Nordic OIKOS conference 2-4 of February 2016, in Åbo, Finland.

Here is the first report from the Baltic Sea Weed blog participating in the OIKOS conference. The conference was opened by professor Gunilla Rosenqvist. She has been engaged in Baltic Sea research for many years and is the Coordinator of the Baltic Sea Region at Uppsala University. Professor Mikko Mönkkönen from Turku University gave some information about the conference, the importance of net-working and pointed out that the Nordic countries have a strong tradition in long-term studies and the high value of these data sets, which should be regarded as national assets for ecological research and management. A panel discussion “Open science” was chaired by him after the coffee break.Programme 2016

During the conference a broad range of research subjects were presented. In the first plenary lecture by Tómad Grétar Gunnarsson I learned about the dynamics of Godwit populations and how their migration and increased populations may be affected by volcanic dust deposition on Iceland during their breeding period together with feeding on polychaetes and Macoma on the large mudflats during overwintering in England and Scotland, linking these two ecosystems together.Icelandic Godwit

This presentation was followed by a talk on how water quality changed during the last 20 years (1990- 2010) in Danish lakes focusing on benthic vegetation and species richness. The interesting question addressed by Lars- Baastrup-Spohr was if it has been worth while all the costs put into cleaning the sewage water? The answer was YES!1nutrient reduction has payd off

Alga biomass has decreased in the polluted in lakes but it was not possible to record as an increase in Secchi depth. The number of species had increased since 20 years ago and more species had spread and were found in more of the lakes. This has resulted in the lakes becoming more similar. One functional group that had increased in abundance were Lemnids, small species floating on the surface. So the tremendous effort in restoring lakes in Denmark is starting to pay off. Still, there seems to be some time-lag effects possibly from the sediments containing large stores of nutrients.2long term changes in lake vegetation

Next talk was given by Fiia Haavisto. She presented together with professor Veijo Jormalainen cage experiments testing the spread of water-borne herbivore resistance in natural marine environment.3Spread of water borne

There is good evidence for such induced resistance in land plants and has also been found in macroalgae, especially in dense stands among other species, Ascophyllum nodosum, Fucus vesiculosus, and several red algal species. You find some references in the picture.4Water-borne herbivore resitance

Cage experiments were performed in a shallow sandy bay at Seili during 25 days in May. The results presented showed a resistance in the Fucus thalli being less grazed by Idotea balthica and increased phlorotannin content. The conclusion from the study was that resistance spreads to undamaged not grazed thalli near by but that currents will result in strong spatial variation in water borne substances. One question from the audience was related to how fast do Idotea move between thalli and what could the effect be since the induction takes a few days? Issues that still will have to be studied further. After a presentation or study you are usually left with more questions.



2nd European Conference on Scientific Diving, 9-11 May 2016

This year the conference will be held in Sweden at The Sven Lovén Centre for Marine Sciences – Kristineberg. This is one of the worlds oldest marine field stations, easily accessible from Gothenburg and with fabulous diving just outside the door.
This meeting highlights scientific outputs achieved principally through the use of scientific diving as a research tool.
Deadline for abstract submission 4th December 2015

For more information, visit the web site

Please share this information with interested colleagues and join the fun!!

Sessions and invited speakers are:
• Coastal research using scientific diving – from micro to macro
Dr. Miriam Weber, HYDRA Institute for Marine Sciences Elba, Italy
• Underwater archaeology
Dr. Jens Auer, Maritime Archaeology, University of Southern Denmark.
• New technologies & methods for scientific divers to improve underwater research
Dr. George Matsumoto, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, US.
• Research in cold waters using scientific diving
Dr. Jan Czerny, GEOMAR, Kiel, Germany.

Send your abstract to:
More information:
Important dates:
Abstract submission 4 December 2015.
Registration 31 January 2016.

If you want to see the wonderful marine life of the Gullmar fjord without getting wet, the aquarium Havets Hus is located in nearby town Lysekil.

