Fucus radicans takes to the Royal Dramatic Theatre stage

To celebrate the 70th birthday of His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf, a unique show “An evening about the Baltic Sea- Hopes and threats” was given in his honour at the Royal Dramatic Theatre on the 25th of April. On stage was more than 10 scientists together with leading dignitaries from several authorities and politicians who gave lively narratives of what is happening in the Baltic Sea. Everything from the slow geological changes over the years to the formation of new species all the way to the political situation today.
1Dramaten

A truly dramatic moment was when Ett mycket dramatiskt ögonblick var när professor emeritus Ragnar Elmgren from Stockholm University spoke of what species can be found in the Baltic Sea today. Suddenly, a large Ascophyllum nodosum falls down from above, landing just behind him!

Professor Elmgren cooly states that this species has not managed to migrate into the Baltic Sea due to the low salinity. The common seaweed species that most people reckognise, the bladderwrack, is an important foundation species for life in the Baltic Sea. Many species find shelter or food in the bladderwrack.
This is the moment when Fucus radicans enters the stage, from the pocket of Ragnar. Fucus radicans has formed an own species from Fucus vesiculosus in less than a couple of thousand years. It is the only known endemic species in the Baltic Sea, which means it is not found anywhere else i the world seas.

Seaweed smells of the sea and is also edible. Someone who has tried Fucus radicans canapées (se tidigare inlägg) is the Swedish king, on a visit to the Askö Laboratory.

It is relatively easy to separate Fucus radicans and Fucus vesiculosus when they grow together in sympatry. Fucus radicans appropriate common name is narrow wrack. The thallus is much narrower that that of Fucus vesiculosus and Fucus radicans lacks the bladders that have given Fucus vesiculosus its name.
4Smal o blåstång

Between the presentation on stage, we the audience were entertained with beautiful music from the orchestra and songs. Amonst them an interpretation of ”Rönnerdal han dansar över Sjösala äng” (Rönnerdal is dancing over Sjösala meadow)by Evert Taubes, where the background was a lovely seagrass meadow.

5sjögräsäng

The show ended with all participants on stage and His Majesty the King expressed his thanks for a rewarding evening, emphasizing his own keen interest in environmental questions in general and those of the Baltic Sea in particular.

6Kungen tackar

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New publication comparing Fucus radicans and Fucus vesiculosus in Swedan and Estonia

A new scientific publication has just come out in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science by Ellen Schagerström, Helena Forslund, Lena Kautsky, Merli Pernoja and Jonne Kotta.

The article compared the thallus complexity and quantified the abundance and biomass of epiphytic algae and invertebrate taxa of the two fucoid species Fucus radicans and Fucus vesiculosus from sympatric sites in the Bothnian Sea on the Swedish coast and around the Estonian island Saaremaa.

Fucus radicans had a more complex thallus structure than Fucus vesiculosus within the whole study range, but both species were more complex in the Bothnian Sea compared to Estonia. The complexity of host algae did not contribute to their associated flora and fauna taxon richness; instead, the size of thalli was a good proxy for associated communities.

You can read the article HERE for free until November 8th, courtsey of Elsevier Ltd.

Fucus radicans (left) is more complex or "bushy" than Fucus vesiculosus (right)

Fucus radicans (left) is more complex or “bushy” than Fucus vesiculosus (right)

Warm & wonderful Estonia

This weekend, we went for a quick fieldtrip to the Estonian island Saaremaa to collect some seaweed, as we so often do. The West Estonian Archipelago Sea, or Väinameri is very shallow and well sheltered as you can see on the map. Increaseing depth is deeper blue, and there is not much dark blue there.

The Väinameri is often no more than 5-10 meters deep.

The Väinameri is often no more than 5-10 meters deep.

As before, we rented a car in Tallinn and drove down to Virtsu, where the ferry over to Saaremaa is. It is a nice trip through the rural landscape, we even saw 7 storks lined up next to the road on a field. They looked almost fake, until one of them moved.

On Saaremaa we have been fortunate enough to get to stay at the fieldstation of our Estonian collegue Jonne Kotta. It is a lovely place, a small house with outdoor toilet, the sea just behind a sheltering border of trees and a small garden with berries and rhubarbs. And a wooden outhouse for equipment and smelly experiments.

The fieldstation is Jonnes familys' summerhouse.

The fieldstation is Jonnes familys’ summerhouse.

The fieldstation outhouse in 2011

The fieldstation outhouse in 2011

So imagine our surprise as we drove up and saw….this!

