Now before you get too excited, this has nothing to do with breaking a rule in sports, but actually refers to a fouling community, a community made up of an accumulation of materials, both non-living and living. So, in actual fact, it is pretty exciting!
Not so easy is it? (See below for some help if you give up.) In order to investigate how many species are living in this fouling community at the Vancouver Yacht Club in Stanley Park, we had to balance ourselves over the dock and almost stick our heads into the water, while local pedestrians were looking at us as if we had gone completely bonkers. We also stuck our hands into the water and managed to grab a diverse amount of organisms, (and by we I mean my super helpful and longer-armed lab partner).
We specifically looked at the number of invasive tunicate species in these fouling communities. Tunicates are filter feeding, sack like animals that lack a vertebrae that can form colonies. The tunicate Botryllus schlosseri, more commonly known as the golden star tunicate, was observed in fouling communities along the edge of a floating dock. It is considered an invasive species because it is not native to the area, but now inhabits it to the extent where it displaces native species. An invasive species can have both positive and negative effects on a community; by looking at the number of invasive tunicates and other invertebrate species we hope to test the relationship between invasive tunicate abundance and native species richness. We also aim to explore whether or not the salinity of the water affects the invasive tunicates and native species by looking at another area in Vancouver that has a different level of salinity.
The hassle of coordinating the logistics to actually get to the yacht club was definitely worth it. The sun was shining in Raincouv-I mean Vancouver, and we found some cute but not so cuddly invertebrates whilst on our search for invasive tunicates.
We found a brightly coloured sea star; it was a pleasant surprise to see this healthy looking Pisaster, due to the significant die off the populations have been suffering due to sea star wasting syndrome. The syndrome causes there to be visible lesions on the outer surface of the sea stars, as well as visible behavioral changes since they “waste away”. Check out this 2014 scientific paper to learn more about what is causing these sea stars to waste away.
We also found a bunch of polychaete worms, also known as bristle worms, but this species was difficult to see since it camouflaged so well with the mussels. We think it was specifically a Halosydna, or an eighteen-scaled worm as it is commonly referred to, based on the way it looked and the fact that it was found living with the mussels.
It was a very enjoyable lab day for all of us because we were able to not only gather specimens for our future scientific questions, but we all got to have a hands on experience with some of our favorite marine invertebrates.
And before I forget, here are just a few examples of the different animals living in the fouling community!