If you don’t mind water being refreshingly cool, but don’t want to lug all your equipment, you can rent it all at the divecenter in Lysekil, DiveTeam, . Drysuits available for the frozen.

See you there!!


ECSA 54 Day 2

The Tuesday starts with the opening of a new topic “From genes to ecosystems: Effects of global change”. Keynote speaker is professor Filip Volckaert from Belgien, who talks about intraspecific biodiversity on a genetic level. Three years ago, I would have been lost at the first slide, but after having spent time hanging over the shoulder of my collegue Angelica Ardehed, who is the geneticist that extracts the DNA from all the seaweed i pull out of the water, I can follow the entire lecture. Thank you Angelica!

This was a really good keynote for the topic. Filip Volckaert lays the field for todays speakers really well, by going through the basics of genetics. This will save me some time, since I will have my presentation in this topic at the end of the day. Excellent!

IMG_4428Filip Volckaert summarizes genetica

During the following discussion concerning the need of biologists to also take courses in policy making, law and economics, Volckaert says “I live in Belgium, yes, but Brussels is abroad for me. I send postcards home when I go there.” A comment in true Groucho Marx-style.

First out of the presentations is Mike Elliot from University of Hull, who summarizes ”Conceptual models of the consequences of global climate change for estuaries and seas”. He kindly warns us that he will make our Brains explode with the amount of “horrendograms” he is about to show us. I myself rather like conceptual models, but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. We do, luckily survive, however. Many of the models are really good, but a Little colour never goes amiss. It is a brilliant summary of what needs to be done to achieve the EU’s marine framework directive. Mike ends by showing a slide of the ”to do”-list. I just wish politicians would understand how much work this will require.

IMG_4433“We only need to know all this to achieva good ecological status

Guillem Chust from Spanin follows with ”Vulnerability of estuarine species and communities under climate change”. He has inverstigated how a warmer climate might affect the distribution of the seagrass Zostera noltii along the Basque coast by coupling hydromorphological models with species distribution models. He presents how the seagrass’ distribution would change at two different scenarios, elevated temperature and elevated sea level, with reductions of biomass between 20-40 %.He also shows a neat setup where they are trying to recreate a seagrass bed by putting out boxes of sediment in which they have already planted Zostera noltii. I’m rather tempted to try that at home at the Askö laboratory, just for fun, with our Zostera marina.

Next presenter is an old friend from Tjärnö, Greg Charrier. He has been ther for five years, and we met at a CeMEB course where he was teaching genetic methods. Small world. Greg, who is now safely back in France, presents ”Integrative approach on the responses of a coastal fish to global warming”. They have worked with flounder (Platichthys flesus) which has turned out to be a good indicator for water quality and stress, along the French, Spanich and Portugese Atlantic coast. Using common garden experiments, they checked if the Southern populations, at the edge of its distribution, are more tolerant to warmer temperatures (heat stress) that the others. They have also tested the sensitivity to other chemicals (chemical stress) and low oxygen levels (hypoxic stress). Stress is measured by comparing the growth rate of small stressed flounders to non-stressed, and also by measuring different metabolic processes.

The research of Morgana Tagliarolo from Rhodes University focuses on what mechanisms Controls the distribution of the two bivalves Perna perna and Mytilus galloprovincialis (a relative to our blue mussel Mytilus edulis) outside the Namibian and South African Coast. Perna perna is the native mussel, and Mytilus galloprovincialis has arrived later and is considered invasive. Morgana has tested if they differ in metabolism, which means looking at who grows fastest and can thus compete better for space, and also if the metabolism differs at different temperatures. The South African coast is tidal, wich means that the mussels are pup in the air at low tide. Therefor they have measured both in water and in air, to get a true image of the mussels life. It is important that studies should have ecological relevans, something not everyone always remembers.

