The Florida Gulf Coast University
Vester Marine and Environmental Science Research Field Station
5164 Bonita Beach Road
Bonita Springs, Florida 34134
Opportunities for local (regional) research projects abound. The Vester Field Station is located on the edge of mangrove forests and relatively isolated waterways/backbay waters. Estero Bay, Fish Trap Bay, and Little Hickory Bay are all located within a short boat ride. The Gulf of Mexico is literally “just down the street” and accessible by boat through the estuary and Gulf passes within 15 minutes.
Ecosystem Function and Trophic Transfer (Volety and Loh). Watershed alteration not only impacts specific organisms but also influences community structure and trophic transfer. We have been investigating how freshwater inflow to estuaries influences trophic transfer within an oyster-reef ecosystem. In addition to several presentations at national and international conferences, this research has resulted in a Master’s thesis by H Abeels (2010) titled “Trophic transfer and habitat use of oyster Crassostrea virginica reefs in Southwest Florida identified using stable isotope analysis” (which has been published in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series) and a Master’s thesis by R. Wasno (2014) titled “Investigation of the trophic transfer from oyster reefs to predatory fishes in Southwest Florida.”
Ecotoxicology (Rumbold, Loh and Volety). Several ecotoxicological studies have recently been conducted at the Field Station. One study (funded as part of a NOAA-NRDA investigation) examined the effects of oil and dispersants on the early development of oysters and physiological, immunological and reproductive impacts in adult oysters. Another study, funded by BP through a block grant to the Florida Institute of Oceanography, conducted bioassays and toxicity tests of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill using adult copepods and early-life stages of urchins and finfish. This study also investigated other lines of evidence such as chemical analyses of water and bulk neuston and plankton, morphological and cytogenetic examination of wild-caught neuston and plankton, and enzyme induction assays. - Collaborators: P Soudant, Univ. Western Brittany, Brest, France; C Jagoe, Florida A&M Univ.; F-L Chu, Virginia Instit. Marine Science; S Le Floch and J Guyomarch, Cedre, France; Aaron Robert, U. North Texas; James Oris, Miami University, OH.
The potential adverse effects of mercury contamination in the Gulf of Mexico on fish and wildlife as well as on human health have been recognized in a number of reports (Interagency Working Group on Methylmercury, 2004; Governors’ Action Plan II, 2006), and several investigations focusing on mercury have been completed or are currently underway at the Field Station. A Master’s thesis completed by J Thera (2011) titled “Trophic transfer of mercury in a subtropical coastal food web off Southwest Florida” collected tissues from 18 species of invertebrates and 40 species of fishes for mercury and stable isotope determination and estimation of the food web magnification factor (published in the journal Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry). Results from that study will be contrasted with ongoing work in the Caloosahatchee and Shark River estuaries funded through Gulf of Mexico Alliance. The Field Station also served as a base of operations for a collaborative project that tags and samples (biopsies taken for mercury and stable isotopes) various shark species in local Gulf waters (published in the journal Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology). Results of these ongoing studies have been presented at conferences (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, New Orleans, LA, 2009; Mercury as a Global Pollutant, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, 2011). - Collaborators: TR Lange, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; DP Krabbenhoft, BA Bergamaschi and GR Aiken, U.S. Geological Survey; N Hammerschlag, Univ. Miami.
Estuarine Hydrodynamics and Sediment Transport (Fugate). One of the key processes necessary to predict sediment transport is the settling velocity and aggregation dynamics of estuarine aggregates. With support from the NSF, FGCU recently acquired a saltwater flume and located it at the Field Station to examine how freshwater inflow and density driven stratification influence the turbidity maxima and the distribution of planktonic organisms in partially mixed estuaries.
Estuarine Microbial Processes (Urakawa). As a part of estuarine microbial characterizations, ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms have been enriched from Estero Bay sediment. The continued research will reveal ecological and biological aspects of nitrifying microorganisms as a part of nitrogen cycling in mangrove dominated estuary.
Harmful Algal Blooms (Volety and Parsons). We have been investigating the impacts of harmful algal blooms of Karenia brevis on aspects of shellfish biology including uptake and depuration, long-term reproduction and population structure, and physiological and immunological responses. This research has resulted in a Master’s thesis by A. Griffith (2011) titled “Bioaccumulation and depuration of brevetoxins in the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) and the northern quahog (=hard clam, Mercenaria mercenaria)”, which has been published in the journal Toxicon. In collaboration with the University of Western Brittany, we also received a grant from the European Union Marie Curie International Outgoing Fellowship to host Dr. Ludovic Donaghy who examined the effects of harmful algal blooms on cellular and subcellular responses of shellfish. In addition, Ms. Anne Rolton from University of Western Brittany conducted her Ph.D. work examining the impacts of K. brevis on the immune responses, reproduction and bioenergetics of clams and oysters. - Collaborators: S Shumway, Univ. Connecticut; M Bricelj, Rutgers Univ.; P Soudant, Univ. Western Brittany, Brest, France.
