Some of you may remember my earlier post about light trapping -- the process of collecting plankton samples by baiting in organisms using bright lights inside a cylindrical net. I collected around 40 samples this summer from three locations on Catalina Island, part of a potential side project looking at seasonal and annual variations in the ichthyoplankton assemblage (i.e., the types of baby fish that are in the water at different times).
It can take a lot of time to sort some of the densest samples, even for me (and I have spent countless hours sifting through piles of plankton). Luckily, my lab at UCSC hosts a number of wonderful undergraduates. Currently, these five young women are primarily assisting with research examining how behavior and skeletal adaptations may have helped fish transition from the aquatic world to the terrestrial environment. This excellent research is being headed up by my advisor Rita Mehta and labmate Kristina Akesson.
A primary mission of the University of California system and the Mehta lab is to provide undergraduates with well-rounded, diverse research experiences. As part of this, they've been helping me sort through the light trapping samples, which is a completely different type of work than they've done previously. It's also an opportunity for them to interface with me (a graduate student who's been in their shoes) and talk about potential projects into the future. And most importantly, plankton are AWESOME -- the sheer diversity of the samples is astounding. Below are some of the amazing creatures we've found (we started a "cool specimens" jar, and I promised them I'd take photos and identify some of the crazier organisms).
First, what are we actually looking for? Three things: Fish larvae, lobster larvae, and cephalopod paralarvae. Why these three? Fish are my main interest, in seeing how environmental variations may influence fish assemblages. Lobsters are an important economy in the Channel Islands, as well as the one of the most abundant invertebrates in the kelp forest. Cephalopods are another common inhabitant, as well as key prey item for many other organisms. These latter two groups could form the basis of an interesting undergraduate senior thesis or side project looking at abundance or morphology.
Second, what are some of the other cool things we've come across? Copepods are by far the most numerous organism in our samples, followed by various types of shrimps and shrimp-like crustaceans. Mixed in with these are crabs in various stages of development, other types of crustaceans such as ostracods and isopods, and polychaete worms. We also find some things (like the organism in the top left image) that I still haven't identified! (if you know what it is, let me know!)