After coffee (mini-lunch) with a small cup of coffee a la Black Death, we take our seats again to listen to Adriana Verges talk on ”Climate-driven shifts in herbivory and the disapperance of kelp forrests in eastern Australia”. She focuses on what will happen when the herbivorous fish that keep the coral reefs in the tropical Waters clean from algae, moves into temperate Waters due to rising sea temperatures. On the coral reefs, the fish are the key to keeping the reef algae- free, so that the corals aren’t shaded or suffocated. But in temperate Waters, algae are the foundation species, providing the shelter as trees in the marine forrest. And they cannot withstand the intense grazing by the coral reef fishes.

IMG_4434Horror films for seaweed lovers

Inventories of the kelp forrests along Eastern Australia show that the kelp has been reduces since 2002. In some localities it’s been grazed to a barren. Adriana shows some film clips of where they hade put out kelp and filmed how soon fish and sea urchins, two notorius kelp eaters, finds and consumes the kelp.The research is part of a cooperation with amongs others Japan, who have the same problems.

B Duarte continues along the same line but up on land with ” The impact of extreme temperature events on halophytic vegetation”. Being halophytic means that you, as a plant, are able to grow in salty environments, and that in some cases even grow better there. The Camargue delta in southern France, for example is a very good place for halophytes.
These plants have to cope with growing submerged from time to time, which may cause low or no access to oxygen for the roots, sometimes there are periods of drought. A tough life. The results show that halophytes are generally not significantly affected by colder periods, but that extreme periods of heat causes a great loss of energy for this group of plants.

We return bavk into the sea and the macroalgae with the presentation of I Rodil, ”Effects of global climate change factors on macroalgae subsides and consequent impacts on sandy beach consumers” which shows that the sandy beaches are not the marine deserts as previously thought, because they are supplied with macroalgae from adjacent hard bottoms, allowing for a richer fauna. If the nutrient content of macroalgae would be negatively affected by climate change, this will in turn affect the faunal assemblage of the sandy shores. But how? Exciting research on Laminaria ochroleuca and Sargassum muticum follows, and is then connected to the sandy shore animals. A fun study in several steps to ensure the overall system is covered and links two different habitats.

It is always wonderful to see the beautiful images of marine organisms. The BalticSeaWeed blog is generally positive to algae, but there are times when they are not wanted. Aschwin Engelen does research on corals along the coast of Portugal and presents his group’s research “Temperate gorgonians during invasive seaweed proliferation and acidification preassure,” which shows how invasive algae are smothering coral. Most prominent is the invasive alga Asparagopsis armata . But corals are also grappling with problems with infections due to hot water and mechanical damage from fishing lines.

To really get a clear picture of what affects corals, they have also mapped all the microbes on corals (microbiome) by genetic sequencing. Apparently, many coral species have unique microbes that they do not share with other, closely related , coral species.

By exposing corals to different algae by allowing water from an algae to pass over the coral, they could see how microbes respond to the seaweed chemical signal by moving away. This could cause a lowering of the coral’s defense against epiphytes, which would allow the algae to attach to the coral. Exciting!

After a long lunch with a dip in the refreshing Atlantic Waves (16 degrees is not bad), we returned to the Conference to listen to the presentation with the best title: ”Photosynthetic sea slugs and global climate change: The role of kleptoplasty in a changing world”. Giselle Dionisio works with the wonderful Little green velvet sea slug Elysia viridis and has tested how the chloroplast that they take from the algae they feed on, survives at high temperatures. Cleptoplasty (stolen chloroplasts) is very complex and suprisingly Little is known about it, so it was a very interesting talk, and we had a great chat afterwards.

IMG_4447Cleptoplast – one of my favourite words

After a sugarhyped coffeebreak it was time for yours truly to proclaim the wonders of Fucus radicans and its sexual dimorphism (more on this over a pint or in the upcoming thesis).

Ellens presentationThe magic World of Fucus radicans!

After ten minutes of presentation and a couple of good questions, we moved on about 50 meters down the road to the postersession, that was held in a Beautiful building with a tiled exterior, typical of Portugal.

IMG_4413Nice and very picturesque.

