Testing the Waters: Marine Sponges as Bioindicators of Estuarine Health in Coastal Oregon
Estuaries on the Oregon coast are strongly influenced by nutrient inputs from streams in the Coast Range. Many studies have measured the variation in these nutrient inputs and the activities in the mountains that cause the variation, but there are no studies showing the impacts of varying nutrient inputs on the organisms that live in these estuarine habitats. Sponges, which are filter-feeding organisms with large microbial communities, integrate the water column in which they live, and therefore are an excellent indicator group to assess the health of their estuarine habitats.
With support from the Linfield Center for the Northwest and the Murdock Charitable Trust, this project compares the abundance and diversity of sponges and their associated microbial communities in a heavier vs. lighter impacted estuary in coastal Oregon. Dr. Jeremy Weisz and his students are working to characterize these sponge-associated microbial communities and examining the nitrogen cycling occurring within the sponge to determine how the cycling varies between the two estuaries and how the sponges impact the nitrogen cycling of the estuaries. Dr. Weisz and his students are working on building a baseline data set to explore how future nutrient inputs change the biology of these important estuarine systems.