Study explores effects of nutrient pollution on Guam reefs

Kansas EPSCoR Photo 4

Warming waters, diseases, and sedimentation are some stressors that threaten the health of coral reefs. To help preserve these important ecosystems, a researcher from Kansas State University visited the University of Guam and studied a stressor that has not been well-explored — the effects of nutrient pollution on corals found in Guam waters.  

Nutrient pollution is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorous in the air and water and can damage the environment, cause health problems, and take a heavy toll on the economy.  

Molly Fisher, a graduate student from Kansas State University, arrived on Guam on March 14 as part of the first academic cross-collaboration between Kansas NSF EPSCoR and Guam NSF EPSCoR.  

She came along with her advisor, Walter Dodds, a distinguished professor from KSU. Dodds’ research areas of specialization focus on water quality and nutrient cycling. He departed Guam on March 18.  

Dodds and Fisher collected small samples of staghorn coral (Acropora pulchra), one of Guam’s dominant reef-builders, from West Agana and the Luminao Reef in Santa Rita.  

The sites were chosen due to their different levels of human activity. Substances such as fertilizer, stormwater runoff, and sewage treatment plant discharge can cause nutrient pollution.  

“Luminao is our pristine site while West Agana has roads and a sewage treatment plant that may contribute to increased levels of nitrogen in the water,” said Dodds. “We add nitrogen and phosphorous to get our plants to grow. If you add too much fertilizer, the system gets too productive for its own good. In the case of corals, that means that algae can grow over the surface of the coral and cause them to stress and die.”  

Fisher said that the coral samples were exposed to varying levels of ammonium and will monitor how the corals respond over time. Ammonium is one form of nitrogen that can be present in marine ecosystems.  

“Anthropogenic nutrient loading is a stressor to corals that isn’t heavily studied,” said Fisher. “Our work is pretty novel, and we hope that we can figure out how they respond to nutrient loading in an attempt to hopefully lessen the impacts on corals.”   

Dodds said that the faculty and staff at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory have been integral to the execution of the project.  

“We’re grateful for the faculty here at the University of Guam. They’ve been extraordinarily helpful and have gone out of their way to make us feel welcomed and find the materials that we need to do this work,” said Dodds. “Everyone has been super helpful and told us that if we need anything at all, that we can talk to them. It’s been an incredibly pleasant experience so far.” 

Fisher concluded the experiment and departed Guam on April 10.  

Challenges, way forward for STEM research-industry development discussed  

2019 uog biorepository kelokelo web
Science Tech Comm 2

Members of the Guam Science and Technology Steering Committee continue to conceptualize a plan to augment the island’s STEM capacity and sustain various industries enabled by research.  

During a meeting on Jan. 20, the members reaffirmed their objectives to serve as a center for collaborative regional and international research, increase STEM capabilities through education and workforce development, expand STEM infrastructure to support higher-level research and economic growth, utilize dynamic communication strategies to relay STEM knowledge, and cultivate a diversified economy.  

The committee also recognized the following challenge areas across each of the objectives: biomedical professions and healthcare policy; information technology and cybersecurity; sustainability and quality of life issues relative to waste management, energy, agriculture, and protection of natural resources; biosciences and technology transfer; and opportunities with the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).   

Beyond research ‘for its own sake’  

The committee oversees Guam’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO), as well as the Guam NASA EPSCoR program. 

“The responsibility of this committee is to try to understand what EPSCoR is about and help highlight how it could potentially affect the economy. At the same time, it feeds back to the scientist and gets them to look at the world a little bit differently other than research for its own sake. How do we identify industries and how do we identify talent? What are some real-life opportunities?” said Dr. Robert Underwood, committee vice chairperson and President Emeritus of the University of Guam (UOG).  

“Moving their activities to some of the concerns we have here, that’s the point at which we meet,” he added.   

Diversifying Guam’s economy through jobs 

Committee co-chairperson and Guam Economic Development Authority chief executive officer, Melanie Mendiola, presented models to help accomplish a diversified economy with jobs through small and large businesses in multiple industries based on researchers’ findings. 

The models established processes stemming from industry selection to government policy development and incentives, access to capital, and establishing jobs through business development, to include a process for stakeholder assemblies to identify current issues, UOG receiving funding to research those issues, and scientists then presenting the research and developing proofs of concept alongside entrepreneurs to market products, build businesses, increasing job availability.  

