The latest research highlights from the UWA Oceans Institute

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October 2022
Research highlights 

Authored by: Josh Bonesso & Maria Jung


Director's Note


Dear Oceans Institute Community,

Welcome to another special Research Highlights edition of the Oceans Institute's eNewsletter for October 2022.  

This month we feature highlights from OI PhD Scholar Maria Jung who is unravelling the 'hidden' stress responses of seagrasses to environmental stressors using a sophisticated molecular tool known as 'metabolomics.' Maria shares some of her key research outcomes from her recent publication in Ecological Indicators

The OI will be providing a number of Research Highlights editions throughout the year, showcasing examples of the outstanding research across the Institute, and demonstrating the diversity and impactful work of OI members.
We invite OI members to contact to have your research  featured. We are keen to share your successes with our extensive ocean community!


Dr Christophe Gaudin
Director, Oceans Institute


The application of omics to advance seagrass monitoring

About the researcher

Maria Jung is a PhD Candidate within the UWA Oceans Institute and School of Biological Sciences (SBS). Her research uses novel molecular techniques to assess the effect of extrinsic environmental stressors on seagrass performance in WA. Maria has a diverse marine science background, with expertise in coral physiology. 
(Photo credit: Josh Bonesso)

The integral role of seagrasses in marine ecosystems

The largest plant on Earth is a seagrass! 

Now that we've caught your attention, what exactly makes these keystone marine plants  so special?

Seagrasses fulfil a myriad of ecosystem services. They provide a refuge and nursery habitat for marine biota (e.g. crustaceans, fish, but also megafauna), protect our fragile coastlines and most importantly, store large amounts of carbon dioxide - giving them the title 'Blue Carbon' ecosystems. 

In shallow marine environments, seagrass act as critical biological indictors of ecosystem health. Loss or reduction in the cover of seagrasses may indicate the presence of environmental stressors (e.g. high nutrient input, pollution). Traditional seagrass monitoring techniques (e.g. biomass, percent cover, shoot growth) have proven to be reliable indicators of seagrass health. Yet, they can usually only detect changes in plant condition when health impacts have become visible (i.e., when a reduction in biomass or cover has already occurred).

PhD Candidate Maria Jung performing in-situ sampling of sediment (from cores) for nutrient analyses, Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan-Canning Estuary), Western Australia (Photo credit: Jan Ranson, University of Western Australia). 

Why we should use metabolomics?

Metabolomics is the study of small molecules, coined 'metabolites', within cells, biofluids, tissues or organisms. Collectively, these small molecules and their interactions within a biological system are known as the metabolome.

Application of metabolomics in seagrass research:

The application of metabolomics can be used to detect changes in plant condition at the very early stages of stress exposure.

Metabolites are biologically relevant building blocks (such as sugars, amino acids, fatty acids) that can activate or pause chemical reactions which produce energy in cells or trigger defence mechanisms. Metabolites are not only the true integration of gene and protein expression, but they can also instantly reflect changes in the environment which makes them a more accurate proxy in detecting changes. Metabolomics can capture and document changes of hundreds of metabolites in a small amount of time. While it is widely used in medical science, the application of environmental metabolomics, especially in the marine sciences, is still in its infancy.


“Metabolites can be used as a real-time indicator of plant stress which makes them a powerful addition to traditional seagrass monitoring.”

- Maria Jung (PhD Candidate)

(Photo credit: Josh Bonesso)
To fill this knowledge gap Maria's research is using metabolomics on a variety of Western Australian seagrasses that grow in both urban estuaries and pristine marine environments.
Seagrass sampling from Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan-Canning Estuary) (Photo credit: Maria Jung, University of Western Australia). 

What metabolomics can tell us about seagrasses in Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan-Canning Esturary)

In collaboration with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA), Maria and colleagues from the University of Western Australia's School of Biological Sciences (SBS) explored the leaf metabolism of the dominant seagrass Halophila ovalis in the Swan-Canning Estuary (Derbarl Yerrigan). 

The research team investigated seasonal differences and examined how well metabolites correlate with traditional seagrass indicators.   

"We found strong differences in relative metabolite abundance between summer and spring, with an increase in growth/flower promoting metabolites in spring and an increase in stress-related metabolites in summer."  said Maria.  

Leaf δ13C (carbon isotope signature), a traditional seagrass metric that has been previously associated with variations in light and pH in Derbarl Yerrigan, strongly correlated with several metabolites in both seasons, the study found. 

Importantly, the research published in Ecological Indicators highlights how metabolomics can complement seagrass monitoring and produce a holistic picture of plant condition which can help to develop better targeted seagrass management and conservation measures.

You can find out more about Maria's research via Twitter, Linkedin and Google Scholar


Oceans News

Farewell to OI Director, Associate Professor Julian Partridge 
On September 30, the Oceans Institute hosted a farewell event to celebrate the achievements and retirement of former OI Director Associate Professor Julian Partridge at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC). 

Dr Partridge commenced as Acting Director of the OI back in early 2020 and soon after took to the reins as Director until October 2022. During his appointment, Julian has been instrumental at forging several important collaborations including helping to establish the Minderoo-UWA Deep Sea Research Centre, the AIMS@UWA alliance build, and large scale IOMRC projects such as ICoAST, Gathaagudu Animal Tracking, and the Malgana Sea Country initiative, all have which are largely led by OI Early Career Researchers. 

Associate Professor Julian Partridge is marine biologist with research expertise in the fields of animal sensory biology and deep-sea biology. He is recognised for over 30 years of research and teaching experience at world-leading universities across both Australia and the United Kingdom. 
(Photo credit: Julian Partridge, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, OI)
The OI staff team, affiliates and members would like to extend there thanks to Julian  for his commitment, enthusiasm and dedication to the Oceans Institute, particularly through his actions in promoting the developments of the University's marine research via a series of clearly identified OI objectives. 

