It is a busy time of year for us here at SIMS with many new and exciting research projects underway.

Our aquarium has been an especially exciting place with new research focused on an array of marine species – from urchins, to sponges, to seaweeds!  

PhD student Catalina Musrri Fuenzalida from the University of Sydney is conducting experiments which aim to analyse the responses of crayweed from different populations to climate change related stressors in order to determine the most suitable genotypes for crayweed restoration. Her research in the SIMS aquarium explore how northern edge and central populations tolerate marine heatwaves, using early life stages and juveniles of this algae, and measuring their physiological responses, growth and development.

Marine sponges are sessile animals present from the tropics to the poles in environments where they provide food and habitat to a plethora of other creatures. They live in symbiosis with diverse and abundant microbial communities, which are vital to the sponge and particularly interesting from a pharmaceutical point of view, as they produce bioactive compounds such as antimicrobials, antioxidants and anticancers. At a time when humanity is facing antibiotic resistance and increased disease risks, sponge-associated microbes represent a largely under-exploited reservoir of beneficial compounds.

To harness this potential, it is essential that the microbial producers are grown and studied. Dr Emmanuelle Botté from UNSW has been testing a device that will enable the isolation, growth, and cultivation of sponge-associated microbes. Using biocompatible materials, their team have constructed the Symbio-chip which allows the trapping of individual microbes in the microwells from which they cannot escape, but in which they can grow within the host’s tissue. The aim is for the cultivation of “dark matter microbes” in marine sponges to be the first step, and for the Symbio-chip to be a versatile platform accessible to the broader community studying microbes associated with aquatic invertebrates.

Oceans are warming at an unprecedented rate and in order to predict the impacts this will have on ocean ecosystems we need to understand how species will respond. Much of what we currently know about how species respond to warming is based of studies that either use a single population and location per species, or studies that use a species current thermal distribution to infer future range boundaries. Both of these methods overlook the potential for variation in thermal performance between populations (i.e. local adaptation).

From the University of Tasmania, PhD student Claire Butler has been conducting an experiment that will compare the thermal performance of the long-spined sea urchin between populations at contrasting ends of their thermal distribution (NSW and Tasmania). Claire collected urchins from both barrens and kelp habitats in Sydney and after a period of acclimation measured the metabolic rate of each urchin, as well as collected data on physical condition over the duration of the experiment. Claire has really enjoyed her time at SIMS and especially sends her thanks to Sergio and our facilities team SIMS for their help and expertise!