Mendiola and Dr. Austin Shelton, UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant director, discussed recent products created using the invasive chain of love vine (Antigonon leptopus), such as bath bombs, fabric dye, and foods.  

“We need to find entrepreneurs willing to take the leap, have access to capital, and turn the chain of love into the next thing,” said Mendiola.  

“We want industries that have higher paying jobs, something that jives with Guam’s comparative advantage, something sustainable, environmentally, and something that’s culturally sensitive. Where can we assign processes to these, who can contribute, and how do these processes overlap with existing initiatives?” she continued.  

Sustainability in interested, committed population 

Underwood and Roderick Boss, committee co-chairperson and Docomo Pacific president, emphasized the need to plan with sustainability in mind. They explained the idea of forming interest, quality researchers, and capacity through the educational enterprise, beginning at the elementary level and being refined during years beyond. 

“The base of the pyramid has to be wider than what we think of it right now,” said Underwood. “None of this will actually amount to a whole lot because that sustainability is not the economic activity in and of itself. I think the sustainability is in who’s working at it and who is committed to it. Where do they come from, and how rooted are they in the community?”  

“The University of Guam is certainly available for helping to do this,” said Dr. Thomas Krise, UOG president. The idea of a workable example is very important just to help inspire people’s imaginations.” 

Guam EPSCoR is funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Newly discovered diatom species named after UOG researcher  

Eponymous Diatom Photo 1
Eponymous Diatom Photo 1
A newly discovered diatom species was named after Christopher Lobban, a University of Guam professor emeritus of biology.

After naming around 80 diatom species since he started researching them in 2007, a newly discovered diatom species has been named in honor of Christopher Lobban, a University of Guam professor emeritus of biology.  

Diatoms are single-celled algae found in oceans, lakes, and rivers and are considered important primary producers.  

Funded by the university’s Guam NSF EPSCoR grant, Lobban researches and catalogs diatom species found throughout the coral reefs and mangroves of Micronesia. 

According to the study, the new species, Druehlago lobbanii, was named after Lobban in recognition of his extensive and lasting contribution to marine and tropical diatom research. The paper was published in December in the peer-reviewed journal Phycologia.  

The new diatom species was discovered in a tidal flat in South Africa by Roksana Majewska, the lead author of the paper. Lobban was informed about the naming of the species just a few days after the start of the new year.  

Eponymous Diatom Photo 2
The diatom, Druehlago lobbanii, was named after Lobban in recognition of his extensive and lasting contribution to marine and tropical diatom research.

“Usually, species are named after their characteristics. When species are named after people, it’s to honor them for different things such as their contributions to the research or personal importance,” said Lobban. “After naming so many diatom species from Guam’s coral reefs, I guess it was just a matter of time before someone would name a species after me.”  

Lobban is the co-author of the genus Druehlago, which he named after his doctoral mentor Louis Druehl in 2016. Druehlago lobbanii and Druehlago craspedostauriformis join Druehlago cuneata as three members of the genus.  

According to Lobban, he’s grateful to share this honor with his mentor.  

“A few years ago, when I was naming some new genera, I wanted to honor the people who guided my work,” said Lobban. “I thought of Louis Druehl because he got me into diving and helped me get through to my Ph.D.” 

UOG students present and network at STEM diversity conference

Louise SACNAS

Four members of the Guam NSF EPSCoR undergraduate Student Research Experience and five research fellows from the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance program presented their research at the 2021 SACNAS National Diversity in STEM Digital Conference from Oct. 25 to Oct. 29, 2021.  

SACNAS, the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science, is the largest multicultural STEM diversity program in the US.  

During the conference, the students were able to attend workshops, research presentations, and connect with officials from schools nationwide for research experience opportunities.  

“I feel great that I got to present at SACNAS,” said Louise Pascua, a UOG undergraduate biology student. “I wasn’t sure if we were going to finish in time for the conference because we had a lot of difficulties, but everything worked out in the end. I’m glad I got to show everyone all the work I’ve been doing this past year.”  

