NCBS Intern Report by: Samantha Tiffany, Intern with the UF IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station and Drs. Charlie Martin (NCBS) and Laura Reynolds (UF IFAS Soil and Water Science Department)
Gearing up to go Seine
Anyone who’s ever done field work knows that it’s a uniquely rewarding experience that can test the limits of any sane person. This summer I had the opportunity to study fish and invertebrate communities in seagrass meadows near Seahorse Key, FL. I was eager to jump right in after learning I had managed to snag a spot on one of these amazing projects through the UF IFAS NCBS internship program and couldn’t wait to see what experiences and skills I would gain! I was paired with Dr. Charlie Martin (NCBS) and Dr. Laura Reynolds (Soil and Water Sciences) to examine the day/night shifts in fish and invertebrate communities in areas with artificial light and without to simulate effects of light pollution. Seagrasses are an important habitat for many species, but most of of what we know comes from day sampling. In this project, we aimed to document how these communities change between night and day and determine if the light that humans introduce at night influences these differences.
To answer these questions, we pulled seine nets along transects during the day and night, in areas we added artificial light (to mimic light pollution) and areas where we did not. Our field sampling trips were planned around the tides and the weather and I realized how important it is to pay attention to them. There were a couple of times where we set up our experiment, but couldn’t get back to those sites because the tide was too low to navigate with the boat or we had to wait out incoming storms.
Seining by moonlight
Once the sites were set up, we seined each transect once at night and once during the day. After seining, we took our samples back to the lab where I identified, counted, and measured each species. The day sampling was tons of fun since we got to see other wildlife including dolphins, manatees, sharks, seabirds dive-bombing for fish, horseshoe crabs, stingrays, as well as all of the organisms we caught in our seine. However, sampling at night was pretty eerie. I’m grateful that we started on a full moon because it allowed me to ease in to the idea that I would be wading in waist-deep (sometimes chest-deep) water without being able to see what I was stepping on. We constantly heard loud splashes all around us, but weren’t able to see what caused them. One of the experiences I’ll always remember was being able to see bioluminescence while wading in the water during a couple of our night seines. It was amazing to see the amount of light these single-celled organisms could produce when we agitated the water.
Throughout this internship, I became skilled at using dichotomous keys to identify fish and invertebrate species, became more boat savvy, gained practical field experience, and learned how to think about an experiment from multiple angles. Based on our research, we found that communities do change between day and night. Among the most interesting findings was that pinfish were more abundant in seagrass during the day and pink shrimp more abundant at night. It would be interesting to research where these animals go throughout a 24-hour cycle and what they eat (or eats them) during the transitions between these habitats. Thank you to the Nature Coast Biological Station for offering me this internship position and to my mentors for teaching me valuable skills that I will carry with me into my future. It was an unforgettable experience during which I gained new skills and worked with amazing people!