University of Central FloridaDr. Linda Walters
Research in Mosquito Lagoon
Department of Biology
University of Central Florida
Orlando, FL 32816
Mosquito Lagoon is the northernmost body of water in the 250 km long Indian River Lagoon (IRL) system. Biological diversity in this beautiful, yet fragile, ecosystem is extremely high. This is in part because Mosquito Lagoon is located in a biogeographical transition zone where temperate and subtropical species reach the limits of their physiological tolerance ranges. Thus, both tropical mangrove trees and the temperate salt marsh grass Spartina alterniflora can be found growing side by side here. During the course of a year, water temperatures in Mosquito Lagoon range from near freezing to over 90 degrees F. Additionally, since the water is quite shallow (mean depth: 1.5 m), evaporation in warm months can cause the salinity to exceed 45 parts per thousand (ocean salinity is 36 parts per thousand).
To date, most research in this incredible ecosystem has focused on the southernmost regions of the IRL in close proximity to research facilities associated with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Fort Pierce and Florida Tech in Melbourne. Realizing the importance of better understanding the unique conditions of Mosquito Lagoon, in March 1990 the Superintendent of Canaveral National Seashore entered into an agreement with the University of Central Florida (UCF), providing faculty in the Biology Department with a building in the northern section of Canaveral National Seashore to use as a base for teaching courses and conducting field research. Presently, a number of classes from UCF (including Marine Biology, Marine Ecology, Mammalogy, Herpetology, Ichthyology) have used these facilities as have a number of groups from other Florida colleges and universities.
Estuarine research by UCF scientists is presently focused on two themes. The first theme is biodiversity. We cannot protect these dynamic waters without knowing what plants and animals are present in Mosquito Lagoon throughout the year. Bi-weekly monitoring of invertebrates and algae began in the fall of 1997 and continues to the present. To better understand the physical parameters of the aquatic environment, salinity, temperature, and dissolved oxygen have been monitored continuously since June 1998 with a computerized sampling device provided by Dynamac Corporation. Rainfall, wind speed and wind direction are also recorded. Not only will this data provide us important information about the seasonality and distribution of each organism, it will be an invaluable reference to determine the impact of major natural disasters such as hurricanes, point source and non-point source pollution, or the evolutionary impact of a species invasion or extinction.
Our second research goal is to better understand the biology and ecology of some of the local economically important invertebrate species. The oyster Crassostrea virginica is an important food resource, and the barnacles Balanus amphitrite and B. eburneus and the polychaete tubeworm Hydroides elegans create serious biological fouling problems, rapidly covering all unprotected submerged surfaces. Understanding the factors that influence the settlement and survival of these organisms will enable us to address related questions on how to increase oyster harvests and how to reduce biological fouling on ship hulls. Oyster larvae are known to respond to specific chemical cues and settle exclusively on shells of the same species. In June 1998, we began a large trial to study oyster recruitment (settlement and survival after attachment) on empty shells. There were distinct differences between our field sites; oyster settlement in some areas was much greater than in others. Likewise, survival of newly settled individuals varied between sites; survival ranged from 0% in some locations to over 70% in other areas. Predation by crabs and oyster drills and overgrowth by barnacles were major sources of mortality. Sedimentation may also play an important role and we plan to examine this factor in the summer of 1999. Our present research on fouling organisms involves determining how many marine algae and animals keep themselves free from overgrowth by other organisms. In doing this research, we hope to better learn how to keep boat hulls free from biological fouling.
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