The brand new fieldstation at Köiguste was built in 2013

The brand new fieldstation at Köiguste was built in 2013

Three jaws dropped as we couldn’t believe our eyes!!

Where the old outhouse used to be, there is now a brand new lab building, with large kitchen/lecture room, computer/microscopy room, indoor bathrooms and showers, enormous storage space for stuff and a wetlab for sorting. There is also space outdoors for sorting and setting up experiments.

The lawn where one used to park is now extended and covered with gravel to fit several cars, boat trailers and whatnot. And two more cabins have popped up opposite the old ones, therby doubling the overnight capacity.

Lots of parking space and new cabins.

Lots of parking space and new cabins.

But in my astonished euphoria over this amazing change, due to Jonnes resourcefulness and hard work no doubt, I am almost forgetting the seaweed (that’s saying something, that is).

This time, we went roud to five sites, two old ones and three that I had not sampled before, but have only been sent material from by Jonne.

The office looks good some days.

The office looks good some days.

The weather was marvellous, all still and not a cloud in sight. On Saaremaa the Fucus grows much shallower than on the Swedish coast, probably due to higher turbidity in the water since the Väinameri is much affected by land nutrient runoff. It is also very shallow, so that, at some sites, I have to walk almost 100-200 meters for the water to reach my knees.

Our collection went smoothly and quick, so we decided to take a trip over to the island Hiiumaa, which is north of Saaremaa, since the ferry to there departs from one of our sampling sites, and because we wanted to see what kind of seaweed grew there. One often thinks that it will be the same in an area, but in reality there are sometimes quite large variations on small scales, so we take nothing for granted.

The trip from Saaremaa to Hiiumaa takes about 65 minutes

The trip from Saaremaa to Hiiumaa takes about 65 minutes

And, sure enough, the beaches we looked at were quite different from those on Saaremaa. It is amazing how much impact the difference in wave exposure does for the underwater environment.

But even though we didn’t find a seaweed paradise, it was nice to be on a ferry and see the sea. We could also note that the algal bloom was in its peak, same as in the Baltic Proper (we could see it from the plane was we flew over the Åland islands).

Microalgae bloom floating on the surface of a still sea.

Microalgae bloom floating on the surface of a still sea.

After enjoying a lovely dinner in the town Kuressaare and a good nights sleep, we went back up to Tallinn and even had time for lunch in one of the towns many great restaurants, and a coffee in a cozy café before we returned the car and headed back to Sweden.

Beer and chocolate cake....somewhat unorthodox but it was very warm...

Beer and chocolate cake….somewhat unorthodox but it was very warm…

And so, to round off this praise for Estonia and the new fieldstation, here’s a photo of the collected Fucus radicans from Saaremaa.

Estonian Fucus radicans is smaller than the Swedish ones.

Estonian Fucus radicans is smaller than the Swedish ones.

Roskilde revisited

Well, here we go!
After leaving the experiment with fragments (see previous post) in the basement at Roskilde University over Christmas and New Year, it was finally time to go back and see if any of the small fragments of ( Fucus radicans ) has been well behaved ande done what we want them to.

There can be MANY fragments on just one ramete of Fucus radicans

There can be MANY fragments on just one ramete of Fucus radicans

A quick refresher of the experimental background and purpose:
In the ​​Bothnian Sea, the brown macroalgae Fucus radicans has been shown to be up to 80% clonal, something that is unique among seaweed belonging to the Fucus – family.
However, it is not unusual for algae to adapt with a more clonal life cycle in brackish environments (salinity between 2-15 parts per thousand) because their sexual reproduction requires the sodium ions (NaCl – sodium chloride) from salt to work (see post about this here).

When it was discovered that Fucus radicans was clonal , it could also be described as a separate species. It was previously thought that it was a dwarf morph of Fucus vesiculosus, which is the dominant macroalgae in the Baltic Sea.

In order to reproduce clonally, fragments from one individual falls off from the parent plant and then attaches to the bottom again. But under what circumstances does this happen? What are the most favourable conditions for the fragments to re-attach? Should it be on hot summer days or cold winter nights?

Once we know this, we can understand more about when Fucus radicans is most sensitive to disturbances in the form of e.g. chemical emissions, eutrophication or construction work that affects the aquatic environment. We hope that our experiment can help to provide a better basis for management decisions concerning the Baltic Sea’s unique and fragile environment.

So, how did we set up our experiment?

