Texas Coastal Bend Bioblitz 2019

 

A Q&A with our partners Ed Buskey at UTMSI and Chris Patrick at TAMUCC.

Submitted by Jacob Metzger

This summer, MarineGEO’s Smithsonian HQ is teaming up with Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi (TAMUCC) and The University of Texas – Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) for an intensive BioBlitz campaign. This bioblitz will provide a benchmark for the region’s costal biodiversity, has the potential to discover new species, and will add to the collections at the National Museum of Natural History and Texas A&M University’s Biodiversity Research and Teaching Collections, enabling future research on the region’s, and the world’s, marine-life.

MarineGEO reached out to our partners Chris Patrick at TAMUCC and Ed Buskey at UTMSI to ask their motivations, goals, and other thoughts about the upcoming campaign. Here is what they had to say:

 

Q: What was your motivation for organizing the upcoming BioBlitz?

E.B.–I want to strengthen collaboration we have established between the University of Texas Marine Science Institute/Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Texas A&M Corpus Christi and the Smithsonian. My institution hosts 15 faculty, about 30 graduate students, and numerous post-doctoral and other researchers. I think having access to the DNA barcoding information will be a great asset for all our faculty, researchers and students. I am also interested in helping to promote MarineGEO to other reserves in the NERR system.

C.P.–For me this seemed like a terrific event on a number of levels.  First, the BioBlitz is going to provide us with a lot of useful data on the taxa in the region. Beyond just describing new species and new occurrences in the region I see applications in metagenomics, eDNA, and gut content analysis work. Second, this is going to be a wonderful “capstone” event that cements the relatively young partnership between TAMUCC, UTMSI, MANERR, and SI.  It’s going to build and strengthen bridges between the institutions and the investigators, creating new opportunities for collaboration down the line. Third, the BioBlitz is a tremendous public outreach opportunity for MarineGEO, TAMUCC and UTMSI. This type of big event is going to help inform people in the region about what we’re doing and why it’s important.

Q: What is your goal for the BioBlitz?

E.B. –To support and facilitate all the great researchers, faculty and students that will participate in the BioBlitz, and help solve any problems that arise due to Murphy’s Law. (Also, to make sure that the taxa that I am interested in get collected and processed!)

C.P. – To generate a robust and useful data set that will be publicly available for general use, as well specific academic and public outreach products. Given that volunteers and in-kind matching is a huge part of the funding model for the event, another thing that is really important to me is making sure that every partner feels like they are getting something out of this event.

Q: What is the importance of partnerships and collaborations in such an effort?

E.B.–Clearly, this is an effort that would be very challenging for UTMSI and TAMUCC to accomplish without the help of MarineGEO and the Smithsonian. We provide the local knowledge and additional resources (housing, boats, etc.), while the reputation and history of the Smithsonian and MarineGEO attracts the taxonomic expertise and outside funding to make this all possible.

C.P.–Partnership and collaboration are fundamental to this effort and to MarineGEO Texas. Without the partner groups and willingness to work together to achieve something greater than any one person or institution can do alone, none of this would be possible. 

Q: What are you most looking forward to?

E.B.–Meeting new colleagues, long days in the field and lab, bonfires on the beach at night with good scientific discussion and comradery.

C.P.–Getting into the field with all of the visiting scientists! 

Q: What will the work be like? Are there unique or unusual aspects of working in the Coastal Bend of Texas?

E.B.–We will be sampling in two important areas. First, the Laguna Madre of South Texas. Laguna Madre is one of a small number of hypersaline lagoons worldwide. Salinities can reach 50-60 PSU, and water temperatures can approach 40oC (104oF). Yet this is a highly productive ecosystem. The second area is the Mission-Aransas Estuary, home of the Mission-Aransas NERR and the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge – home of the only remaining wild flock of the highly endangered whooping crane. We have ~12 years of water quality, net ecosystem metabolism, nutrient, plankton and fish, invertebrate and vegetation data for the research, providing a good environmental context for our BioBlitz collections.

C.P.–The main event will take place over a two-week period, rotating operations between UTMSI and TAMUCC. We’ll be covering both invertebrates and fishes that live in three separate estuaries: The Upper Laguna Madre, Oso/Corpus Christi Bay, and Aransas Bay. A unique aspect of this event, and this study region, is the incredible diversity of habitats that shift along the Texas coastline. We have an enormously powerful climate gradient that drives changes in ecosystem structure and function, making this region a natural climate change laboratory in many ways. The BioBlitz will capture that gradient, hence the focus on several estuaries. Another unique feature of this event will be the strong commitment to including students. TAMUCC offers a field ecology class that will be running concurrent with the BioBlitz, and we’ll be using the event as an opportunity to get the students to interact with the visiting scientists and learn marine field ecology in a very hands-on setting.