Monday, January 23, 2012

The Long Island High School Student Who Has Discovered How Mussels are Adapting to Asian Shore Crabs in the Sound

A terrific little story from the Times just dropped into my inbox. It’s about Samantha Garvey, a high school student on Long Island who is both a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search and (until very recently) homeless. Her area of research is ribbed mussels and Asian shore crabs from Long Island Sound. Here’s what the Times reported:

The mussel species, Geukensia demissa, or ribbed mussel, is native to Long Island Sound. The Asian shore crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus, is not. It is a predatory interloper that arrived in the waters near Cape May, N.J., in 1988, and has since spread from Maine to North Carolina.
The crabs like to eat mussels.
The scientific question was whether the ribbed mussels would just sit there and be eaten by the new predator, or had nature provided them with a means of defending themselves?
Ms. Garvey collected mussels from different parts of Flax Pond, a salt marsh on the North Shore of Long Island. She compared the shell length, width, weight and other measurements of those that lived where Asian shore crabs were prevalent with those that lived in areas with few crabs.
She found that the mussels that lived in areas where the crabs were prevalent had thicker shells. Was that because the Asian shore crabs ate the mussels they could pry open most easily, leaving thicker-shelled survivors, or were the mussels able to grow greater protection in response to the predators?
In a laboratory at Stony Brook University, Ms. Garvey put some young mussels in tanks with the crabs, although the crabs were in cages. In other tanks, mussels lived alone. After 65 days, she found that the mussels that shared their tank with the crabs had developed thicker shells than the ones that lived alone.
The finding suggests that chemicals released by the Asian shore crabs in the water set off a defense mechanism in the mussels: they produce thicker shells that fend off predators. When the crabs are not around, the mussels do not pad their shells.

And it sounds as if her teacher, Rebecca Grella, of Brentwood High School, has put together a large, impressive team of high school researchers.

Read it all here.


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