Their relatively sedentary lifestyle. While larger organisms, like fish or manatees, can move away from disturbances, benthic organisms cannot move as quickly and are effected by disturbances, such as salinity shifts or pollution, on a shorted timescale
- Relatively easy to sample, identify, and enumerate
- They respond quickly to environmental changes such as changes in salinity, temperature, or clarity
- Intermediate trophic position & diverse life history strategies
This long-term monitoring project was started in February 2005 with funding from the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP). CERP “provides a framework and guide to restore, protect, and preserve the water resources of central and southern Florida, including the Everglades”. In the 1950’s, the Army Corps of Engineers altered the waterflow of central and southern Florida to prevent flooding and make land available for the growing population.
The Benthic Ecology Lab is always looking for enthusiastic volunteers and interns that have a passion for the environment and a love for learning. Volunteers and interns engage in field work, microscope analysis, and are encouraged to develop their own research projects within the scope of the lab. Please click "here" to view current volunteer opportunities in the Benthic Ecology Lab and Smithsonian Marine Station!