Mia Lenzenweger, University of North Carolina Wilmington

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Class Year:

2021

Mentor:

Judy O'Neil, Ph.D.

Project Title:

Using Bioinformatics to Analyze the Patterns of Phytoplankton Communities Off the Coast of Maryland

Abstract:

Emergent harmful algal bloom (HAB) species and phytoplankton communities are understudied in nearshore/offshore water, which is problematic given that climate change is causing major ecological and physical shifts along the Mid-Atlantic Bight. Climate change can facilitate better conditions for algae to thrive therefore leading to frequent blooms. This project aimed to see if higher temperatures led to higher HAB abundance because warmer climates promote algal growth. By exploring data from research cruises conducted in 2018 and 2019 off the Delmarva peninsula, it was found that temperature did have a significant impact on phytoplankton community distribution, but a longer-term data set is necessary to investigate whether increased temperatures lead to greater HAB abundance. Forms of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), dissolved oxygen levels, and salinity were also major drivers behind community composition. These variables are known to play a role in bloom formation and should be explored more in future research as their role in terms of ecosystem importance could be heightened with changing climate. As environmental conditions change drastically, this could potentially exacerbate the harmful phytoplankton species that were identified within the coastal samples. There were shifts seen in community diversity during a period of sampling when hurricane activity was present. These types of weather patterns and their impacts on biodiversity warrant further investigation and analysis. This project helped to address the composition of phytoplankton communities in an area where there is a lack of data. It can help direct future management practices. Temperature, nutrients, dissolved oxygen, and salinity were all significant indicators of population distribution and should continue to be a major focus behind conservation and restoration efforts.

Location:

Virtual

REU Update

Natural Resources Technician with Maryland Department of Natural Resources

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