2015 MMES Cohort Publishes Study in Major Scientific Journal

It is with great pride that we announce the University of the Virgin Islands’ Masters of Marine and Environmental Studies 2015 cohort has had their capstone manuscript published in PLOS ONE.

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0188386

PLOS ONE (plos.org) is a prestigious online peer-reviewed research journal with rigorous standards for quality and is greatly respected in the scientific community.


Data was collected in February 2016 from four locations around St. Thomas: Frenchman and Sprat Bays to the east and Brewers and Lindbergh to the west.

Data was collected in February 2016 from four locations around St. Thomas: Frenchman and Sprat Bays to the east and Brewers and Lindbergh to the west.

Once a sample site is identified and its size, depth, distance from shore and distance from other seagrass patches is noted, five quadrants are placed randomly.

Once a sample site is identified and its size, depth, distance from shore and distance from other seagrass patches is noted, five quadrants are placed randomly.

Cohort Elizabeth Brown is seen here in Lindbergh Bay, St. Thomas

Cohort Elizabeth Brown is seen here in Lindbergh Bay, St. Thomas

 
This was truly a student-led project from start to finish, and they did a fantastic job. Publication of the research in an internationally recognized journal demonstrates the world-class quality of our marine science graduate students.
— Dr. Marilyn Brandt
 

The manuscript, Altered juvenile fish communities associated with invasive Halophila stipulacea seagrass habitats in the U.S. Virgin Islands, is the culmination of research efforts by the 2015 cohorts. The students who have worked so diligently on this project are Lauren K. Olinger, Sarah L. Heidmann, Allie N. Durdall, Colin Howe, Tanya Ramseyer, Sara G. Thomas, Danielle N. Lasseigne, Elizabeth J. Brown, John S. Cassell, Michele M. Donihe, Marieke D. Duffing Romero, Mara A. Duke, Damon Green and Paul Hillbrand. Their advisory team include UVI professors Kristin R. Wilson Grimes, Ph.D., Richard S. Nemeth, Ph.D., Tyler B. Smith, Ph.D., and Marilyn Brandt, Ph.D.

 
Un-baited traps were deployed  in various seagrass beds in Frenchman, Lindbergh, Brewers and Sprat Bays. Catches were compared for diversity and abundance.

Un-baited traps were deployed  in various seagrass beds in Frenchman, Lindbergh, Brewers and Sprat Bays. Catches were compared for diversity and abundance.

 John Cassell examines a squirrel fish. Each fish caught is photographed, identified by species or family, its length recorded, and is identified as herbivores, diurnal carnivores or nocturnal carnivores.

 John Cassell examines a squirrel fish. Each fish caught is photographed, identified by species or family, its length recorded, and is identified as herbivores, diurnal carnivores or nocturnal carnivores.

 
Publication of this work in an international, peer-reviewed journal speaks to the high quality of research being conducted by Masters of Marine & Environmental Studies students at the University of the Virgin Islands. These students, their advisors, the Program, and the University, should be very proud. This study provides a solid foundation for future work that examines the impacts of this invasive seagrass species, here in the Territory and beyond.
— Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes

The invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea is now found in abundance throughout the Territory and is displacing native seagrass species. This seagrass’ hardiness and impressive ability to propagate is a contributing factor to its success. The cohort dug deeply into investigating the effects Halophila is having on the environment as it displaces native seagrass species, and its effect on the marine animals that live in the seagrass beds. Among those animals impacted are the juvenile life stage parrotfish and critically endangered Nassau grouper.

Results from this study showed that the invasive seagrass had reduced fish diversity and altered juvenile fish community structure compared to native seagrasses. The catch from the invasive seagrass, comprised mostly of snappers and grunts, more closely resembled the catches from bare sand. Unlike native seagrass, the invasive seagrass had a notable scarcity of herbivores (parrotfishes and surgeonfishes) as well as goatfish. This study provides evidence of reduced juvenile fish family diversity and exclusion of herbivores and diurnal carnivores in H. stipulacea, signifying further the need for management of this invasive seagrass.

That this work was selected for publication after the extensive and rigorous review process at PLOS ONE is significant and should be a source of great pride for the 2015 cohort and their advisory team. As important is the impact their research will have on investigative efforts as this invasive species continues to colonize the Caribbean unchecked.

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