Genetic diversity in seagrass final product

For my final science communication seminar product, I created an infographic on the importance of genetic diversity in seagrass beds. After receiving feedback from my peers and professionals in the field, I decided to change my first draft into a more simple design and message. We also discussed visiting museums to present our products, so I created a small display (described below) that can facilitate conversation with people about the infographic.

Seagrass Genetic Diversity by Gina Digiantonio

The display is a piece of paper on which two “beds” of seagrass (A and B) are represented with 3 seagrass blades (see picture below). Each seagrass blade has 2 starbursts to represent their genetic diversity. Bed A has two kinds of starbursts present compared to the 4 kinds of starburst in bed B, and is therefore less diverse.

Then, a simulated disease washes over the beds in the form of a pink translucent cover. Suddenly, the pink starbursts are washed out and bed A only has 1 blade remaining while bed B retained its blades.

I will tailor this conversation to different audiences. For example, for a scientifically-minded adult the starbursts can be referred to as “alleles” and we can discuss the influence of dominant vs. recessive traits. My hope is that the activity (and candy) will capture people’s attention, generate interest in the topic, and better visualize the points on my infographic.

Diversity in Seagrass- First Draft


Importance of Diversity in Seagrass Beds

For this draft I used Canva to create a rough verison of what I want my first infographic to include.  The first infographic will be targeting a general audience. The images I used were either personal pictures or taken from the IAN website, but I still need to add the attributions for them and an additional source list at the bottom. I’m also trying to consider ways I can make the infographic more visually appealing, maybe by adding additional pictures for the 3 levels of diversity.

Click here to see the draft of Infographic1!

One thing I found while working on the infographic draft was that I wasn’t able to fit as much information as I thought I would be able to. After realizing this, I updated the outline for my second infographic that is focused more on my research in H. wrightii beds in Florida.  I talked to a new professor at Florida International University who is going to be working on seagrasses in Indian River Lagoon and a marine consultant for the lagoon and offered to share my infographics with them.


Updated outline for Infographic 2:

  1. Recent seagrass die-offs in Florida
    1. Algal bloom in Indian River Lagoon (2016)
    2. High salinity in Florida Bay (2015)
  2. Common restoration techniques don’t often consider genetic diversity in their projects due to time and money constraints
    1. Genetic diversity research can provide this information to help these projects be more effective
      1. Even over a short time period of 1-2 years, genetic diversity can increase restoration success measures such as shoot density (Williams 2001)
    2. Graphic of how genetic diversity data for Florida was obtained
      1. The samples were collected prior to the diebacks so the data can help set a baseline of natural diversity in the beds
      2. Sampling scheme consisted of two 5-m by 5-m blocks, with a sample taken at each meter (shown in a visual). This was performed at 9 sites in Florida
    3. Overlay map
      1. The size of circles on the map at the 9 sites will vary in accordance with the diversity found at the site
      2. *This map will be similar (but much smaller) to the one at this link (hw-florida-sites2) but will have the variation in symbol size representing the diversity, and won’t have the site initials

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.