Effects of herbivores on juvenile seaweeds

As an undergrad at Western Washington University I had the opportunity to pursue an independent research project under the guidance of Dr. Benjamin Miner.  In collaboration with Dr. Kevin Britton-Simmons and Allison Gibbs (a fellow WWU student), we were interested in testing whether waterborne cues generated from the act of herbivory could alter growth rates in developing brown seaweeds.  We hypothesized that if cues could induce defenses in adults, then cues could also trigger a defense response (in the form of a plastic response in growth) in the early life stages of the seaweed.  To test this hypothesis, we cultured embryos of the seaweed Fucus distichus in the laboratory under different water treatments.  The water treatments were designed by isolating a “herbivory event” in a bowl and then transferring water from that bowl into the culture dishes.  Treatments included snails feeding on the adult seaweed, isopods feeding on the adult seaweed and two controls (the adult seaweed by itself, and the adult seaweed plus a nitrogen addition).  We analyzed growth from photographs of the seaweeds in the cultures (pictured above!) and found that after four weeks the developing seaweeds grew significantly more is the snail treatment relative to the isopod or control treatments.

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