Awardees, Featured News, News, Research

2022 Collaborative Research Grants Awarded

Published:

2022 STAC Collaborative Research Grant Awardees

Five interdisciplinary research teams were selected to receive funding, totaling $399,239, from the Science & Technology Advisory Council (STAC) this year. Research projects directly address the RI NSF EPSCoR proposed program themes of:

• Assessing Resilience: What are the key data, methods, and/or techniques needed to assess the current health of Narragansett Bay and its resilience to anthropogenic stressors in real-time?

• Understanding complexity: How can our understanding and data collections of the physical, biogeochemical, and ecological processes that contribute to coastal ecosystem complexity be used to improve and evaluate Narragansett Bay ecosystem models?

• New Innovations: What new innovations in sensors are needed to improve the collection of data on the physical, biogeochemical, and ecological processes as well as anthropogenic stressors (e.g., pollution) that are impacting Narragansett Bay?

• Increasing Engagement: How can novel approaches to the visualization of complex information, coastal species, and environmental change, fostered through the collaboration of artists, designers, engineers, and scientists, promote broader engagement in and understanding of scientific research, data, and findings?

• Improving Sustainability: How does the coastal environment affect humans and how can human behavior and responses be modified to improve coastal ecological and economic sustainability?

• Big Data: What new tools or techniques are needed to capture, analyze, and disseminate large data sets that engage and inform academic, industry, government, and community stakeholders?

Recipients

Metagenomics and Metatranscriptomics to Profile Microbial Activity as a Determinant of Methane Production in Narragansett Bay Sediment ($80,000)
• Dr. Peter Belenky, Assistant Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology – Brown University PI
• Dr. Roxanne Beinart, Assistant Professor URI Graduate School of Oceanography – University of Rhode Island

In the near future, quantifying microbial emissions of methane will be essential to controlling the climate change impact of human agriculture and anthropogenic terrestrial runoff. CH4 is a potent greenhouse gas with 50-100 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. It is estimated to contribute as much as 25% to the overall warming force of the atmosphere. In shallow coastal zones, like the estuaries of Narragansett Bay, the majority of CH4 is produced by anaerobic, methanogenic archaea that inhabit the sediment. In the same environment, methanotrophic microbes will consume a portion of the produced methane. Thus, the net CH4 released is a result of the balance in microbial consumption and production. The research team proposes that profiling the microbial composition and activity of sedimentary samples can estimate and predict the relative methane flux.

Streamlining marine sensors development by improving testing infrastructure ($79,296)
• Dr. Vinka Craver, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering – University of Rhode Island PI
• Dr. Lindsay Green-Gavrielidis, Assistant Professor, Biology and Biomedical Sciences – Salve Regina University
• Dr. Carol Thornber, Professor, Natural Resources Science and Director, University Research Operations – University of Rhode Island
• Dr. Lucie Maranda, Associate Marine Research Scientist, Emerita – University of Rhode Island

Testing materials for resistance to biofouling is essential to advance the collection of data in the marine environment since biofouling can impact the functioning of sensors within a few days of their deployment. Zoospores of the marine alga Ulva are commonly used as model organisms for biofouling screening tests. Current protocols to screen for anti-biofouling properties rely on the field collection of reproductive Ulva, which makes the tests extremely vulnerable to perturbations in the environment such as unexpected weather events, marine heatwaves, and shifts in Ulva species abundance and distribution. These unexpected events severely hinder our capability to perform assays consistently, causing delays in critical marine sensors research. This project will address these issues by developing novel and unique infrastructure that could provide year-round Ulva specimens for testing. The interdisciplinary team will support researchers in developing new antifouling compounds as well as streamline the deployment of these materials in the future.

Multi-scale modeling of bacterial plankton-mediated nutrient cycling in the Narragansett Bay ($79,995)
• Dr. Kei Inomura, Assist. Professor – University of Rhode Island, GSO PI
• Dr. Ying Zhang, Assoc. Professor – University of Rhode Island, CMB/CELS
• Dr. Katia Zolotovsky, Assist. Professor – Rhode Island School of Design

Microbial planktons are key players in global biogeochemical cycling. Nowadays, a great amount of genomics data has been accumulated from microbial communities across the ocean, yet a tool that connects these data to the ecosystems and biogeochemical cycles is missing. How do different genotypes influence the impact of an organism on the environment? Many questions regarding this topic remain, and a quantitative model can provide implications for them. In this project, the research team is combining two types of models with different molecular resolutions, to reflect genomics data on the cellular properties necessary to predict genome’s impacts on the environment, using bacterial species from the Narragansett Bay. Broader impacts of the modeling effort will be extended through the development of an education app that can be exhibited for public education in museums and science fairs.

Testing the ontogenetic migration hypothesis in the emerging Rhode Island Jonah crab fishery with novel molecular isotope geochemistry and acoustic tagging. ($79,948)
• Dr. Kelton McMahon, Assist Professor – University of Rhode Island, GSO PI
• Dr. Melissa Omand, Associate Professor – University of Rhode Island, GSO
• Dr. Skylar Bayer, Assist Professor – Roger Williams University
• Ms. Corinne Truesdale, Supervising Biologist Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Division of Marine Fisheries

Despite the rapid growth in size and value of the RI Jonah crab fishery in the past decade, management of this emerging fishery has lagged its increased exploitation due to the lack of knowledge of the species’ life history and an associated stock assessment. This project will apply cutting-edge molecular isotope geochemistry tools to test a fundamental ecological question about whether the significant size differences in the terminal harvested size of Jonah crab between inshore and offshore harvest zones represent ontogenetic migration of the same population or potentially differential growth patterns of two isolated subpopulations. Simultaneously, the research team will examine the impact of novel acoustic geolocation tags on Jonah crab mortality rate and molt success to explore the viability of upscaling this new technology development to assess fine scale movement of Jonah crabs across regional fishing zones. This work will fill significant knowledge gaps in the life history of Jonah crabs with direct applications to the successful management of the burgeoning inshore and offshore RI Jonah crab fishery.

Parameterizing nutrient recycling from plankton interactions for ecosystem modeling ($80,000)
• Dr. Susanne Menden-Deuer, Ph.D. – Professor – University of Rhode Island PI
• Dr. Sarah Knowlton, Professor – Rhode Island College
• Dr. Heather McNair – Postdoctoral Fellow – University of Rhode Island, GSO

The research team’s aim is to quantitatively measure the release of nutrients by single-celled herbivorous protists during the grazing process to better parameterize the regeneration of nutrients essential for primary production. These data will be used to develop novel approaches for the integration of biological rates into ecosystem models. The research team’s work will lay the foundation for high-resolution plankton population dynamics and nutrient cycling measurements in Narragansett Bay and deliver critically needed data for C-AIM Thrust 2 modeling goals and C-AIM Thrust 1 observation capabilities. The team will be able to inform the design specification of nutrient sensors to meet the needs of ecosystem-wide biologically-relevant measurement tools in line with C-AIM Thrust 3.