header image

On the absence of spines

Posted by: | October 29, 2014 | No Comment |

Hello Oregon Sea Grant Community– I’m Keats Conley, a 2014-2015 Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar. The blog below shares some recent reflections on my work with appendicularians.

 

April 2014: Here, in a small tourist town on the south coast of France, I am hunched over a dissecting microscope, wire-tipped dissecting probe in hand. The wire is finer than dental floss. I am using it to break my ancestors’ spines.

 I use the term “spine” loosely.

Appendicularians are a “Urochordate”, one of the three subphyla of the phylum Chordata, along with Vertebrata and Cephalochordata. Cephalochordata is a rather obscure group of small, soft, fish-like creatures called lancelets. Vertebrata includes true fish, hagfish, humans and Labradoodles alike. Urochordates are therefore a sister group to us vertebrates. We are much more closely related to appendicularians than we are to, say, the bivalve oysters we so enjoy shucking and shooting. A great deal of research has compared mammalian and Urochordata genomes to provide information on, among other things, the evolutionary origin of the vertebrate immune system, the eye lens, and the central nervous system.

Appendicularians look like a millimeter-sized translucent tadpole. Under the microscope, they appear equal parts alien and human embryo. They have a football-shaped head (the “trunk”) and a tail, which writhes wildly. I break their spines so that they will hold still long enough for me to take a photograph, which I can later use to measure their size.

The term “appendicularian” refers to the appendices of the animal, their houses. As described in a scientific paper: “The house is secreted as a rudiment by the oikoplastic epithelium, a specialized single-layered organ that covers the trunk of the animal.” In other words, they grow their house from their head. The “house” is a spherical or ellipsoidal structure made of mucus. It is secreted, and then the animal bangs its head up and down to inflate the house with water. The animal then swims inside and sits in the house, with the house roof tucked under its appendicularian “chin.” The house is made of rectangular mucus filaments that function like a spider web.[1] Structurally, its architecture is kaleidoscopically intricate, but its function is straightforward: to capture and concentrate prey particles, such as bacteria and small algae, from the surrounding seawater. The house concentrates prey up to a thousand times that of the surrounding seawater, and then the appendicularian sucks up its thick prey soup as if through a straw.

As I alternate between spine- and camera-snapping, I don’t need to follow any particular protocol. (I do try and move swiftly). In my home lab back in Oregon, a fellow Ph.D. student one building distant works with two-inch zebrafish (Danio rerio) and must adhere to procedures outlined by the University of Oregon’s Animal Care Services, the organization “responsible for administering all activities related to the care and use of animals.” An animal, in this case, is implicitly considered equivalent to a vertebrate. And as we know, although appendicularians coexist with zebrafish in the kingdom Animalia, the two occupy separate subphyla within the phylum Chordata. When I called Animal Care Services to inquire whether any particular care procedure must be followed for research on appendicularians, I was reassured that, no, Animal Care Services oversees supervision of only live vertebrates, as well as some charismatic, seemingly intelligent invertebrate mollusks, such as octopuses. But, I protested, appendicularians are a sister-group to vertebrates. A sister-group. Just the same, I am free to do what I wish with my small, sister house-builders.

The summer after my spring of spine-breaking, I served as a teaching assistant for a marine invertebrate zoology class at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. In a lecture on the difference between “anadromous” and “catadromous”, the professor showed a photo of the rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss. In small font, the caption read: “Vertebrates are just invertebrates that happen to have backbones.”

Appendicularians don’t have a spine. They have a notochord. A notochord is a flexible, thin-walled tube, found in the embryos of all chordates. Notochords were advantageous to primitive fish-ancestors because they provided a rigid structure for muscle attachment, yet were flexible enough to allow more movement than, for example, a hard chitinous exoskeleton. In humans, the notochord of the developing embryo is a precursor that will eventually become the central nervous system, including the spinal cord and vertebrae. But in appendicularians, the notochord just stays as a notochord. They have a simple, spineless tail. And a head that builds houses.

