"Seaweed Shop" was created by students from Mar Vista High School as apart of the Bio Logik project.
Bio Logik is the deeper understanding of Biology and Ecology that is achieved when science, hip hop, and videos merge. Our collaborations emphasize the production of scientifically accurate music videos that 1) create a more personal connection between students and science and 2) make science accessible to a broader audience. To find out more about this and other exciting adventures at the interface of science and music, Check out our website: LONG LAB MAFIA
"The most alarming of all man's assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life, but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and
little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world-the very nature of life."
The Basics: First and foremost, my research deals with Aquatic Chemical Ecology. Particularly, I study the biological interactions that are regulated by chemical compounds. Now what the heck does that even mean? Well, many of you might have already had firsthand experience with chemical ecology and didn’t even know it!! If you have heard of something called pheromones, little invisible compounds that organisms produce to attract members of the opposite sex, you are already half way there. Essentially, these types of compounds drive all sorts of ecological interactions, especially in t
he ocean where organisms can’t always rely on their senses of sight and sound. The interactions that are driven, by what I will now refer to as chemical cues, include everything from how organisms find food, where they can live, who mates with who, and how organisms can fend off enemies. As you can see, they pretty much regulate just about EVERYTHING, which is why these chemically-mediated interactions are crucial to maintaining a well balanced ecosystem. With my research, I primarily study how some species of algae (seaweeds) produce these chemical cues to make themselves unpalatable (nasty tasting) in order to defend against their predators, a concept known as chemical deterrence. More importantly however, I am interested in how human impacts are altering these chemically-mediated interactions and what this might mean for life in the ocean.
The Problem: Now as some of you may or may not know, heavy metal pollution poses a unique and growing threat to aquatic ecosystems world-wide. Most heavy metals enter the watery realm mainly through industrial or agricultural run-off; however everyone is really playing a part in this problem. From burning gasoline to improper battery disposal, we are filling our oceans with a toxic cocktail of heavy metals and other persistent pollutants. So what does this human-induced contamination mean for those who call the ocean their home? Many algal species, that provide both food and critical habitat for a range of critters, have been shown by scientists to accumulate high concentrations of heavy metals into their tissues (i.e.copper, zinc, lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium). As you might imagine, this phenomenon can be problematic for both the algae and those critters that rely on the algae. This brings us to the question that I am particularly interested in. Remember those chemical cues we talked about earlier and how algae can use them to keep predators from eating them? Though it has been suggested, no one has actually looked at how these absorbed heavy metals might be altering algal chemical defenses. These chemical defenses keep predators away and protect certain algal species, yet heavy metals might be interacting with said defenses, potentially leaving algae undefended and vulnerable to a suite of hungry predators.
What I plan to do: With my work, I plan to investigate the changes in interactions between predators and their chemically defended, algal prey as a result of heavy metal contamination. The results of this research will provide a better understanding of human influences on marine communities, as well as further our understanding of heavy metal accumulation in marine food webs.
Why should I (and by I, I mean You) care?: Well I am just so glad you asked. Here’s the skinny… Heavy metal contamination presents significant challenges, not only in California coastal environments, but globally. That’s right…this is a GLOBAL problem. “But Alex…it’s algae…how is that going to affect me?” As hard as it might be to imagine…algae (and terrestrial plants too) are what we like to refer to in ecology as “primary producers.” That means they are the base of the food chain and just about everything, in some way, relies on them. Therefore, if we start to alter these basic interactions between primary producers and the critters that eat them, these alterations will eventually start to compound and influence other interactions later on down the food chain and guess who’s at the top? That’s right. You. Therefore, research such as this is important in informing managers and contributing to more accurate risk assessments, especially for areas of high industrial input, so we can better control heavy metals and other pollutants in the environment.
If you have any questions about the work I am doing or would like to collaborate on a future project,
please do not hesitate to contact me.