Cacophony is a rarely used word, but it describes well what erupted. 200 scientists in a small room with beer, wine fruit juice and tapas, and 60 posters that everyone want to read and discuss. Scientific mingle at its very best. Worth noting is that beer in Portugal comes in 20 cl bottles. That’s called a mouthful in other countries.


After mingling and chatting for well over two hours, we are now back at the hotel for a short rest Before dinner. Yesterday was the Day of Molluscs, today it will be Crustaceans.

Day 3 EMBS (getting tender, the chairs are hard)

Today we began with oxygen-free bottoms off the Mississippi River delta. Mississippi has a catchment area covering more than 40% of the U.S. and even reaches in to Canada. Totally awesome! What the researchers have seen is that when large masses of fresh water floods into the sea, after Heavy rain and storms, zones are formed that are completely anoxic, lasting for various length depending on amount of water. Clifton Nunally is working in the area, known as The Mississippi Dead Zone. Dramatic!

Karin Troost from Holland asked whether the pacific oyster (Crassostera gigas) is taking over mussel beds in the Wadden Sea off the Dutch coast. It seems to vary depending on where along the coast they are investigating. Eastern Wadden Sea is now heavily dominated by oysters, but they also create a substrate for mussels, so the result is mixed beats with both mussels and oysters.
In the western Wadden Sea, oysters have colonized areas outside the mussel banks instead.
It seems like there is no need to worry, the oysters will not outcompete the mussels. They will move in and create mixed banks, with more complexity than before. What we do not know yet is how oysters moving in will affect the birds that eat the mussels. Will it be more difficult for them to access mussels? Also, oysters have incredibly sharp edges which birds might rather avoid. The question is also whether there will be food for both oysters and mussels to grow properly, something that Karin is working to calculate.

Sarah Ann Woodin from the U.S., now retired (which does not mean that she no longer does research), show how they have mapped the distribution of larvae from the polychaete Diopatra along the European coast (yeah, she has been sponsored by NASA). This worm builds lovely pipe-formed houses out of shell pieces. The worm larvae spread both naturally through the ocean currents, but also by human impact, hitchiking on mussels that are moved between different cultures along the French coast. It is an incredibly large study, but the advantage is that they get to eat as much mussels as they like while they are working. Wonder if they need an assistant?

In the afternoon, our Estonian colleague Jonne Kotta talked about the importance of temporal and spatial scale when talking ecology, and on what scale you are seeing changes caused by the climatic conditions. Changes on land, like the floods that hit Europe during the last year, for example, are obvious and get a lot of media attention of course. But the changes that occur in the water is not as high profile, and not as well mapped. Jonne has been part of mapping much of the Estonian coast. Once again, the problem with the absence of high-resolution maps of the sea, that we only see tiny parts of the seabed and that the amount of modeling required also need to be checked with actual observations, is discussed.

The second (and last) female plenary speaker of this conference is Cindy Lee Van Dover, who is working with hydrothermal vents (like chimneys of hot water from volcanoes on the sea floor). Her presentation is about the impact humans have on these communities as they mine these habitats for minerals. These environments enriches several minerals from sea water and can grow very large. One such, Godzilla, was 15 storeys high (!!!) before it collapsed during a small local earthquake in 1996.

It’s incredibly exciting with deep-sea research, in which ecosystems are not based on plants that capture solar energy, but is entirely chemosynthetic, wich means that they are instead based on sulfur. Cindy shows stunning images of volcanoes erupting under the water and what it looks like one, two, and three years later, when the animals will return and new structures are forming.

There are one or two embarrassed laughs as she shows different categories of trash you find in the deep sea around these environments. Most are scientific instruments left behind. Luckily, they are mostly classified as less disruptive to the environment. Since this type of environment was discovered 34 years ago, scientists have made more than 700 visits down to there. It leaves a lot of research equivalent of coffee cups and cigarette packets.

So, the problem arises if you venture to mine for minerals, mainly sulfur in these areas. When structures that are built up of mineral deposits disappears, the animals that depend on those structures for living environment and nutrition also disappears. Mining the sea floor also means that it whirls up a lot of sediment, something that many animals do not appreciate. The actual process of mining today, includes pumping shallow water down to the depths, causing a chemical imbalance.

