Diatom of the Month: April 2017 - Staurosirella pinnata

by Jennifer Fitchett*
At very high altitudes and relatively high latitude (~30°S), the eastern Lesotho highlands comprise am ecologically restricted, yet biologically diverse, environment for plant growth. The terrestrial vegetation is described as the Drakensberg Alpine Centre, hosting a considerable number of endemic montane to alpine species. This region of South Africa is dotted by numerous small tarns (lakes) and wetlands, each host to thriving communities of largely cosmopolitan diatom species. Of these, a very common taxa, Staurosirella pinnata (Ehrenberg), has an interesting story to tell.

Fig. 1. Photographs of Mafadi summit, with the white diatomite outcrops  visible in the foreground.

Fig. 2. A photograph of a typical microscope slide of diatoms from Mafadi Summit, indicating a predominance of Staurosirella pinnata and Fragilaria construens.
At one of the highest summits of eastern Lesotho, and the highest point of bordering South Africa, Mafadi Summit represents the contempora…

Mom in the Marsh

The highest compliment anyone can give me is to comment on how similar I am to my mother. My mom is the most amazing woman I know and I love when people joke about us being twins or sisters. But, it is not just her appearance I admire; I aspire to have her work ethic, perseverance, and independence. I owe a lot of who I am today to my mother.
Recently, I have been thinking about why I became a scientist and how I have been able to make it this far. An article just came out that found by the time girls reach the age of six they already have negative beliefs about female intelligence. I was surprised by this finding because I can only remember one instance where I felt singled out or intellectually inferior because I am a woman. I never really thought I was special or overcoming a gender disadvantage as I settled into science. After reading about how young girls are dissuaded from activities that require brilliance as opposed to hard work and how it might prevent some young women from …

Undergraduate ReSEArch: Seagrasses in Florida Bay

Post by Kai Lopez

ecosystem services, such as vital nursery habitat for many fish species, sediment stabilization, and increased water quality, in addition to providing food to turtles and manatees. As an undergraduate technician in the Seagrass Ecosystems Research Lab (SERL), I have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with Florida Bay seagrasses.  From fleeing smacks of jellyfish to almost being swallowed by liquid sediments in a canal, the adventure never stops in the seagrass lab. One time I even got to go mano-a-mano with a stone crab bigger than my head over a tidbit. But don’t get the wrong idea, everyone here in the seagrass lab has spent days engrossed in the monotonous work of scraping seagrass as well. As a wise man once said “Seagrass never sleeps!"  My research focuses on how productivity of one seagrass species has been changing over time and what role salinity may play. This may give insights into how CERP (the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan) ma…

Diatom of the month: March 2017 - Mastogloia pseudosmithii

by Sylvia Lee, FIU & Periphyton lab alumna

Did you know that March 19 is Taxonomist Appreciation Day?

Fig. 1. Cartoon on what taxonomy is.Image credit: BuzzHootRoor from
Taxonomy is the study of organisms and their classification (or in more witty/punny terms in the image above, “how you phylum”). Recognizing and putting names to organisms may come easy to some natural-born naturalists, but taxonomy can be a challenging task requiring specialized knowledge. This is especially true for groups with many species, such as diatoms. Species identification may not seem like an important skill, but it can be thought of as an essential part of “ecoliteracy.” It is difficult to care about something if you do not know its name, and it can even become extinct without your knowledge.
As part of my Ph.D. research, I was able to do an in depth study of some of the diatoms in the Everglades, and described them as new specie…

The Carbonate Flow

Post by: Chris Lopes

The interest for my research began far from the boundaries of FCE. Swimming through the glistening waters off the Florida Keys in the reef tract, I saw a system that was teaming with life and full of surprises. As I grew older and gained exposure on the status of the reefs, it became clear that the surprises will not be as pleasant if we proceed with business as usual. As soon as I gained access to web of science in high school, I was digging and searching through the literature to better understand the dynamics systems of coral reefs. I wanted to know everything from what composed the communities to what was affecting the ecosystem form and function. It became clear that coral reefs and adjacent systems are changing and we are leaving our fingerprints on the gas handle.

As my exposure to science increased during my undergrad, global climate change was a paradigm that had shifted and was now in full effect. I remember a line that was used to describe environmental …

Diatom of the Month: February 2017

The Art of Diatoms
by Xavier Cortada
Artist-in-Residence FIU School of Environment, Art and Society

Fig. 1. Cortada’s one-hundred diatom works on tile (each 6″ x 6″), 2017.

I marvel at looking into a microscope. 
I focus in and see time. I see the past, really far into the past. I see beautiful small aquatic plants encased in glass that lived on our planet for many millions of years. Sitting inside Dr. Evelyn Gaiser’s Algae Research lab at Florida International University in Miami, I look at a slideand see diatoms. 
Diatoms transport me to a place so distant in time that it wouldn’t look like the Earth I know. They help connect me to an Earth I am trying to better understand. An Earth fluid. An Earth as process. An Earth completely interconnected. An Earth generating life forms across space and time. 

Fig. 2. Xavier Cortada, Drawings of Diatoms from the Everglades, 6″ x 6″, ceramic tile, 2017.
In diatoms I also see moments captured in time.  Scientists can determine the past salinity of wat…

Researching Algae, the Unsung Heroes of Aquatic Food Webs

by Luca Marazzi*
Why is it important to study algae? To start with, algae produce ~ 50% of the oxygen on planet Earth, they are food for small and large animals that in turn are eaten by people, but they also recycle nutrients and absorb CO2 from the air; by existing and doing their own thing, these microorganisms provide these so called ecosystem services to human beings (Fig. 1). Moreover, as algae reproduce fast and are often adapted to specific environmental conditions, understanding how many species of algae, and which ones, live where and why give us cues as to the health of aquatic ecosystems, such as rivers, lakes, and wetlands. 
Fig. 1. Simplified scheme of the role of algae in food webs (from my Ph.D. Thesis).

* Dr.Luca Marazziis a freshwater ecologist working inDr. Evelyn Gaiser’s research groupin the School of Environment, Arts and Society at Florida International University. His main interest is how biodiversity, ecology, and distribution of algae in subtropical wetlands cha…