 

References:

Spada, F., Steen, H., Troedsson, C., Kallesøe, T., Spriet, E., Mann, M., & Thompson, E. M. (2001). Molecular patterning of the oikoplastic epithelium of the larvacean tunicate Oikopleura dioica. Journal of Biological Chemistry,276(23), 20624-20632.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The next time you look at a spider web, notice that it is made up entirely of rectangles. This is because a rectangle is the shape that catches the most bugs with the minimum amount of web material. After all, spider silk is energetically costly to produce. Appendicularians employ this same strategy of catching prey using rectangular-mesh nets, except their thread is mucus rather than silk.

under: Keats Conley, Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar

Final CIFA Conference Update

Posted by: | October 27, 2014 | No Comment |

It’s finally here! This November 11-12, the Council of Infrastructure Finance Authorities (CIFA) is holding their annual national conference in Portland, and the Oregon Infrastructure Finance Authority is doing their best to support this effort.  Specifically, I am helping to organize an Oregon-focused plenary session for the conference, as well as a tour of some of the sustainable infrastructure that exists around Portland.

For the plenary session that will take place on Wednesday November 12 at 9 am, we will be bringing together a number of excellent speakers to present the work they’ve been involved with in regards to Oregon’s natural hazards resiliency. Dr. Kent Yu (Former Chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Committee), Josh Bruce (Director of the Oregon Partnership for Disaster Resilience), and Larry Eaton (GSI Water Solutions, Inc.) will talk about the infrastructure issues associated with natural hazards and discuss what lessons other infrastructure professionals from around the country can learn from the work taking place in Oregon.

For the sustainable infrastructure tour taking place immediately after the plenary from 10 am – 1 pm, the entire tour will take place within the Pearl District’s Brewery Blocks. We will get a tour from Gerdling Edlen, the firm that designed this Eco-district, as well as a presentation from the Portland Water Bureau about some of the reservoir projects they are working on. On top of getting to see the nation’s first condominium to receive LEED Gold Certification and explore some of the most innovative storm water management strategies to date, tour attendees will also get to experience some local Portland culture by getting to explore the Brewery Blocks. Click here for more information about the tour.

The 2014 CIFA Conference is being held at the Hilton Double Tree. Click here for more information about the conference.

under: Geoff Ostrove, Natural Resources Policy Fellow, Uncategorized

Good news! The SRGP application deadline has been extended for Emergency Services Buildings! The new deadline is Monday, November 24, at 5:00 pm. So, if you know of any fire stations, hospitals, or police stations that are in need of seismic retrofits, tell them about the SRGP!

under: Geoff Ostrove, Natural Resources Policy Fellow

Thesis Defense!

Posted by: | September 14, 2014 | 1 Comment |

Hello Sea Grant readers!

I wanted to let you all know that I will be defending my master’s on September 18th at 10 am in Burt Hall, Room 193.  If you’d like to hear about the impacts of Wave Energy Converter arrays on the nearshore wave climate, come listen!

under: Annika O'Dea

CIFA Conference Update

Posted by: | September 9, 2014 | 1 Comment |

This November 11-12, the Council of Infrastructure Finance Authorities (CIFA) is holding their annual national conference in Portland, and the Oregon Infrastructure Finance Authority is doing their best to support this effort.  Specifically, I am helping to organize an Oregon-focused plenary session for the conference, as well as a tour of some of the sustainable infrastructure that exists around Portland.

For the plenary session that will take place on Wednesday November 12 at 9 am, we will be bringing together a number of excellent speakers to present the work they’ve been involved with in regards to the impending Cascadia Earthquake. Jay Wilson (Chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Policy Advisory Committee), Josh Bruce (Director of the Oregon Partnership for Disaster Resilience), and Paulina Layton (Programs Division Manager for the Oregon IFA) will talk about the infrastructure issues associated with this predicted earthquake and discuss what lessons other infrastructure professionals from around the country can learn from the work taking place in Oregon.

For the sustainable infrastructure tour taking place immediately after the plenary from 10 am – 1 pm, the entire tour will take place within the Pearl District’s Brewery Blocks. We will get a tour from Gerdling Edlen, the firm that designed this Eco-district, as well as a presentation from the Portland Water Bureau about some of the reservoir projects they are working on. On top of getting to see the nation’s first condominium to receive LEED Gold Certification and explore some of the most innovative storm water management strategies to date, tour attendees will also get to experience some local Portland culture by getting to explore the Brewery Blocks. Click here for more information about the tour.

