Efficacy of established and emerging tidal marsh restoration methods

Project Title: Efficacy of established and emerging tidal marsh restoration methods

Lead Investigator: Brian Yellen, UMass Amherst,

Onsite Contact: Sintra Reves-Sohn, UMass Amherst,

Project Description: Salt marshes are extremely beneficial to surrounding communities because they provide recreational spaces, control floods, and improve water quality. Salt marshes also effectively store carbon and are home to resident species, such as the endangered saltmarsh sparrow and commercially and culturally important fish stocks. Vegetation is key to salt marsh survival; when the marsh is flooded at high tide, salt marsh vegetation traps sand and mud, which makes it possible for the salt marsh to build upward. This is especially important for salt marsh survival when sea level is rising quickly. If the marsh can’t build elevation, it will be outrun by rising sea levels. In addition to the threat of sea level rise, the Dog’s Head Marsh at Waquoit Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve is vulnerable due to an undersized culvert that was removed in 2008. Pre-removal, the culvert prevented tides from traveling far upstream, causing the once salty ecosystem to “freshen,” which in turn causes the land to subside (become low in elevation). When the culvert was removed in 2008, saltwater flooded this upstream area, which caused the freshwater vegetation to die, and creating a muddy expanse. The aim of this project is to characterize how sediment is moving through Sage Lot Pond and into Dog’s Head Marsh at WBNERR and understand how this relates to how Dog’s Head Marsh’s vegetation has adapted post-culvert removal. With this information, we can better predict how Dog’s Head Marsh will continue to adapt to rising sea level and we can make recommendations to how to best preserve the salt marsh.

Evaluating innovative technologies to reduce the impact of septic system contaminants on ecological keystone species

Project Title: Evaluating innovative technologies to reduce the impact of septic system contaminants on ecological keystone species

 Duration: 2/2024-2/2026

Funding Source: Woods Hole Sea Grant

Principal Investigator Lead Investigator / onsite-contact: Jed Goldstone, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Project Description: Contaminants of Emerging Concerns (CECs) are a diverse class of compounds with widely varying toxicological and chemical properties, commonly associated with municipal wastewater, urban storm water, agricultural run-off, and other non-point sources, which makes them difficult to monitor and regulate. Important classes of CECs are pharmaceuticals, detected in more than 80% of streams, and in coastal waters, and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs). Septic system effluents are a suspected source of CECs to freshwater ponds, aquifers and drinking water supplies, and to coastal waters, because typical septic system designs do not provide much removal efficiency for most CECs. Innovative and alternative (IA) septic system systems designed for nitrogen remediation may provide significant co-benefit removal of CECs, particularly pharmaceuticals and EDCs.

Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) and ribbed mussels (Geukensia demissa) are foundation species in the New England intertidal that establish and maintain the key habitats that provide essential ecosystem services. However, there is an observed decline of both species in New England (>60% loss of blue mussels since 1970). CECs and EDCs can have biological effects at very low exposure concentrations, have been detected in coastal waters and animal tissue, and may be impacting populations of blue and ribbed mussels. Our work has shown that M. edulis is highly sensitive to pharmaceutical exposures, particularly steroid-like EDCs, and we suggest that these effects extend to closely related Mytilidae species such as G. demissa. The proposed research will examine the effects of septic effluent and septic field leachate on M. edulis and G. demissa sex ratios, and directly test the ability of IA systems to reduce compounds that affect sex gene expression.

Composition, Colonization, and Succession of Trematode Parasites in Estuarine Snail Populations

Title: Composition, Colonization, and Succession of Trematode Parasites in Estuarine Snail Populations

Date: 06/2019 – 08/2022

Principal Investigators: Lauren Dykman

Affiliation: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution


PI: Lauren Dykman (right)

Summary: Hosts function as patchy islands of habitat for parasites. The balance between the colonization and extinction of parasites on individual hosts helps determine the abundance of parasites in host populations. Parasite-host systems, therefore, are useful model systems for understanding how colonization, competition, and habitat age (in this case the age of the host) influence the number, distribution, and turnover of species in island-like systems.

