Biology Theses and Dissertations

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    Investigating the Utility of Environmental DNA Analysis for the Monitoring and Management of Mid-Atlantic Alosine Fishes
    (2023) Fowler, Chelsea; Plough, Louis V; Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Environmental DNA (eDNA) tools can address gaps in fish assessment data while reducing the cost and the impact of sampling on threatened anadromous alosine fishes in Chesapeake Bay. Here, I tested the ability of high-frequency eDNA sampling of river herring to predict fish abundances from sonar-based fish counts on the Choptank River and developed and validated novel species-specific eDNA assays for American and hickory shads. River herring eDNA concentrations from daily eDNA sampling were highly correlated to sonar-based fish counts (Spearman’s Rho = 0.84). This relationship informed a model that could accurately predict fish count from eDNA and relevant covariates (R2 = 0.88). The two new shad assays are highly specific and quantitative, and field testing validated detections in Delaware, Maryland, and North Carolina. This work provides a set of eDNA monitoring tools for the Mid-Atlantic alosines and highlights the capacity for eDNA data to generate quantitative metrics of fish abundance.
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    (2023) Li, Renjian; Li, Ming; Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Recent observations in Chesapeake Bay showed that the interaction between lateral circulation and channel-shoal bathymetry generated internal lee waves which subsequently propagated onto shallow shoals and evolved into internal solitary waves, leading to overturning and enhanced turbulent mixing. However, it is unknown under what hydrodynamic conditions the lee waves could be generated and how the nonlinear internal waves evolved. Using an idealized straight channel representative of a coastal plain estuary, we conducted numerical simulations to investigate internal wave generation over a range of river flows and tidal amplitudes. The model results are summarized using the estuarine classification diagram based on the freshwater Froude number Frf and the mixing parameter M. Δh decreases with increasing Frf as stronger stratification suppresses waves, and no internal waves are generated under large Frf. Δh initially increases with increasing M as the lateral flows become stronger with stronger tidal currents, but decreases or saturates to a certain amplitude as M further increases. This regime diagram suggests that internal lee waves can be generated in a wide range of estuarine conditions. To examine the nonlinear evolution of internal waves, a three-dimensional nonhydrostatic model with nested model domains and increasing grid resolution was configured. The lee wave steepens into a shorter elevation wave due to shoaling and soon evolves into a depression with a train of undular waves at its tail as bottom boundary mixing elevates the halocline above the mid-depth. These nonlinear internal waves enhance the turbulent dissipation rate over the deep channel and shallow shoal, suggesting an important energy source for mixing in stratified coastal plain estuaries. In addition, a pH sensor deployed at the middle reach of Chesapeake Bay recorded high-frequency variability in bottom pH driven by along-channel winds. Though wind-driven lateral circulation can advect high pH water downward, the slow air-sea exchange of CO2 limits the lateral ventilation. With DIC and TA budget analysis and comparison with cross-sections at upper- and lower-Bay where strong lateral circulation was confined in the surface layer, we found vertical mixing and replenishment of oceanic water by longitudinal advection could be more important mechanisms to ventilate bottom pH.
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    (2023) Vona, Iacopo; Nardin, William; Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Rising sea levels and the increased frequency of extreme events put coastal communities at serious risk. Due to SLR, traditional solutions such as breakwaters (or gray/artificial structures) will become ineffective for wave attenuation and shoreline erosion control. Moreover, gray solutions do not consider the ecological aspects of the coast, and may negatively affect surrounding ecosystems. The “living shoreline” technique includes natural habitat features, such as oysters and/or vegetation into shoreline stabilization, to provide both protection and ecosystem services. Oysters create three-dimensional, complex reef structures that attenuate wave energy and increase sedimentation rates. If coupled with breakwaters, oysters may maintain breakwaters’ efficiency over time as they are expected to grow with SLR. However, guidance for the correct implementation of Natural and Nature Based Features (NNBF) for coastal protection is still unclear, and many authors within the literature have been repeatedly requested more insights. In this thesis, we have therefore studied the coupling between oysters and breakwaters via field, modeling and laboratory experiments, in order to highlight the benevolent aspects of NNBF regarding coastal defense. Field results showed gray breakwaters allowed for shoreline protection (by reducing incoming wave energy) and increased sedimentation rates. However, SLR modeling scenarios showed a gradual reduction of wave attenuation over time, as well as increased sediment export from the coast. When oysters were included in the modeling, on the other hand, wave dampening and sediment retention were preserved through the time. Laboratory experiments showed oyster-reef breakwaters in emergent or near-emergent conditions produced higher drag coefficient compared to gray structures, resulting in greater dissipative features. Higher water levels simulated in our experiments produced less reliable results that will require further investigation. This thesis supports oysters for coastal protection, and emphasizes the positive aspects of NNBF regarding wave attenuation and sediment retention in the face of climate changes and SLR. However, challenges encountered during field studies underlined the importance of environmental and biogeochemical conditions (such as water level, aerial exposure, temperature and seasonality) for oyster reefs’ establishment, growth and survivability. Future restoration plans involving oysters in coastal defense should definitely take these environmental and biogeochemical aspects into account, in order to properly protect the coast in the face of climate changes and SLR, while also providing many other useful ecosystem services for the environment. The coupling between oysters and breakwaters may represent a valuable and effective methodology to protect our coast over a changing climate and a rising sea, where optimal conditions for oysters’ survivability occur and are maintained over time.