Cindy does not condemn the mineral mining, which has not actually started yet in the areas she works with, but is concerned that they should set limits on how much of these unique environments you are prepared to lose and ensure that these limits are followed before embarking. Here’s a chance to do it right, or at least make minimal mistakes.

Hege Vestheim, originally from Norway, does research on deep sea brines (super salty water layers) in the Red Sea at Saudi Arabia’s University in Jeddah. Hege has investigated 25 deepwater basins along the Saudi Arabian coast that has extremely high salinity. Here, the environment is so extreme that they found no life at all in some of these basins (a dead octopus does not count). In some of them they found arrow worms (Chaetognatha), a clam of the family Solemya and some small anemones that sat on a protruding structure. But as they explore these salt pools they find more and more species, and we were shown an ROV video from some of the pools at more than 1000m depth, with several fun new species. Cool, Hege!

Day 1 EMBS Galway

After an opening welcome by Herman Hummel and Bob Kennedy, the first day started with four talks about climate change.

Opening speaker is Professor Jason Hall Spencer from Plymouth University, England. Jason and his team are focusing their research this year on deep coral reefs in the Arctic, satellite tracking of fishing vessels in order to identify possible marine protected areas, as well as studies of underwater volcanoes and how to use these to predict the effects of acidification by elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

An increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere affects the balance of carbonate and bicarbonate in the sea, and thus all the animals that build shells and skeletons of lime (clams, snails, corals, echinoderms, etc.). The effect is an ocean acidification (OA). Acidification is measured as pH, where a value above 7 is alkaline and below 7 is acidic. The pH of the ocean has fallen from 8.20 in year 1800 to 8.05 in year 2000. It may seem little, but one should keep in mind that pH is measured on a logarithmic scale. One can already see the effects of mussel larvae, which is 20% fewer larvae in water with lower pH.

Another effect of the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing temperature. This affects several marine species, who are unable to survive in high temperatures. Temperature in combination with acidification can have devastating consequences for marine life on a global scale.

To try to understand how acidification and temperature rise will affect the different ecosystems of the oceans, researchers are trying to conduct experiments that extend over a longer period of time, preferably over a few generations of different organisms, in order to distinguish the cause from the effect. The difficulty is to include all parameters when doing an experiment in the lab, and time is always in short supply for ecologists.

Naturally acidic areas in the ocean can be found outside Sicily, where cracks from Mount Vesuvius are bubbling up carbon dioxide into the water column. Here, the researchers have placed various organisms and examined how they were affected by the lowered pH. Several of our larger species, such as the sea grass Posidonia, seems unaffected, but many of the species found in seaweed beds are adversely affected, sometimes missing altogether. It is mainly red algae with a high calcareous content disappears.

Another potential problem is that other invasive species will gladly take over where seaweed has disappeared. It may seem good that someone fills in the gaps, but these algae do not have the same ecological function as seagrass, and also prevents the seaweed from reestablishing. There is a difference between macrophyte and macrophyte, indeed.

What happens if you move animals with calcareous skeletons between low and high (normal) pH? Depending on the organism you move, they are affected more or less. Some clearly show that they are capable of moving between normal and acidic pH as long as it’s cold, but if it occurs during the summer when it’s really hot in the water, they die.

Jason concludes that we must classify carbon dioxide as a marine pollutant, and the faster we can get policy makers and politicians to understand this, the better.

Dr. Andrea Gori continued in the same vein by showing how beautiful cold-water corals, mainly Dendrophyllia cornigera, are affected by rising temperatures and acidification. Dendrophyllia can be found at 200 m depth off the Canary Islands, where it is the dominant benthic (bottom-dwelling) species.

The results show that these corals can handle a fairly wide range of temperatures between 8-16 degrees Celsius. The study also shows that the species seem to thrive and grow better in temperate environments (12-16 degrees Celsius) than in cold water, where Lophelia pertusa is the dominant coral species.