I use a combination of field and laboratory experiments to understand how features of Eastern Mudsnail (Tritia obsoleta) populations (i.e., distribution, movement, and size structure) interact with the biology of their trematode parasites (i.e., colonization and competition) to determine patterns in parasite composition in snail populations in a range of estuaries, including Waquoit Bay.

In New England, nine trematode species use the Eastern Mudsnail as a first host. These worms impact the snail host in a number of ways – they can change its behavior, and they also destroy its reproductive tissue, leaving the snail host sterile. My research provides important information on the dynamics of estuarine parasites in this system, which can lead to insight on ecosystem health. Since trematodes use multiple hosts from a broad range of taxa to complete their life cycle, the presence of more parasite species is a useful indicator of diverse estuarine community overall. This work also has broader application to successional and metacommunity theory, by testing fundamentals of how biological and habitat processes shape species composition in landscapes with isolated habitat patches.

Investigating the effect of salinity on mud crab parasite communities

Project Title: Investigating the effect of salinity on mud crab parasite communities

Date: 7/2018-12/2018

Principal Investigator(s): Carolyn Tepolt, Zachary Tobias

Affiliations: Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Department of Biology

Summary: The flatback mud crab, Eurypanopeus depressus, is a common estuarine crustacean from the Gulf of Mexico to New England. It is affected by a range of parasites that may vary with the environment. The goal of this project is to characterize the parasite communities within E. depressus along salinity gradients throughout the Northeast. Studies have shown that some crab species may use low salinity water as refuges from marine parasites. We will investigate how these crabs may have adapted to low salinity in response to pressures from parasitism using ecological field surveys and transcriptomic analyses.

NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center Unmanned Aerial Systems Training

Project Title: NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center Unmanned Aerial Systems Training

Date: 7/2017-7/2018

Principal Investigator(s): Mike Jech, Kimberly Murray, Lisa Conger, Elizabeth Josephson, Jennifer Johnson

Affiliations: NOAA NMFS, Integrated Statistics

Summary: NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC) has a small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS, aka “drone”) program (four pilots). We fly a multirotor APH-22 built by Aerial Imaging Solutions ( that is battery powered and has a flight time of about 15 minutes. The entire system consists of a base station and the APH-22 and requires two personnel to fly. Our field operations focus on marine species such as schooling fish, whales, and seals that can be imaged from the air. UAS technology is rapidly evolving, and we are constantly upgrading our systems with new sensors and platform modifications. These advancements require testing and evaluation of these new features, and improving our team’s capabilities. Our flights on NERR will help maintain our pilots’ flight skills, and further innovate the UAS research done at the NEFSC and NOAA.

Sex change in sequentially hermaphroditic slipper limpets

Project Title: Sex change in sequentially hermaphroditic slipper limpets

Lead Investigator: Maryna Lesoway

Affiliation: MBL Whitman Fellow, University of Illinois at Champaign Urbana (home institution)

Funding Source(s): MBL Whitman Fellowship, Fonds de recherche du Québec Nature et Technologie (FRQNT) Postdoctoral Fellowship, NSF

Unlike most animals, slipper limpets change sex from male to female as they grow. This is thought to be a way to increase the reproductive output of these sedentary, filter-feeding snails. However, the developmental mechanisms are poorly known, even though sex change in these animals has been studied for more than a century. Comparing development in the slipper limpets Crepidula fornicata, Crepidula convexa, and Crepidula plana, I will explore the developmental origins of the reproductive system, development of the reproductive organs, and the transition from male to female using developmental techniques including lineage tracing and cell ablation, as well as pharmacological manipulations to induce sex change.

Multi-Cropping Shellfish and Macroalgae for Business and Bioextraction

Scott plus algae compressedPI: Scott Lindell, Scientific Aquaculture Program, MBL. Funding: WHOI-Seagrant
Description: Nutrient enrichment from septic systems is one of the most pressing coastal problems on Cape Cod. Towns are facing staggering costs for sewering and other solutions. This project aims to investigate whether a native seaweed, Gracilaria tikvahiae, can be co-farmed together with oysters to both soak up nutrients and produce a marketable crop.

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