Michael Middlebrooks, associate professor of biology at The University of Tampa, was awarded $87,775 by the Tampa Bay Environmental Restoration Fund to study the phenomenon of seagrass in Tampa Bay being replaced by macroalgae called Caulerpa. The project, titled “Caulerpa-Seagrass Interactions in Tampa Bay,” has a three-year timeline and will include UT student researchers.
Seagrass is a vital component of the ecosystem within Tampa Bay and helps improve water quality, protects shorelines, and provides valuable nursery habitats for an abundance of wildlife, including fisheries stock. Recently conducted seagrass surveys show a significant reduction in healthy seagrass acreage in Tampa Bay, especially within the Old Tampa Bay basin. Early evidence suggests that some seagrasses are being replaced by macroalgae called Caulerpa. This grant will allow study of that change in the ecosystem.
According to Middlebrooks, who specializes in sea slugs, the study will first compare the communities of small invertebrates living on both seagrass and macroalgae to determine if they offer a comparable habitat for these important animals that form the foundation of the ecosystem’s food web. Secondly, the study will investigate the competitive interactions between seagrass and Caulerpa by comparing the rates at which seagrasses and macroalgae seize available habitat. “Combined, these studies will serve to inform resource managers within Tampa Bay how they can best manage these changes to seagrass beds and to protect these valuable habitats in the future,” Middlebrooks said.