Our Finnish colleague Tiina Salo, presented data from studies on Zostera marina (eelgrass), which she performed at Roskilde University in Denmark together with dr. Morten Foldager-Pedersen.

Tiina preaches seagrass

Tiina preaches seagrass

Tiina and Morten have examined the interactive effects of salinity and temperature, which has not previously been done for seaweed. The scenario is particularly relevant for the Baltic Sea, where a reduction in salinity is expected to be the largest impact of the ongoing climate change.

The study shows that salinity and temperature have a combined effect on the seaweed, especially on number of leaves formed in both young seedlings and adult individuals. Generally, young plants are more sensitive than adults, and they died completely in the treatment exposed to the highest temperature and lowest salinity.

Thus, future climate changes affect eelgrass in the Baltic Sea, and its vegetative propagation will be more important for the species’ distribution and survival.

Last out before the coffee break (or tea, this being Ireland), is Dan Smale with a summary of Extreme Climatic Events in the marine environment, or Marine Heat Waves, and how they can affect entire ecosystems.

The example is the heat wave along the west coast of Australia in 2011 caused by extreme El Niño conditions, that lasted for two weeks. Before the heat wave there were dense kelp Forests. These could not survive the heat, as they were already living on the edge of their heat tolerance. When the kelp disappeared, the cleared surface was covered again with dense turf algae that effectively prevent kelp from coming back.

The kelp forest has decreased significantly, and this has in turn affected the amount and species number of fish found in these areas. In the region where the kelp previously existed, were also previously found 6 species of mobile invertebrate fauna (sea urchins, snails, etc.). These species have not succeeded in re-establishing themselves in the affected area, as their base habitat, kelp, is no longer there.

Since only two weeks of heat can have such a major impact on an ecosystem, one dares hardly think of how a long heat wave would affect marine life.

Mark Costello - on a divine mission

Mark Costello – ona divine mission

After refreshment of coffee, tea and cake, the last session of the day is opened by Professor Mark J. Costello, a heavy name in marine biology, who among other things, helped to found WoRMS. He starts off by pointing out that in the Bible’s book of Genesis, God gave man the task of naming species (and maybe a few more irrelevant tasks as well), and that he, as a taxonomist, is working on it. The title of his presentation is “Can we discover Earth’s species before they go extinct?”

The estimated number of marine species that we have identified today is between 320,000 to 760,000 if you use the WoRMS database, and 704,000-972,000 using different assumptions and methods, often described as expert estimations. Mark highlights how inadequate sampling methods may produce very large differences, and why it is obvious that there are more species in the oceans than on land, when seas are so much greater.

Hardly surprising, physically large groups, such as birds, whales and turtles, were early discovered and mapped (if not hunted to extinction), while smaller organisms like bryozoans and tube worms have been “discovered” in greater numbers during recent years. Looking at the timeline of species Discovery, it shows a marked peak in year 1900, when some big expeditions went out and collected large amounts of marine animals. The trend, of course, fell during the World Wars, but has climbed steadily since the 1950s. Some species, however, have been described several times. Spermwhale has no less than 19 (!!) different scientific names. Sometimes itis because the species look different as young and adult, or because the male and female have completely different colours.

Mark estimates that only 61-64% of the planets alge are described (micro and macro algae). If you divide up the animals in the micro fauna (less than 1 mm) and macrofauna (larger than 1 mm), one sees that there are ten times as much microfauna than macrofauna. One can discover a lot by seeing the world through a magnifying glass or a microscope.

The humor reaches the nerdiest of levels, when he shows diagrams of how taxonomists (someone who works with describing new species, like Linnaeus) have increased over the years, although rumor has it that they are becoming extinct, how it differs for marine and terrestrial, between single versus co-published species descriptions and across the continents. He concludes by summarizing that taxonomists are not an endangered genus, but that it presumably requires more work to find new species today when so many are already described. He criticizes the articles that claim it is because the species are dying out at an accelerating rate.