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    (2023) Wiltsee, Laura E.; Gray, Matthew W; Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Bivalves are prized for the ecosystem services they provide. The removal of particles from the water column through filter feeding and resulting water quality benefits, known as the biofiltration services, of bivalves have been studied for over a century. This has created a wealth of knowledge around the mechanistic drivers of bivalve feeding activity. Recently, Chesapeake Bay ecosystem-wide models have begun incorporating Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) biofiltration. Acute feeding variability is critically important when estimating oyster biofiltration services at ecosystem scale. Typically, natural seston clearance rate studies last a limited timeframe, with a focus on specific environmental events such as an increase in temperature, drop in salinity, or a tidal cycle.To capture the highly variable filter feeding rate of bivalves, such as the Eastern Oyster, studies have used highly controlled laboratory conditions, with single environmental variable modification. These studies often use indirect methods for estimating clearance rates that commonly lack high-resolution capability. Furthermore, these studies are labor intensive and time consuming, and as a result, few studies have monitored bivalve feeding activities over long periods to understand variation in activity or how these rates may change with seasonal shifts in conditions. These limitations have led to a shortage of knowledge around how clearance rates of oysters vary in response to ambient conditions over both short-term (hourly) and long-term (seasonal) time scales. This study leverages advances in semi-autonomous aquatic observing to track high- resolution, long-term feeding responses of bivalves to subtle variations in environmental conditions. Oyster ex situ clearance rates in the Choptank River (Maryland, USA) were estimated under flow-through conditions, and logged in real-time using fluorometers among replicate oysters over 5-day experiments for 9 months. The measured clearance rates from this system were compared to a mechanistic clearance rate model used by the Chesapeake Bay Program, which is used to estimate the role of oysters in controlling water quality in the Bay. Environmental data were evaluated to build a statistical and random forest model to predict how oyster clearance rates respond to prevailing environmental conditions. This monitoring system and resulting models enable a deeper understanding of feeding variability and how natural seston and environmental variability directly influence oyster physiology.
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    Impact of Plant-Derived Allelochemicals on Harmful Algal Blooms
    (2023) Armstrong, Christen Taylor; Place, Allen; Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences; Digital Repository at the University of Maryland; University of Maryland (College Park, Md.)
    Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are a global concern in both freshwater and coastal systems; creating dire consequences for public health, water resources, and local economies. Thus, there is a focus among scientists and environmental managers on HAB prediction, prevention, and mitigation. Current chemical mitigation methods include algicides such as copper sulphate, chlorination, and hydrogen peroxide, which can have high financial costs and secondary pollution associated with them. The use of natural allelochemicals produced by plants and bacteria has received considerable attention as an alternative to synthetic algicides, as they can have negligible toxins, be highly selective, and easily degraded in the environment. This dissertation is a coalition of research looking into new sources of plant allelochemicals and whether natural levels of allelochemicals in the water column, can impact phytoplankton communities and the presence of toxin-producing algal species. The first objective focused on the use of the waste product: brewer’s spent grain (BSG), as a new control mechanism to inhibit the growth of toxic algae. BSG extract of doses higher than 250mg/L inhibited the growth of freshwater and marine toxin-producing cyanobacteria and dinoflagellate species (Microcystis aeruginosa and Karenia brevis), while not impacting the diatom and chlorophyte tested (Scenedesmus obliquus and Prorocentrum tricornutum). This same dosage of BSG caused cyanobacteria abundance in lake water to decline by 90% within 4 days and chlorophytes to dominate the community by day 6 during a microcosm study. However, an experiment controlling bacteria levels demonstrated that the decline of K. brevis growth was likely due to the increase in abundance or presence of certain types of bacteria growing with exposure to BSG extract rather than due to chemicals released from the BSG. The second and third objectives shifted focus to the New Jersey Pinelands and whether the chemicals released into the water from terrestrial and marine plants in these waters, like phenolic compounds, impact the phytoplankton community and toxin-producing species. The second objective focused on the spatial and temporal distribution of phycotoxins along two New Jersey estuaries using passive samplers and whether the utility of passive samplers was impacted by the excess phenolic compounds in the water. By utilizing passive samplers in New Jersey, phycotoxins not previously reported in the area were described, such as azaspiracids, goniodomin-A and yessotoxins. However, this objective also showed some of the caveats of passive samplers, especially at sites with high phenolic compounds. The third objective focused on identifying the primary environmental drivers of chlorophyll a concentration and phytoplankton community along the freshwater – marine continuum of two New Jersey Estuaries with varying levels of disturbance. This dissertation explored BSG as a novel control method of HABs, and provided new information for monitoring, managing, and modeling HABs based on phenolic content measured in the water.