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.
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.
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.
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.