Hi everyone! My name is Chris Payne, and I am a rising junior at Boston University studying Marine Science. This summer I am interning at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute as an REU student. As an REU student, I will be working with Dr. Ed Buskey on a research project over the course of the summer. My research project will focus on how plankton communities interact with oil spills. Researchers have a generally clear idea of how macrofauna, like sea birds, marine mammals, and fish, are affected by oil spills, but little research has been done on the relationship between plankton and oil. Initial experiments indicate that some species of plankton, like the dinoflagellate Prorocentrum, proliferate in oily environments, although the reason why is still unclear. To understand how oil and dispersants affect these plankton, we will set up four different solution types (seawater, oil in seawater, dispersant in seawater, and oil + dispersant in seawater), at concentrations similar to those found after an oil spill. This will allow us to observe both the individual and combined effects of oil and dispersant on planktonic communities.
Through this research, we hope to understand why these dinoflagellates seem to grow so well in this normally toxic environment. We also hope to identify the factors of oil spills that cause ciliates, the plankton that graze on the dinoflagellates and other phytoplankton, to flourish or decline in numbers. Prorocentrum, the dinoflagellate being studied, can occasionally cause a harmful algal bloom (HAB) when populations go unchecked, so understanding what factors influence its population can be key in preventing future HABs, which can have profound economic, environmental, and health consequences.