The 2014 CIFA Conference is being held at the Hilton Double Tree. Click here for more information about the conference.

under: Geoff Ostrove, Natural Resources Policy Fellow

Welcome to the GNRO

Posted by: | August 29, 2014 | No Comment |

Hello again! For everyone who has been following this blog over the past year, welcome to the official “re-branding” of my blog-spot as an Oregon Natural Resource Policy Fellow in the Governor’s Natural Resources Office. For those who have yet to read this blog, a little background: I am a recent graduate of the Masters of Environmental Management program in the Department of Environmental Management at Portland State University in Portland, OR. My graduate research focused on evidence-based decision making in coastal and marine management and policy in the Pacific Northwest. At a high level, this work tested a 2 phase methodology for bridging the gap between academic research and policy and management practice: The 1st phase included an interviewing process to gather primary qualitative data and determine scientific data needs of ocean relevant decision makers. In the 2nd phase, I conducted a workshop to bring together academic scientists and decision makers to disseminate phase 1 findings and begin to foster the development, communication, and use of policy relevant research. I have resolved to continue focusing on understanding how best to bring scientific knowledge into policy action through my career in coastal and marine policy creation and management implementation.

My graduate research was funded by the Oregon Sea Grant Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship, and I feel very fortunate to continue to work with Oregon Sea Grant as well as other Sea Grant scholars over the next year. I anticipate gaining an incredible wealth of knowledge over the next year working in the Oregon Governor’s Natural Recourses Office. As a neophyte walking around this Office, I often find myself with eyes open wide and full of excitement. Oregon Sea Grant has provided me this incredibly rare opportunity to be placed in the heart of ocean and coastal policy in such a critical coastal state, and I intend to take advantage of every moment. I welcome you to follow me along this journey over the next year!

under: Kaity Goldsmith, Natural Resources Policy Fellow
Tags: , , ,

Hello Oregon Sea Grant Community!

Before I even get started with my whirlwind update of field work, conferences and dramatic life changes I first want to apologize.  It has been far longer than I ever expected since my last post.  While I certainly can’t fix my prolonged absence… I can at least begin to explain what’s kept me so far away from my computer since my last post this spring.

First- Conference update!

Thanks in large part to the Malouf Fellowship I was able to attend a marine mammal conference this May in Bellingham, WA.  I’m a member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy — but wasn’t able to go to the “big girl” international conference in Dundin New Zealand this past year (as a lowly grad student with teaching responsibilities and a tight budget, well the South Pacific just wasn’t in the cards).  What I love about the marine mammal community though, is our ability and desire to collaborate.  International conferences are biennial (every two years) but as students we hold an annual chapter meeting.  The Northwest Student Chapter for the Society of Marine Mammalogy (NSCSMM- check us out on facebook and get involved!) hosts a one day conference every year at one of the Pacific Northwest Universities.  This year Western Washington University had the lucky draw, and the conference organizer was none other than my dear friend and former intern Kat Nikolich.  The marine mammal world is quite small.

The conference, which is organized entirely by students, was spectacular.  It was a priceless opportunity to hear the latest and greatest in marine mammal research, and entirely from the Pacific Northwest.  Further, we had a chance to take a boat ride out of the Western Washington Marine Lab, where we saw heaps of marine life and generally kicked back and got our feet wet.  It was also a great place to make some collaborators.  At the conference I chatted with a number of  students with similar interests in acoustics who I now have plans to work with in the future.  (Phew… people say science is competitive, that must be why they created conferences.  Working together is always easier than racing to the top).  I’m also proud to report that I was elected the new Chapter Representative, and will be working with Pacific Northwest Students for the next few years keeping everyone informed about conferences and opportunities to participate in marine mammal science.

Which leads me to the next exciting conference news. In May, 2015 Oregon State University will be hosting the NWSCSMM Meeting in Newport, OR. We’ll be inviting students from throughout the region (Northern California to Alaska) to present their research (completed or in progress) to friends and colleagues.  You don’t need to present to be involved; undergraduates, high schoolers, or graduate students are encouraged to attend.  This is an excellent chance for students (or anyone) who wants to learn more about the marine mammal field, or perhaps wants some advice on how to break into marine mammal science, to hobnob with some early career researchers.  Feel free to contact me personally if you have questions about attending or presenting, and keep an eye out on this blog and others.  I’ll be sure to circulate the details as they unfold.

But I’m not done yet… I know this post is already growing long… hang in there.

Due again in large part to the Malouf Fellowship that I’m so honored to have received, I was able to travel to Washington D.C. (o.k. Leesburg Virginia) this summer for a weeklong Marine BioAcoustics Summer School (SeaBASS).  I know not everyone gets excited about spending a week learning about marine physics and underwater sound production, but I do!  It was spectacular!  I won’t bore you with all of the details here, except to say that fish do vocalize and it’s amazing, and that physics tells us a lot about ocean ecology.  You can read a more detailed account of the trip on my lab blog here.

