Scientists Use Century-Old Seaweed to Solve a Marine Mystery

In doing so, the researchers discovered new info about the sardine fishery collapse in the 1950s that ravaged Montereys Cannery Row, whose colorful individuals and once-thriving canneries motivated John Steinbecks novels Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.

” We were working with gorgeous and old specimens, so we attempted to take the smallest samples possible,” says Emily Miller, the lead author of the research study, who now works as a research study service technician at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute.

In the last few years, however, researchers have found numerous new ways of extracting information from century-old pressed algae– and theyre being utilized to resolve a suite of marine secrets, consisting of the cause of Monterey Bays disastrous sardine fishery crash.

Utilizing newly established approaches of drawing out information from algal pressings, such as isotope analysis and DNA sequencing, researchers have had the ability to determine the impacts of anthropogenic contaminants on seaside ecosystems, file modifications in marine community structure, and create evolutionary trees for a wide range of algal species.

( Monterey Bay Aquarium)” Some species are like a thermometer and reflect whats happening in the ocean in their populations. Other species are more resilient to environmental forces. The more we understand these relationships, the better we can anticipate what the future may involve,” Van Houtan states.

Working with coworkers from Stanford Universitys Hopkins Marine Station in California, and the University of Hawaii, aquarium researchers collected pressings of seaweeds gathered from Monterey Bay between 1878 and 2018 and performed a range of chemical analyses on their tissues.

The scientists found evidence that in the years leading up to the fisherys collapse, upwelling in Monterey Bay was decreasing– likely due to weather oscillations. This, combined with overfishing and other aspects, they say, caused Montereys sardine stock to crash.

Researchers from Japans Hokkaido University, for instance, just recently figured out the density of herring populations off the coast of Hokkaido throughout the late 19th century by taking a look at the chemical structure of century-old algal herbaria.

Utilizing the exact same strategy that individuals utilize to push flowers, I can turn almost any algae into a natural work of art that can last for centuries. Although I push algae for artistic functions, algae pushing has long been a scientific pursuit.

Thanks to the efforts of early algae pressers, lots of nature museums contain vast collections of algal pressings that date back centuries. Scientists have long depended on these repositories to supply a peek of what algal types existed in the past.

Despite the fact that some of the specimens were old and “a bit tough,” Miller and her group had the ability to identify their amino acid and protein structures, heavy metal concentrations, and stable isotope ratios.

Despite this, numerous algal herbarium collections are underused and underfunded. Keeping such collections, Miller says, is important to enhancing our understanding of the past, present, and future of our oceans. “There are so many other research study concerns that people might be using these collections to respond to.”

” Old herbaria are more appropriate now than ever,” says Suzanne Fredericq, a teacher of biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. “Old historic collections can tell us so much about the future,” Fredericq states.

Comprehending how modifications in upwelling affected fisheries of the past could enhance the way fish stocks are handled today says Kyle Van Houtan, chief researcher at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and coauthor of the study.

” Its like pushing flowers, just a little wetter.”

If you wish to help respond to these questions, or are simply trying to find a brand-new creative outlet, Miller suggests using up algae pushing.

( Monterey Bay Aquarium) In a new study released this previous June, scientists from the Monterey Bay Aquarium examined a collection of dried, pressed seaweeds– dating back over 140 years– to discover what ocean conditions in the bay were like in the early 19th century.

Women were amongst the most devoted algae pressers. Artfully protecting seaweeds was one of the few ways females might add to science in the 19th century. At the time, women were left out from a lot of scientific fields, with the exception of botany, which was considered an ideal pastime for them.

The scientists analyzed the nitrogen steady isotopes from pressings of Gelidium, a type of red algae, and compared it to records dating back to 1946 of upwelling– an oceanic phenomenon in which wind moves warm surface water far from the coast, driving cold, nutrient-rich water up from the deep.

There are couple of things I delight in more than turning a slimy piece of seaweed into an artwork. From scouring the tide pools for the perfect blades, to artfully arranging them on a paper in my herbarium press, every action of the process is exceptionally pleasing.

The algaes nitrogen steady isotopes were of specific interest to the researchers. Algae soak up nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients from seawater like sponges. When nitrogen is plentiful in their environment, it is shown in the nitrogen content of their tissues.

The modifications they observed in the Gelidiums nitrogen isotope concentrations between 1946 and 2018 correlated highly with historical records of upwelling, which recommended that the nitrogen isotope concentration of each piece of pushed algae was a direct reflection of the quantity of upwelling that took place during its development.

Strategies for protecting seaweed specimens by pushing them have altered bit over the decades. This sample of Gelidium was gathered in the 1980s.

The kind of data that will help us to better comprehend these relationships, Van Houtan states, is all around us– concealing in the tissues of algae, the feathers of birds, and the shells of sea turtles, just waiting for us to discover it.

This article is from Hakai Magazine, an online publication about science and society in seaside ecosystems. Find out more stories like this at

Kyle Van Houtan, chief scientist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California, collects seaweeds on a low tide for conservation and research study in the fish tanks Ocean Memory Lab.

These two examples of seaweed pressings were made years earlier. The red algae was collected in about 1929 near Friday Harbor, Washington. The kelp Macrocystis was gathered near Pacific Grove, California, in 1892.

( Monterey Bay Aquarium) Knowing this, the scientists had the ability to utilize algal specimens to develop a record of upwelling in Monterey Bay starting in 1878, extending the existing record back by nearly 70 years.

” Its actually enjoyable and easy to do,” Miller says. All you need to get begun is some cardboard, a couple of sheets of herbarium paper, a stack of heavy books, and an open mind.

The practice emerged in 19th-century England as a way for researchers and natural history buffs to maintain and catalog the varied array of seaweeds discovered along the nations coasts.

Associated stories from Hakai Magazine:

Females were among the most devoted algae pressers. Artfully protecting seaweeds was one of the few methods women could contribute to science in the 19th century. The red algae was collected in about 1929 near Friday Harbor, Washington. The algaes nitrogen stable isotopes were of specific interest to the scientists.( Monterey Bay Aquarium)” Some species are like a thermometer and reflect whats taking place in the ocean in their populations.