So we are in our final week on the expedition and Clara and her helpers have been very hard at work with her project. As one of the non-diving projects it is seldom complicated however does require a strong resistance to heat and a good eye for tiny invertebrates. Clara has been working on the reef flat of Abu Sautir 5 days a week at low tide to test the effects of many abiotic factors on species diversity and abundance in the rockpools. Rockpools are usually found within intertidal zones, which are considered extreme environments for the dwelling organisms due to exposure to harsh conditions. Despite this rockpools are found to be quite high in biodiversity and the ones here in Abu Sautir provide a very wide sample area. As the tide cycle changes daily, many factors such as salinity, pH and temperature can fluctuate and influence the spatial variation of many organisms.
Intertidal zones are home to a variety of invertebrates, juvenile fish and macroalgae. Here in the Red Sea species such as the reef flat brittle star (Ophiocoma scolopendrina), striped leg hermit crab (Clibanarius taeniatus), rock-boring sea urchin (Echinometra matheaei), juvenile sandperch (Parapercis hexophthalma), green guts macroalgae (Enteromorpha clathrata) and many more are found.
Clara has been using transects and a 1 m2 quadrat to quantify each species found from the shore 16 m to the edge of the water to see how these species are distributed. Some organisms have physiological coping mechanisms to survive in such extreme environments, for example brittle stars (ophiuroidea) have the ability to tolerate salinity fluctuations, this allows them to spread out across the reef. However other species may need other ways to cope with the fluctuations and are more careful with their habitat selection, meaning species variation may occur spatially. Therefore it will be interesting to see the differentiation between species and whether this is related to the abiotic factors being measured.
Although most of her data is collected, Clara will need to analyse it upon her arrival to Glasgow and is hopeful to use Primer software to produce some cool and sophisticated graphs. Overall it has been a bumpy ride working in the rockpools, working in such heat for long periods of time can be tiresome and stressful, sometimes working in direct sunlight or very early in the morning depending on the tide… and not to mention the dangers of the deadly cone shells! However Clara is pleased with the data she has so far and has had a fantastic bunch of helpers along the way!