Project Title: A metagenomics approach to assessing latitudinal gradients in bivalve
parasites and other planktonic microorganisms
Advisors: Greg Ruiz, Rob Fleischer
Though parasites can have important roles in host population dynamics and ecosystem function, we currently know little about the distribution of marine parasites and other microorganisms in the ocean. Given the current changes occurring in marine ecosystems such as warming ocean temperatures and the anthropogenic movement of organisms through shipping and trade, knowing the diversity and distribution of marine parasites as well as other pathogenic or toxic microorganisms is essential to continued monitoring of the spread or range shifts of these organisms.
I propose using next generation sequencing technology, specifically multi-tag amplicon pyrosequencing, to examine the diversity and distribution of microorganisms associated with oysters and in the surface waters of the temperate and tropical waters of the USA. My first objective is to compare the diversity of eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms associated with oysters to those found in environmental water samples. By comparing these two sampling methods, I will be able to determine what types of sampling future projects should include. In addition, monitoring bivalve parasites is of particular importance given the many economic and ecological aspects of bivalves and their ability to filter and concentrate not only marine parasites, but also human pathogens and toxic microorganisms.
My second objective is to determine and compare the eukaryotic and prokaryotic microorganisms associated with oysters and environmental water samples from tropical waters to those collected in temperate waters. The data generated will provide the current prevalence and distribution of bivalve parasites associated with the oysters sampled, which can be used to assess the risks of unintentional introductions of bivalve parasites to other areas and to develop informed management strategies to minimize introduction risk.
Lastly, I will highlight the toxic and pathogenic organisms present in the tropical waters of the USA that may be capable of expanding their range northward under the appropriate conditions.