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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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!

Field season in full bloom

The days are just soaring by as the field season hits its high peak.

Helping us in this organized chaos is Frances Ratcliffe, volonteering marine biology student from UK. It’s such a help to have an extra pair of hands. We are very glad to have her with us.

Frances and bladderwrack!

Frances and bladderwrack!

The week before last was spent at the Askö laboratory, were we ran the Baltic Sea part of a two-station experiment wich will look closer on the effects of grazing snails on seaweed.

First, we put the seaweed (Fucus vesiculosus and Fucus radicans) grow a while without any grazers, in order to get undamaged tissue.

Seaweed growing

Seaweed growing

After a couple of weeks, we placed the tips in jars with gastropods (marine snails) and let them graze for a couple of days. We so hope that they were hugry and ate a lot, so that we can see the grazing damage under the microscope later on.

45 jars with gastropods and an even flow of water. Amazing what you can build with a pipe and some hose.

45 jars with gastropods and an even flow of water. Amazing what you can build with a pipe and some hose.

Once the seaweed was grazed, we collected some Ulva intestinalis, a green algae, and made it release its spores.

<img src="http://tangbloggen.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/entero1.jpg?w=300" alt="Ulva intestinalis spores makes the water go green.” width=”300″ height=”224″ class=”size-medium wp-image-910″ /> Ulva intestinalis spores makes the water go green.

What we hope to see is if the spores will be able to grow on the grazed surface of the seaweed.

<img src="http://tangbloggen.files.wordpress.com/2013/07/sdd201.jpg?w=300" alt="We have seeded the grazed seaweed by poruing spores of Ulva intestinalis in the water” width=”300″ height=”224″ class=”size-medium wp-image-920″ /> We have seeded the grazed seaweed by poruing spores of Ulva intestinalis in the water.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope that it grows!

The week that was and this week, is spent at Tjärnö laboratory on the other side of Sweden, were we are running the same experiment, but in saltier water and with Ascophyllum nodosum instead of Fucus radicans and with other gastropods.

Our lives have been made so much easier thanks to Marit, who is doing her master thesis together with us. She has tended to our experiment so that we didn’t have to go back and forth between the coasts like crazy. Thank you Marit!
Meanwhile, she has also done an enormous fieldwork on a very interesting study on gastropods and seaweed, that we hope to write more about here on the BalticSeaWeedBlog.

Marit shows her disected gastropods.

Marit shows her disected gastropods.

it is always nice to meet and talk about seaweed. We had many nice discussions on this fascinating topic.

Frances, Marit and Lena discuss seaweed at Tjärnö Laboratory.

Frances, Marit and Lena discuss seaweed at Tjärnö Laboratory.

Dissertation time for thesis on Fucus radicans and Fucus vesiculosus

Friday 17th of May is not only the National Day of Norway to be celebrated, but also the doctoral defence of Daniel Johansson.
Daniel has studied at the Sven Loven Centre for Marine Sciences Tjärnö (more commonly known as TMBL) belonging to the University of Gothenburg.

Daniel’s thesis is entitled “Evolution of the brown algae Fucus radicans and Fucus vesiculosus in the Baltic Sea” and contains primarily work from a genetic point of view. There has been a lot of work put into obtaining the genetic identity of both species in order to distinguish Fucus radicans from Fucus vesiculosus, but also to be able to distinguish between different clones of Fucus radicans, which in the Gulf of Bothnia reproduces mostly vegetatively. This is achived by proliferation, small branches that fall off from the parent plant and then attach themselves to new substrate.

Small branches of Fucus radicans have formed rhizoids (sticky threads) that attach to the Petri dish.

Small branches of Fucus radicans have formed rhizoids (sticky threads) that attach to the Petri dish.

Daniel has also compared the ability of proliferation between different clones of Fucus radicans to see if the dominant clone, a female that has been found along 550 km of the Swedish Coast, was better than the other clones.

The defense starts at 14:00 in the Auditorium at Tjärnö, of course we will be there to listen!

Spinning eggs for Easter

I am going to render a normal conversation that often happens when I talk about seaweed and what I do.

– So, you work with seaweed. Nice! What do you do with it?
– Well, among other things I try to cross different species with one another in order to understand how speciation occurs.
-That sounds interesting. When does the seaweed bloom, then? Or….does it have flowers?
-Nope, it has eggs and sperm just like us. Bladderwrack and narrow wrack have male and female plants and actually have an almost identical lifecycle to humans.
-It has eggs and sperm?! But…is it an animal, then?

Suddenly you realize that what you learned during biology class in school was just a rough cut, simplified picture of reality. Nature and evolution is so much more than that, with more imagination and concepts than we humans are able to name.

I think it is fantastic that algae, some of the planet’s first living organisms, have used eggs and sperm for a long time. Maybe longer even than humans have been around. A flick on the nose at us when we think we are evolutionarily advanced.

Here’s a video of how eggs from bladderwrack start spinning by all the sperm swimming around them, hoping to fertilize. Beautiful!