In order to predict ciguatera fish poisoning events in the Greater Caribbean, we have been examining macroalgal population dynamics and harmful algal blooms as part of a 5-year project (CiguaHAB Project; https://www.fgcu.edu/CiguaHAB/) funded by NOAA’s Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms program designed to investigate conditions that lead to higher toxin production. The Field Station has benefited this research effort greatly by increasing accessibility to Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, and by providing a functional wet lab facility with flow-through seawater as well as supporting dry labs for conducting mesocosm and feeding experiments.
Hurricane History of Southwest Florida (Muller). Hurricanes are the single most costly and destructive weather disasters in the United States. Research suggests a rise in sea surface temperatures caused by anthropogenic climate change has led to an increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones over the last 40 years. This interpretation has, however, been challenged on the basis that the observational hurricane record is too short (161 years) and unreliable to reveal long-term trends in hurricane activity. Paleotempestology, a research area that uses geological proxy techniques to reconstruct hurricane frequency and strength over long periods of time (~0-7 thousand years), can address these limitations. We are working on a project that will reconstruct the hurricane history of Southwest Florida over the past five thousand years by identifying hurricane overwash deposits in back-barrier lagoons and marshes. Records will be correlated with existing paleotempestological studies to determine patterns of hurricane activity and inactivity. To understand how the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and sea surface temperatures (SSTs) have impacted hurricane activity in the past, correlations will be made with previously published paleo-ENSO and paleo-SST studies. In addition, the study will establish a site-specific Southwest Florida hurricane database that will be used to better understand the characteristics of storms that produce overwash deposits.
Invasive Species (Volety). Invasive species, such as green mussels, have the potential to compete with native species, such as oysters, for food and space. Research into how environmental factors affect green mussels and oysters has resulted in a Master’s thesis by K McFarland (2011) titled “Effect of salinity on the physiological responses of the non-native green mussel Perna viridis and the native oyster Crassostrea virginica”, which has been published in the journal Fish and Shellfish Immunology.
Nutrient Biogeochemistry (Loh). FGCU recently completed a project examining the linkage between freshwater inflow and watershed runoff and their impact on macroalgal and harmful algal bloom development. Research related to nutrient cycling resulted in the Master’s thesis by R Ketover (2011) “Effects of tidal flushing on benthic remineralization of organic matter in mangrove stands in Estero Bay, Florida, USA.” Results were also presented in 2011 at the American Society for Limnology and Oceanography, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Seagrass Ecology (Douglass). Seagrasses provide valuable ecosystem services such as sediment stabilization, enhanced fish and shellfish production, and improved water quality. Seagrasses are also sensitive indicators of disturbances to the environment. My group is working on projects to improve our understanding and protect the biological diversity and beneficial functions of marine ecosystems. Recent research focuses on seagrass beds and the rich communities of algae and animal life they harbor. Specifically, grant-funded research is currently directed towards monitoring the ups and downs of seagrass beds in Southwest Florida and assessing their relationships to threats from pollution, altered water flows and salinities, boating impacts, and changes in the abundance of influential organisms such as grazers. My group does fieldwork in the Caloosahatchee Estuary, Matlacha Pass, and Estero Bay, and maintains laboratory experiments at FGCU’s main campus in Fort Myers and at the Vester Field Station in Bonita Springs.
Shellfish Biology and Ecosystem Restoration (Volety). Southwest Florida has experienced tremendous watershed alteration and altered freshwater runoff into estuaries. Examining how freshwater inflows impact responses of valued ecosystem components, such as oysters, has been a major research theme at FGCU. These responses are used by resource managers to set freshwater inflow targets to restore and enhance oyster populations in Southwest Florida estuaries. Research related to the effects of salinity resulting from freshwater inflows on the early life stages of oysters was conducted at the shellfish hatchery at the Field Station. Ms. Patricia Goodman is conducting her Ph.D. work (Univ. Western Brittany, Brest, France) examining the effects of freshwater alteration on oyster health and condition in the Ten Thousand Islands. In collaboration with community volunteers, FGCU faculty, students and staff have also constructed over 25 oyster reefs in the region as part of its community based oyster-reef restoration program.