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URI biological oceanographers awarded National Science Foundation grant to study increases in jellyfish population

URI Graduate School of Oceanography biological oceanographers Barbara K. Sullivan and Dian J. Gifford have been awarded $655,000 by the National Science Foundation to study the cause of substantial increases in the concentrations of the ctenophore Mnemiopsis leidyi (commonly called the combjelly) and determine the effects these increases could have on coastal ecosystems. An additional $244,000 was awarded to Dr. John Costello of Providence College to collaborate on the study.

At the location of the study in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, the increases in Mnemiopsis have been accompanied by seasonal shifts in their appearance from late summer to early spring during years with earlier warming of bay water temperatures. Because this timing coincides with the peak period of fish spawning in the region, the consequences of increased populations of a gelatinous predator such as Mnemiopsis could be quite significant.

Mnemiopsis leidyi is the same organism that has traveled from its usual home in northeastern U.S. waters in ballast water to invade and severely disrupt commercial fisheries in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.

Previous research indicates that this ctenophore is capable of clearing 100% of the fish eggs present in the upper reaches of the Bay when the outbreak of this jellyfish is at its maximum.

Combined with the recent documented decline of fish eggs and larvae over the last several years, the presence of this predator at critical spawning times could have far-reaching effects on the local commercial fishing industry. In addition, ctenophores may also be altering patterns of copepod abundance in spring, thereby changing the structure of the planktonic food web and depriving other marine organisms, including larval fish, of food.

Its exciting to be involved in this highly collaborative project, said Gifford. The Mnemiopsis population in Narragansett Bay, where the jellyfish has few natural predators, provides an
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Contact: Lisa Cugini
lcugini@gso.uri.edu
401-874-6642
University of Rhode Island
28-Sep-2001


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