Project Proposal

Seagrasses increase water clarity, reduce erosion, store carbon, and provide habitat for hundreds of species, including commercially and recreationally important fish (Zieman 1982; Koch et al. 2006). However, seagrasses are subject to a variety of threats including dredging, climate change, and eutrophication. As a result, these important ecosystems are declining globally (Orth et al. 2006). However, populations of seagrasses that have high genetic diversity are more resilient to environmental stressors and contribute more ecosystem services (Hughes & Stachowizc 2009; Reynolds et al. 2012). My research is focused on the genetic population structure of the tropical seagrass Halodule wrightii in Florida, North Carolina, and Bermuda. Seagrasses can reproduce sexually and asexually and morphology cannot differentiate between clones and unique genotypes, so genetic techniques are important for distinguishing between areas of low and high genetic diversity. My study uses microsatellite primers, which are areas of the DNA that consist of short repeat sequences and do not code for proteins. The genetic diversity measures found in this study can contribute to restoration decisions by identifying ideal donor beds and establishing a baseline of diversity for natural beds.

I have found it difficult to explain the importance of genetic diversity both to members of the public and to other scientists because genetic terms can quickly become jargon. For that reason, I want to create a product that can be useful for audiences at different levels of scientific knowledge. I plan to make 2 infographics to target these different groups. The first will be directed towards a general, public audience that discusses the different levels of diversity within seagrass beds and the interactions between levels.  This infographic will attempt to convince the audience that we should care about diversity of seagrass at all levels, but particularly the genetic level since it has feedbacks into the ecosystem level and can make up for the low species diversity of seagrass beds (Duffy 2006). I think high school science teachers might find this product especially useful, and I am going to try to find a website containing resources for teachers that would accept the infographic as a tool for teaching diversity. Infographic 2 will be more of a case study displaying the data from my genetic diversity study and relating it to restoration in the Florida Bay area following a recent dieback. The target audience will be scientists outside the field of genetics, restoration groups, or more scientifically inclined members of the public. This infographic will be useful to me during my thesis defense, as well as during any future talks about my work.

I believe infographics might be the best medium for accomplishing my goal because they are visually appealing and are great for reducing information to the “take home” messages. After looking at a couple of tools that help to make infographics I think I’ll use Canva because I like their templates and the ease with which items manipulated. However, I’m open to suggestions about other ways I can convey this information!

The topics discussed in the first infographic will be:

  1. The problem: Seagrasses are declining globally
  2. Diversity can help prevent declines AND increase ecosystem services
  3. Levels of diversity
    1. Ecosystem level (the different species utilizing seagrasses as habitat)
    2. Species level (the number of seagrass species that make up the base of the ecosystem)
    3. Genetic level (the number of different genotype, or unique individuals*, within a given seagrass bed)

*Important to explain that seagrasses can produce either sexually or asexually

Feedbacks into ecosystem level

The topics discussed in the second infographic will be:

  1. Graphic of how genetic diversity data was obtained
    1. Visual of sampling scheme
    2. Visual of DNA region being targeted and amplified using microsatellite primers. This will be kept as simple as possible
  2. Common restoration techniques; pros and cons of each in terms of success, impact on donor beds, and implications for genetic diversity of restored areas
    1. Vegetative fragments vs transplants
  3. Overlay map
    1. Area in Florida Bay affected by the summer 2015 seagrass dieback
    2. Relative genetic diversity of 5 sites within Florida Bay (based on number of unique genotypes present within a sampling area)

Literature Cited:

Duffy JE (2006) Biodiversity and the fuctioning of seagrass ecosystems. , 233, 233–250.

Hughes AR., Stachowicz JJ (2009) Ecological impacts of genotypic diversity in the clonal seagrass Zostera marina. Ecology90, 1412–1419.

Koch EW, Ackerman JD, Verduin J, Kuelen M Van (2006) Fluid Dynamics in Seagrass Ecology—from Molecules to Ecosystems. Seagrasses: Biology, Ecology and Conservation, 193–225.

Orth RJ, Carruthers TJB, Dennison WC et al. (2006) A Global Crisis for Seagrass Ecosystems. BioScience, 56, 987.

Reynolds LK, McGlathery KJ, Waycott M (2012). Genetic Diversity Enhances Restoration Success by Augmenting Ecosystem Services. PLoS ONE7, e38397.

Zieman JC (1982) Ecology of the seagrasses of south Florida: a community profile (No. FWS/OBS-82/25). Virginia University, Charlottesville (USA). Dept. of Environmental Sciences.

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