In the interest of brevity just a few more points.   I was invited to speak to the American Cetacean Society’s Oregon Chapter this past spring in Newport, OR.  I gave a talk on acoustic communication in cetaceans, with an emphasis on critters we have here on the Oregon Coast- which if you didn’t know includes white sided dolphins, Pacific dolphins, harbor porpoise, sperm whales, humpback whales, and gray whales… among others.  I’ve also since given two other lectures (one on a small cruise ship and one as a master class at the university) on similar topics.  This fall I’ll be teaching two master classes, both of them for universities on the east coast, with a little help from the internet :)

Lastly, I want to pass along some exciting, but bittersweet news.  My PhD project has changed.  I know.  It’s a little strange for me.  When I started my PhD I began working on what I believed (and continue to believe) is an extremely valuable marine mammal monitoring project here on the Oregon Coast.  Over the part year I’ve been able to recruit a series of talented and committed students and volunteers to act as marine mammal observers looking for whales, dolphin, and porpoise from the R/V Elakha.  In my previous posts I told you a little about what we’d been seeing on the water, and this spring we deployed our first round of hydrophones and started listening as well- very exciting.

But, somewhere along the lines something happened.  My phone rang. Funding had come available studying the impact of noise on humpback whales in Glacier Bay National Park, and the Park biologist wanted to know if I was able to shift my dissertation focus to Alaska.  Prior to working on cetaceans here in Oregon I lived and studied humpback whales in Southeast Alaska.  After completing my M.S.at OSU my focus shifted locally to the Oregon Coast, but as you may know funding in science is incredibly tight.  When the opportunity for a fully funded PhD position arose, I wasn’t really in a position to say no.  Given my background in humpback whale acoustics I was a good fit for the project, and although the decision was a tough one (tougher than you might imagine) I opted to accept the offer.

The flip side of the coin? The good news is that I’ve still been working on the Oregon Coast project, and it’s flourishing.  We have a new graduate student in our lab named Courtney Holdman who started as one of our volunteers on the project.  She has since taken over the project for her master’s thesis.  Our volunteers are still going strong, and the program has expanded somewhat.  Two students initially slated to collect data for our marine mammal project are headed out on a 4 day research cruise this September.  Three other students from here in Oregon will be headed into the field with me in Glacier Bay next summer.  So while I’ll be looking at noise impacts up north, I’ll be bringing a little bit of Oregon with me.

I know this has been quite the earful (eyeful?).  Thanks for hanging in there with me on my PhD adventure. It’s been exciting, and I never would have managed it without Oregon Sea Grant (I mean that).  I’ll be sure to stay in touch as things unfold! ~Michelle

under: Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar
Tags: , , , , ,

It’s 7 AM on my day off, and somehow I am already out of bed and driving north on Highway 101. The radio is staticky on this part of the coast and all that’s coming in clear is the bombastic finale to some sort of romantic classical piece. I pull off the narrow, two-lane highway at the Tolovana Park exit in the city of Cannon Beach and keep heading north on Hemlock Street. The road curves extravagantly. As I brake to round a bend, the magnificent Haystack Rock suddenly comes into view.

The music on the radio now feels appropriate. Two hundred and forty feet tall, shaped like the pope’s hat and encircled with squawking seabirds, Haystack Rock is a commanding presence on this long sandy beach. The rock itself is nesting habitat for about a dozen species of seabirds, and the foot of the rock is composed of turquoise tide pools that provide a home for countless marine organisms. Thousands of people from all over the country and even the world flock to Haystack Rock every summer. And that’s why I’m here. As a volunteer interpreter, my job is to educate the hordes of summer crowds and also to protect the marine garden and wildlife sanctuary from them.

I’m better at the former than the latter, to be honest. Having spent many hours scrambling over tidepool rocks, picking up snails and starfish, and, yes, even poking sea anemones, it feels hypocritical to dissuade others from these activities. But the Haystack Rock tidepools are visited by tens of thousandsof people every summer, unlike the deserted tidepool spots I’ve visited in southern Oregon. Haystack Rock is visible for miles and easily accessed from the beach– it had no chance of being kept secret.