Through the Guam NSF EPSCoR undergraduate Student Research Experience, Pascua was mentored by UOG Professor of Biology Daniel Lindstrom. Pascua’s presentation entitled, “Genetic Barcoding of all Amphidromous Nerite and Thiarid Snails Native to Guam,” focused on determining whether or not certain species of snails were native to Guam.  

“I feel very thankful and appreciative that a student with my background was able to present at this conference,” said Merry Remetira, a UOG undergraduate civil engineering student. “Everyone has been very kind.”  

UOG Assistant Professor of Oceanography Atsushi Fujimura mentored Remetira for her Student Research Experience. Remetira’s project, “The Relationship between Seagrass Cover and Water Physicochemical Parameters in Achang Bay, Guam” focused on determining water quality and environmental factors that affected the growth of seagrass on Guam. According to the study, seagrass meadows are beneficial ecosystems that provide habitats and food sources for many marine species.  

During the conference, the students were able to connect with organizations and colleges for research opportunities. 

Representatives from Texas A&M University and Iowa State University reached out to Pascua and Remetira about their work. 

Boston University, Rutgers University, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography were among several institutions that contacted Gabriella Prelosky, a UOG undergraduate biology student, about research experience opportunities.  

As an NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance research fellow, Prelosky was mentored by Christopher Lobban, a UOG Professor Emeritus of Biology. Her project, “Biodiversity of mangrove diatom communities in three Western Pacific islands” focused on documenting the most frequently occurring diatom species in Guam, Palau, and Yap. Through her project, 13 new species of diatoms were recognized. Earlier this year, Prelosky discovered two potentially new diatom species from Yap.  

“A lot of people reached out to me to check out their programs and even my dream school messaged me! It was a lot of fun and it’s an opportunity that not a lot of people get to experience,” said Prelosky. “I feel really lucky.” 

The NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance is administered by the UOG Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant programs in partnership with the School of Education at the University of Guam. Austin Shelton, Cheryl Sangueza, and Else Demeulenaere serve as investigators of the grant award. NSF INCLUDES collaborates closely with the Guam NSF EPSCoR program, also funded by the National Science Foundation. 

Merry R SACNAS
“I feel very thankful and appreciative that a student with my background was able to present at this conference,” said Merry Remetira, a UOG undergraduate civil engineering student.

Researchers discover four new species of marine algae

New Algae Species Photo 4

University of Guam researchers have discovered four new species of Crustose Calcifying Red Algae (CCRA), a group of marine algae that deposit limestone like stony corals — including one that has been named after the UOG Marine Laboratory in honor of its 50th anniversary.  

The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was published in November by the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE.  

CCRA are a dominant and diverse group of organisms on Guam’s reefs that are difficult to identify and have sometimes been mistaken for coral. They serve several important ecological functions on reefs such as building and cementing reefs together or serving as the preferred settlement substrates for coral larvae which then further develop into adult colonies. 

Since 2017, more than 500 CCRA specimens have been collected from numerous sites around the island. A number of those specimens represented six species of red algae belonging to the genus Ramicrusta. Four of these species are new species to science and Guam now has the highest documented diversity of Ramicrusta species in the world. 

“In other parts of the world such as the Caribbean and Taiwan, certain Ramicrusta species are known to overgrow and outcompete other reef organisms on disturbed reefs,” said lead author Matthew Mills, a UOG alum and Marine Laboratory research associate. “Given their ecological importance, we decided to investigate them into detail.” 

Naming the new species  

The four new CCRA species were named after the CHamoru names of their type locality, which are the collection sites that were used to describe the new species. 

Two of the new species were found in Pago Bay. Ramicrusta labtasiensis was collected from the seawater intake channel behind the UOG Marine Laboratory. 

“We wanted to highlight the Marine Laboratory’s 50th anniversary, which happened last year,” said Tom Schils, a UOG Professor of Marine Biology and the co-author of this study. “Most of the anniversary celebration events were canceled because of the pandemic, so we thought it was fitting to name this new species after the Marine Laboratory for all the important biodiversity work that has been conducted at the unit since its founding in 1970.”  

Ramicrusta taogamensis was named after Taogam Point, which delineates the northern boundary of Pago Bay.  

