As a recipient of the Williams College Center for Environmental Studies summer grants, class of 2017 student Erica Chang pursued her interest in marine life and returned to Mystic, Connecticut to continue her research of the impact of rising temperatures on intertidal species.
During her school semester at Williams Mystic, Erica explored how environmental stresses impact mussels and their gene expression. In order to make observations, she focused on different temperature and oxygen conditions and their impact on the gene hsp70. Hsp70 is a gene expressed when an organism is stressed. Erica recognized that the organisms she studied expressed more stress as temperatures increased.
This summer, she returned to Mystic to focus on how a fluctuating environment impacted the blue mussels. Erica focused on gene expression, growth, respiration, assimilation and feeding of the species. She recognized that in increased temperatures, the mussels died quickly. However, when they were in an environment with fluctuating temperatures, they were able to acclimate.
There is no denying that our oceans are warming. So what does this mean for the intertidal ecosystems? Erica explained that organisms have adapted to the frequent changes of the intertidal, but there is a limitation. Organisms like the blue mussel are able to adapt to changes in temperature to a certain degree. However, too much of an increase will impact intertidal environments and will harm the mussels’ ability to thrive in the intertidal zone.
Erica focused on mussels this summer, not only because she believes that they are unbelievably cute, but also because they are so important to our ocean ecosystem. They are an underrated prey species that participate in the food cycle and filter our ocean water. The intertidal is a very important ecosystem to both land and sea. We must forget the terrestrial bias we create when worrying about climate change and focus on our ocean species as well.
-Caroline Beckmann ’17