Who Grows There?
Scientists take a closer look at biofouling marine life
If you’ve spent time by the ocean, you’ve probably seen the masses of barnacles, sponges, and other invertebrates that grow in abundance on submerged rocks, boats, docks, aquatic plants, and even the shells of snails and other marine life. Kirstin Meyer investigates how those so-called biofouling communities emerge and evolve.
In the spring and summer of 2017, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution postdoctoral scholar hung plastic panels off the WHOI pier and in nearby Eel Pond in Woods Hole, Mass., to monitor what would grow on them.
“I wanted to know not just what the communities look like after an indeterminate amount of time, but how they developed from the very beginning,” Meyer said.
She’s particularly interested in the “mechanisms of succession” that drive the composition and ecology of coastal biofouling communities.
“Succession is how a community of animals develops over time—what things settle when,” Meyer said. “Mechanisms refer to the particular ways that those species are interacting.”
Her preliminary results suggest that water temperature and competition among species primarily determine who survives and who doesn’t and how the assortment of species changes over the course of the seasons.
Meyer says her work could help prevent the spread of invasive species, which often dominate biofouling communities.
“If we understand how the organisms interact with each other and why they settle in the order that they do,” Meyer said, “then we can start to understand how these invasive species become established.”
While she was doing her field work, Meyer also had to contend with another kind of “invasive” species—summer tourists.
“I’ve had a couple of people stop me and ask what I’m carrying,” Meyer said. “I have these dish racks that I put my fouling panels in, and people give me really funny looks.”