The other two new CCRA species were found in Talo’fo’fo. Ramicrusta adjoulanensis was named after Adjoulan Point, which is located at the mouth of Talo’fo’fo Bay. Ramicrusta asanitensis was named after Asanite Cove, also known as First Beach.  

“This species is a common alga at this popular beach in Ipan,” said Schils. “As a seaweed biologist, I had always been bothered that I could not identify this alga from a beach that we visited often with the family. Now, we have finally resolved that this is a new species of a genus that had previously not been reported for Micronesia.” 

Mills and Schils are currently working on a larger diversity assessment of CCRA from Guam.  

“Before we started our studies, the only in-depth survey of CCRA on Guam was done in 1975,” said Mills.  

Schils added, “CCRA play an important role in the community changes that we are witnessing on Guam’s reefs. Resolving the diversity of this group is a first step in understanding their contribution to reef health.” 

New Algae Species Photo 3
Example of a common and abundant calcareous red alga from Guam’s waters.

UOG researcher discovers new diatom species in Micronesia

New Diatom Discovered Photo 2

Christopher Lobban, a University of Guam professor emeritus of biology, has discovered an interesting new species of diatom from the Marshall Islands. His discovery is in addition to two potentially new diatom species found earlier this year by UOG student Gabriella Prelosky and five potentially new species by UOG student Britney Sison. The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was accepted in October for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Diatom.

Diatoms are single-celled algae found in oceans, lakes, and rivers. They are considered important primary producers on Earth. According to Lobban, diatoms produce an estimated one-fifth of oxygen in the air we breathe.

The new species of diatom, Licmophora complanata, was named for its flattened cell wall. According to Lobban, the diatom was found in a sample of algae from Majuro Atoll that he collected in 1990. Licmophora is a genus of benthic diatoms. Diatoms within this genus are common and epiphytic — meaning that they perch on seaweeds, like orchids perch on trees.

“It’s a really odd-looking Licmophora,” said Lobban. “Licmophora are sort of people-shaped. They have a top and bottom and a front and back. The dead shells can usually be seen in the front and back views, but this one was always giving me a side view.”

Lobban was able to thoroughly examine the specimen once the Microscopy Teaching & Research Laboratory, which he runs, received a new Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) through the EPSCoR grant in May 2021.

“The microscope has a stage that allows you to tilt it up to 80 degrees while examining a specimen,” said Lobban. “When I did that, I was able to see its shape, which is actually kind of complicated.”

According to Lobban, this is not the first time he has named a species of Licmophora.

“It’s not a huge genus and there are not many people working on it in the world. Most of the species here seem to be new to science. This is the 16th Licmophora I’ve named,” said Lobban, “and I’m not done with them yet. I’m working on a paper now with seven more species. It and several of the others have student coauthors.”

NSF Guam EPSCoR taps into the Open Science Grid

Photo of Jeffrey Centino
Photo of Jeffrey Centino
Jeffrey Centino, research computing facilitator at EPSCoR -GECCO says the Open Science Grid will improve the program's computational and data analysis capabilities.

As research opportunities continue to expand for the University of Guam EPSCoR- Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO) program, so does the need to improve its cyberinfrastructure to keep up with the additional computational and data analysis requirements.  

Part of the UOG EPSCoR-GECCO strategic plan is to implement high throughput computing (HTC) resources in Guam and to establish partnerships that would broaden access to off-campus HTC resources. According to the plan, “leveraging existing partnerships to enable remote access to HTC resources, implementation of local HTC hardware and effective user support will accelerate UOG’s capacity for data-intensive research, moving UOG closer to its goal of becoming a research-intensive university.”  

To beef up research computational capacity, the program is looking at tapping into the Open Science Grid (OSG). According to the strategic plan, the OSG will provide project research access to its distributed computing network to facilitate parallel computing and support GECCO research.  

Jeffrey Centino, research computing facilitator at EPSCoR –GECCO said the OSG 

is a collaboration between institutions, universities, and other research organizations to forward the field of science through high throughput computing.  

“So basically, you have these data centers located around the world and they are connected through high-speed internet, and they function together like a grid. So, say you need to run a job or an analysis, you can recruit these resources from around the world to complete your job in the fraction of the time compared to what is available to you in a single data center or your personal workstation.”   