We wish Julian well for his retirement and look forward to his continued affiliation with the OI has Adjunct Senior Research Fellow. 
Members of the Oceans Institute and IOMRC partners celebrating the retirement of former OI Director Julian Partridge at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, September 30 (Photo credit: Vivienne White). 
AIMS@UWA Research Symposium 2022

In late October, the OI in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) was delighted to host the second annual AIMS@UWA Research Symposium, held at OceanWorks in the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC). 

Early career marine researchers, Higher Degree by Research (HDR) students (PhD) within the AIMS@UWA alliance had the opportunity to showcase their research specialisations through short 5 minute oral presentations to an enthusiastic audience. Topics were diverse, spanning tropical-water hydrodynamics, environmental DNA (eDNA), coral resilience and adaptation, coral-fish interactions on coral reefs to the spatial and trophic ecology of whale shark populations. 

About the AIMS@UWA alliance:

Launched in November 2020, the AIMS@UWA Alliance links the University of Western Australia and the Australian Institute of Marine Science to employ academics, co-fund early career postdoctoral researchers, and grow the community of higher degree by research Masters and PhD students working primarily on tropical marine science. Our ambition is to undertake fundamental research with impact, linking with the needs of local communities, industry partners and other stakeholders by providing the scientific information needed for best practice ocean governance and management. 

To watch the full symposia on the OI YouTube Channel click below. 
Dr Luke Thomas (above) opening the annual AIMS@UWA Research Symposium at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre. Dr Camille Grimaldi (AIMS@UWA) Postdoctoral Fellow (below) presenting on Hydrodynamics within the Exmouth Gulf. 
OI members feature ocean glider research capabilities at AMSA 2022 

About the Ocean Glider Facility:

The Oceans Glider Facility is located within the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) at the University of Western Australia's Crawley campus. This state-of-the-art facility is used for the design, build and implementation of control autonomous underwater vehicles designed to measure shelf to boundary conditions (e.g. currents) within Australian waters.  The team, including members of the OI deploy ocean gliders around Australia each year, quality control the data and make it publicly available through the IMOS data portal and repository.  

Ocean Glider workshop - AMSA 2022:

On August 11, OI staff Professor Chari Pattiaratchi, Dr Paul Thomson and Dennis Stanley ran a ocean gliders workshop at the recent Australian Marine Science Association (AMSA) conference in Cairns. The workshop focused on the collection of oceanographic data (with a focus on marine heatwaves), and tools for visualising the data through their developed software Gliderscope. 
Deployment of Ocean Glider in the Indian Ocean (Photo credit: Paul Thompson). 
The full day workshop was a success with 8 expert speakers and attended by 22 participants including HDR students to early / established career researchers across a suite of marine science specialisations. 

Feature Ocean Glider Presentations:
  1. Professor Chari Pattiaratchi (Oceans Graduate School and OI Researcher) - Simulating buoyant debris: An overview.
  2. Dr Paul Thomson (Oceans Graduate School, OI Researcher) Acoustic Telemetry Reveals Megafauna Interactions with Oil and Gas Infrastructure.
  3. Mr Dennis Stanley (Oceans Graduate School and OI Researcher) - What Can Ocean Glider Observations of the Water Column on the Great Barrier Reef Tell Us About Coral Bleaching Events. 
Dennis Stanley (left) and Chari Pattiaratchi (centre) presenting ocean glider research capabilities at AMSA conference 2022 in Cairns. Ocean Gliders workshop (right). 

Featured Articles

Fiddler crab 'fight or flight' offers clues for robots

Research into how a small mangrove-dwelling crab spots and avoids predators could have applications in robot development, according to a study from The University of Western Australia. Read more here

Large fish prefer using sharks for scraping

Research by marine biologists from The University of Western Australia has found sharks are the preferred scraping surface for large pelagic fishes, which could help improve their health. Read more here

Survey to assess value of recreational activities in Cockburn Sound

A new project aims to identify the non-fishing activities in Cockburn Sound to assess the recreational use of the bay and the values it provides. Read more here

Deep ocean 'barrel shrimp' gives glimpse into how animals see the world

Research from UWA is addressing the how animals see the world through a study into a deep-sea crustacean.  Read more here

Video surveys show sea snake species hiding in the deep at Ashmore Reef

Deeper waters at remote Ashmore Reef off the Western Australian coast could be acting as a refuge for sea snake species not seen in shallow waters for more than a decade, new research led by the Australian Institute for Marine Science indicates. Read more here

Ocean Media Releases

Seminar series: Increasing the Impact of Ecological Research

On October 14, OI hosted a guest seminar featuring Dr Daniel C. Gwinn - a quantitative systems ecologist that specializes in the application of modelling tools that enhance conservation and natural resource management objectives.

The seminar, presented at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) at UWA's Crawley campus focused on translating applied ecological research into specific management guidance, with a focus on how using statistical models as a predictive tool can answer large scale ecological questions and resolve specific uncertainties in management.  

The presentation was well received which was followed by an enthusiastic Q+A session and sundowner. 

The OI would like to thank Dr Gwinn for sharing his wealth of knowledge in systems ecology with OI Researchers. 

About the speaker: 

Dan is a multi-disciplinary ecologist, drawing on his experience in natural recourse management and tools developed in the fields of commercial fisheries assessment, wildlife ecology and stream ecology. 

Dan's presentation is available for viewing on the OI YouTube page. Please click the link below. 

Dr Daniel Gwinn presenting a guest seminar to OI Researchers at the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) (Photo credit: Vivienne White). 
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