Research Profile | Lilli Blume | Marine Science & Climate Change

"Understanding ecological impacts of the algae on associated fauna can help to find management strategies for future invasives"
23rd November 2021
Lilli Blume, one of our Master in Marine Science and Climate Change students, spoke to us about her research project, characterising Complexity and Epifauna of Rugulopteryx okamurae.

Describe your MSc project?

“Project CERO” was named after the central aspects of my study: Complexity and Epifauna of Rugulopteryx okamurae.
R. okamurae is a type of brown algae, originally from Japan, that was most likely introduced with aquaculture to the Mediterranean (France) in 2002. Since then, it has expanded its range to Spain and Morocco and is further expanding. This type of algae is considered to be a very aggressive invasive species and leads to changes in native algal communities, displacing other species. To learn about possible ecological impacts of this algal invasion on local ecosystems in Gibraltar and further to investigate the role of habitat complexity in the process I studied the epifaunal macroinverterates and the structural complexity of R. okamurae at two sites in Gibraltar. I am further looking to investigate two hypotheses:
1. Different levels of exposure to wave action and currents at the different sample locations result in different degrees of structural complexity of the algae. Complexity is expected to decrease with increasing exposure.
2. The level of complexity influences the associated epifaunal assemblages. It is assumed that higher complexity results in a more diverse invertebrate assemblage.
To learn about gaps in knowledge and further need and areas of research a review of the current body of scientific literature on the topic is carried out.

What type of research has it involved and what skills have you learned?

One part of the project was scientific reading and critical reviewing of literature which is a crucial skill for researchers. Another part was to design a feasible study and carry out the fieldwork. This involved practical skills like organising the necessary equipment, scheduling and time management involving several people and taking and organising the samples. The subsequent work in the lab included the development of protocols to make the processes more efficient. The identification of groups and organisms involved improvement of taxonomic knowledge and fine motor skills. Organising and analysing the derived data helped me to improve my IT-skills, working with different software like Excel, ImageJ, PRIMER7, R statistics and SPSS.

Evaluating fauna within Rugulopteryx.

Were there any partners/stakeholders on your project?

The Botanic Gardens of Gibraltar will receive dried and pressed algae specimen of R. okamurae that were prepared during the study.

Why should the public know about this topic?

Everyone should be concerned about the health and resilience of marine ecosystems, as we all directly or indirectly depend on them. Invasive species can have strong negative impacts on native communities and can induce rapid changes impacting fisheries, the aesthetic value of recreational areas, human health (harmful algae blooms that result in deposition and decomposition of algae on beaches and the release of potentially harmful compounds into the environment). Citizens can also help in detecting the arrival of new invasive species and help inform local authorities to imply further measures to effectively manage the situation. Therefore, it is important, that the public is aware of the issue and their own potential to help reduce the risk of invasion by other species in the future.
Differences in R. okamurae morphs from various locations.

What is the wider impact of your research?

Invasive species are of great concern in conservation as many have the potential to displace native species and hence reduce biodiversity and cause a homogenisation of flora and fauna. While it is unlikely to be possible to eradicate R. okamurae, understanding ecological impacts of the algae on associated fauna can help to find management strategies for future invasives. Further, it adds to the body of knowledge about habitat complexity, an intuitive yet hard to quantify concept in nature, and its significance in structuring epifaunal assemblages.

Example of Rugulopteryx okamurae.

The applied method of assessing the branchiness of the algae was never applied to Rugulopteryx okamurae before, so this study could help to improve and develop a more accurate quantitative representation of structural complexity.
  • MSc

    Master in Marine Science & Climate Change

    Designed and delivered by expert academics and scientists, this full or part-time interdisciplinary programme blends theoretical study with practical, field-based work. You will cover specialist subject areas and gain the skills required to tackle the complex issues associated with the sustainable development of marine ecosystems.[...]

    1 Year

    No Placement option

    Full Time

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