We collected fragments from several plants of seaweed from different sites. Since we can neither afford nor have the time to run genetic tests on them to see that they are not all the same individual, which of course can happen when working with a species that is clonal, we made sure to get both males and females. For a longer story on startup, read the post on our startup HERE.

But on this trip it was time for me and my colleague Tiina Salo to do our first reading of the experiment.

Research is largely a matter of daring to fail, over and over again. The pile of rejected hypotheses about how one thought it might be is growing rapidly. Guess if we were surprised when our experiment had not only managed to run the whole time period without the electricity shorting out completely (except for some problems in the beginning that Tiina solved). We had results!

Two amazed PhD students could not believe their eyes.

So after checking all 96 replicates with four small fragments in each jar, I took out the bag with Fucus radicans that I had taken with me from Stockholm and we began to sort 384 new fragments into the jars for another round.

Fragments, fragments, fragments...

Fragments, fragments, fragments…

In the evening, I saw fragments when I closed my eyes.

Now, the second round is getting on and there will be a trip down again for me in early February to finish it, and hopefully get the same result as in our first round. You never know when it comes to seaweed, so keep your fingers crossed.

PhD- position in Baltic Sea marine biodiversity

Do you want to work with Fucus vesiculosus, Fucus radicans and Idotea baltica in Finland for the renowned Baltic Sea scientist professor Veijo Jormalainen?

Click HERE to read more about the project and how to apply.

Deadline is 15th January 2014 so hurry, hurry!

Fragment experiment started in Roskilde, Denmark

At the end of November, I spent a week at Roskilde University in Denmark.
By invitation from fellow marine botanist professor Morten Foldager Pedersen, I went there to start up an experiment on Fucus radicans together with his PhD-student Tiina Salo.

Fucus radicans is named after its ability to reproduce asexually by fragmentation. Radicans is latin for “root-forming”, and although algae do not have roots, they form root-like attachments to the substrate, called rhizoids. So, when a small fragment falls off the mother algae, it can re-attach and form a new thallus, which is a genetically exact copy of its “mother”, i.e a clone.

A fragment of Fucus radicans has formed new rhizoids, attaching to the bottom of a petri dish.

A fragment of Fucus radicans has formed new rhizoids, attaching to the bottom of a petri dish.

To reproduce in this way is not very common within the Fucus-family. We do not know what favours this mode of reproduction, unlike the sexual reproduction where we know that salinity plays a major role, but light and temperature is also important.

So, in order to find out how Fucus radicans has the best non-sexual reproduction, we designed the experiment in Roskilde.

The parameters we have decided to try are light, temperature and water movement.

Together with Tiina, I spent the better part of the week in the basement of the Biology department, in a temperate chamber filled with algae, sea urchins, a hard-at-work master student and the all-time favourite combination of electricity and water.

 The light box is fitted over one of our white tanks.

The light box is fitted over one of our white tanks.

In order to decide if any of our tested parameters, alone or in any combination, contributes to the formation of rhizoids, you have to plan the setup so that the results can be testad statistically. This means that you have to think hard before you start the experiment, so that you can use the data to actually answer your initial question. I’m in luck. Tiina is a total wiz when it comes to statistics, and two heads are better than one.

 To the right can be seen the heater (square box) and the cooler (spiral).

To the right can be seen the heater (square box) and the cooler (spiral).

I had brought some Fucus radicans from some different localities with me to Roskilde. We picked off small fragments, no bigger than 1 cm, and placed them on tiles. Tiina bought them at Bauhaus and had had the same experience as me. Why is it considered strange to be more interested in the back of a tile?

 Four small fragments on a tile.

Four small fragments on a tile.

Finally, we were all set and could switch on the electricity again. We’ll leave it for approximately seven weeks, then I’ll go back and check the result. Meanwhile, wee keep our fingers crossed, hoping that the seaweed will cooperate and form nice new rhizoids. We’ll keep you updated.

 It is fun to work with seaweed!

It is fun to work with seaweed!

Fucus radicans movie (in Swedish)

Film time!
It’s been a long time since we had any movies posted on the blog.

At the Swedish site havet.nu is a nice movie (5.35 mins) on Fucus radicans. Our esteemed collegue professor Kerstin Johannesson explains why Fucus radicans is so interesting from an evolutionary perspective “Smaltång och drivkraften bakom uppkomsten av nya arter (Fucus radicans and the driving force behind the origin of new species). It is only available in Swedish, with no subtitles, unfortunately.