Luckily I don’t spend too much time in the role of ‘enforcer.’ In the last six weeks or so, I’ve also started writing the program’s weekly nature blog entries. After a couple of hours on the beach, I head to Cannon Beach City Hall, where the group is headquartered, and use staff notes to write up a summary of what the animals of the Rock have been up to during the past week. You can check out the blog here: http://hrapnatureblog.blogspot.com. Lately I’ve been focusing on one, relatively common animal—so far I’ve chosen the brown pelican, hermit crab, and aggregating anemone— and highlighting how surprisingly special and complex it is.

I’ve worked and volunteered at a number of environmental education programs over the years, but the Haystack Rock Awareness Program is perhaps the most impressive I’ve ever been involved with. Born from a grassroots effort to protect the tide pools and nesting habitat, this program puts interpreters—some paid, many volunteer— out on the beach at every low tide during the summer. The group operates out of a clever truck and trailer operation on the beach, where they store signs, binoculars, scopes, and pamphlets. Interpreters roam the tidepools pointing out animals, aiming scopes at birds’ nests, answering questions, and discouraging visitors from trampling the barnacles and anemones on the rocks.

TEP, where I am carrying out my fellowship, also began as part of a grass roots community effort. Recently, I’ve been helping TEP write a report for its 20th Anniversary celebration, which means I’ve been learning a lot about how the organization got started. It’s really encouraging to be involved with not one but two organizations that came into being via the sheer willpower of concerned citizens. Encouraging enough to get me out of bed before 7 AM on a day I’m not working (the coffee and bagels at the Sleepy Monk Café help too.)

More information about the Haystack Rock Awareness Program can be found here:http://www.ci.cannon-beach.or.us/~Natural/HRAP/hrap-program.html

under: Natural Resources Policy Fellow, Rose Rimler
Tags: , , , , , ,

Closing Remarks

Posted by: | August 21, 2014 | No Comment |

It’s hard to believe that this will be my last blogpost as a Malouf Scholar. The past year has been amazing, and would not have been possible without the support of Oregon Sea Grant. I have completed my graduate research, compiled the findings, and graduated from Portland State University this summer. Through my research I proposed and tested a method to overcome institutional barriers and build cross-sector communication capacity between decision makers and scientists that mutually benefits those involved while promoting their respective roles in society. Preserving and protecting critical coastal and marine resources becomes ever more important as climatic, land use, and socio-demographic shifts occur. Doing so will require effective and efficient policy and management schemes that include the best available science, i.e., evidence-based decisions. My research engaged decision makers and scientists to begin a collaborative approach to extract, design, and integrate relevant information into evidence-based policy and management practices. This integrated approach maximizes use of information to prevent, and in some cases reverse, the negative effects of human practices.
Though, I want to emphasize that this work has been just the start in a long and sustained process. Further workshops, dedicated interactions, and the stimulus from funding agencies should all be used to sustain the connection between decision-makers and scientists. A clear linkage between decision makers and scientists, electronic networks, decision support tools, and ecological models can all support long-term engagement as well.
Increasing communication between scientists and decision makers results in an impressive return on monetary investments, generating greater value for research dollars spent by developing more effective research. By enhancing social capital through communication, decision makers can better protect natural capital. Since there are real economic and ecological costs associated with continued consumption of finite resources, the interactions established during my research (and ideally beyond) should be a high priority for decision-makers and scientists alike.
While I have recently accepted a Natural Resource Policy Fellowship with Oregon Sea Grant at the Governor’s Natural Resources Office (and my attention will naturally shift to this program’s requirements), I intend to continue to follow-up with the work I have done with evidence-based decision making. Fortunately, there is a strong desire in the Governor’s Natural Resources Office to do just that! I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to continue these efforts, and embrace new ones in my role, as well as continue to work with the amazing caliber of people at Oregon Sea Grant. As I move on to this next stage, and pass along the torch to the next cohort of Malouf Scholars, I look forward to reading about what fascinating and promising research they conduct! Stay tuned everyone!

under: Kaity Goldsmith, Natural Resources Policy Fellow
Tags: , , ,

SRGP NEWS!

Posted by: | August 20, 2014 | No Comment |

Senator Peter Courtney has made it clear that he plans to go after $200 million to add to the Seismic Rehabilitation Grant Program (SRGP). Check it out:

http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/news/politics/2014/08/19/sen-courtney-wants-m-school-safety-upgrades/14297181/

under: Geoff Ostrove

Older Posts »

Categories