Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Week 6: Too stressed to spawn, and pressing highlight

Well, after recovering from a less-than-productive holiday week, I've returned to find my project still beset with problems.  There are only two problems now getting between me and data.

1) Seeing spores with my microscope.  This problem is mostly solved, I've now totally revamped my microscope setup, allowing for more maneuverability and clarity (a fancy way of saying I wrapped the microscope in a plastic bag and secured it with a rubber band). This hack job setup actually solved a whole bunch of problems- easier to light, more stable attachment, easier to maneuver, and better clarity. And for a brief moment, I actually saw spores! Three lonely spores, from one proud Calliarthron tuberculosum mother.

The setup is still a little unstable, and the vibrations in the carriage might actually cause blurry pictures when I use it to move the camera back and forth.  This problem is fixable though, either by 1) manually moving the webcam to set positions, 2) making a new carriage or 3) or if all else fails, counting the spores by eye, without the webcam. I will figure out which solution to use when I have spores to look at, which leads to the next problem.

2) No spores.  I've now confirmed that the algae I've been working with have just not been releasing spores, or releasing in such low numbers as to be useless.

I've been mostly working on Corallina vancouveriensis, the same species I worked on in Monterey and had good success with.  After several sets of no spore release, I finally took them under a microscope and dissected their reproductive structures yesterday.  And, well, they didn't look so hot.  Compared to Monterey, they had lower numbers of of reproductive structures, lower numbers of spores in their structures, and the ones that did have spores had pretty crappy, deformed spores.  So, no wonder I wasn't getting good release.

I talked things over with Becca, and we formulated several strategies:
1) Collect Corallina in a new location on the island, where it might be healthier.
2) Get some divers to collect Calliarthron tuberculosum, my other study species. This species also doesn't look too sexy in the intertidal, but Becca said she's found healthier and more reproductive fronds from subtidal locations.
3) Put intertidal Calliarthron in a dark growth chamber, where a colleague of hers said she got that species to form reproductive structures.
4) Switch to an entirely different coralline or noncoralline species, chosen based on local health and reproductive state.

We're actually going to pursue all these strategies simultaneously for the rest of the week, hoping at least one of them pans out and solves this problem.

Pressing Highlight: Microcladia borealis

This highlight features a relative to one of our previous favorites, Microcladia coulteri.  The second and only other representative from this genus in the area, Microcladia borealis looks a fair bit different from its cousin.  It's less flattened and has more tube-like branches that often become entangled with one another, causing it to look like a hairy mess in the field.  But pull it apart for a pressing, and it's simply gorgeous.

The species has what's called a unilateral branching pattern.  That simply means when branches form off a trunk, they always form on the same side.  Those branches can form sub-branches, but the sub-branches will again pick a side and only form on that side.  You can see this unique pattern in the pressing.  This gives a unique design and shape to the algae. I always thought this algae would make a great suit in a deck of cards, like a club or spade, or frond (hehe).

This algae is generally pretty small, with branches extending usually no more than a few inches from the main branch.  But because of it's delicate size, it takes extreme care and effort to turn it into a pressing.  I spent more time arranging pressings for this species than I do for any other.

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