He said high throughput computing breaks the computational work into smaller tasks, which can run concurrently using these resources. “Right now, we are running an analysis server and it is very under powered so basically researchers are fighting for computational space and once we get those researchers onboarded to the Open Science Grid, they can have their jobs or their analysis run within a fraction of the time,” Centino added.  

Centino said they are also expanding their computer clusters to support grid capacity, but the worldwide chip shortage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions delayed the process of acquiring the servers. “So, we are looking to launch early next year for the computer cluster, around the first quarter,” he said. 

The OSG has over 100 participants that provide access to large computing resources. The most notable ones include the Large Hadron Collider Beauty Experiment, the Fermi Natural Accelerator Lab (Fermilab), and Dark Energy Survey.

Study explores evolutionary stability of coral photosymbiosis

Coral Photosymbiosis Photo 1
Coral Photosymbiosis Photo 1
UOG alumnus Jordan Gault wrote “Lineage-specific variation in the evolutionary stability of coral photosymbiosis,” which was published in September 2021 by the journal Science Advances.

A study by University of Guam researchers has examined the evolutionary stability of photosymbiosis in scleractinian corals. The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was published in September in the peer-reviewed Science Advances journal.  

Scleractinian corals, also called stony corals, are the hard corals that are typically seen as reef-building corals found in shallow, tropical waters that receive nutrients from the photosymbiotic algae living in their tissues. In exchange for nutrients, the algae support the calcification of coral skeletons, encouraging the growth of expansive reefs in shallow tropical and subtropical waters. Photosymbiosis is a type of symbiotic relationship between two organisms that includes one that is capable of photosynthesis.  

However, half of the order’s members are non-photosymbiotic and tend to be small, not colonial, and are found in deep waters.  

“The origin of the order has been shrouded in mystery. When scleractinian corals first appeared in the fossil record, they were already highly diversified,” said lead author Jordan Gault, a UOG alumnus who wrote the paper for his master’s thesis. “There’s evidence that some of them were photosymbiotic, but where did they all come from? If they’re diversified already, there’s evolutionary history that goes further back that you cannot see in the fossil record yet. That’s one thing we’ve set out to understand with this study.”  

Coral Photosymbiosis Photo 2
Scleractinian corals, also called stony corals, are the hard corals that are typically seen as reef-building corals found in shallow, tropical waters that receive nutrients from the photosymbiotic algae living in their tissues. This photo of a scleractinian coral was taken in Apra Harbor by David Burdick, Guam NSF EPSCoR’s Biorepository collections manager.

The study reconstructed the evolutionary history of photosymbiosis in Scleractinia by applying mathematical models to phylogenetic trees, which are diagrams that show evolutionary relationships. The phylogenetic trees included 1471 of the 1619 recognized species in Scleractinia.  

“There are certain groups where the association seems to be almost irreversibly stable. Those two partners are bound to each other for the whole group and they thrive and die together while others may be more flexible,” said UOG Associate Professor Bastian Bentlage, the co-author of this study. “There may be some lineages – if they’re not as tightly integrated with the photosymbionts – that may be less susceptible to a breakdown of these relationships. That’s really cool in terms of understanding the dynamics of what we see on our reefs in a changing climate.”  

At first, the project faced delays because the initial simulation studies took a long time to run on the computational resources that were available at the time. To address these issues, the research team used the Open Science Grid, a network of computers spread nationally that allows open access to high throughput computing for research in the U.S.  

“Facilitating this study meant relying on this grid that was able to run hundreds of thousands of individual simulations,” said Bentlage. “That wouldn’t have been possible with a desktop computer. Having access to this high-speed computing grid was very essential to finishing it off.”  

As part of the Guam NSF EPSCoR’s strategic plan, the program is working on establishing a computation hub at UOG.  

Prior to pursuing a doctoral degree at the University of Oldenburg, Gault spent eight years at the UOG Marine Laboratory pursuing his thesis research and working for the long-term coral reef monitoring program. He said that getting the paper published feels like closing a chapter in his life.   

“It’s nice and a little bittersweet. I’m proud of the work that we did and I’m happy to have it out there. The question is now: is it useful for other scientists? Does it matter going forward? The best outcome is if it somehow shapes some research down the road. If people address our results and ask questions further down the line, I think that would be excellent,” said Gault.  

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