Date: June 10, 2011
Author: Amber Taylor
Early this morning, we kicked off our summer 2011 sampling for the Florida Springs Biodiversity Project! The Cambrian Foundation was joined by a team of scientists from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), the University of Virginia (UVa), and several new (and old!) interns at Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County, FL! This is the first time that we have included Blue Springs as a data collection site for comparison to our long-term microbe monitoring sites. The goals for today included gathering water samples and microbial mats from a variety of depths and strata within the underwater cave.
Prior to entering the water, a thorough site evaluation and safety briefing helped all team members understand the nature of this system and how important communication is between the surface team and the dive team down below. In order to maximize efficiency, a team of 6 people (4 divers, a snorkeler, and a swimmer) was in the water to assist with sample collection and transport to the surface. Alex Houston, the 2011 Legare R. Hole, III, Memorial Scholarship recipient and former intern served as dive supervisor for the day. Under his direction, we had two cave divers stationed at the bottom of the cave at a depth of 117′, a mid-water support diver at 60′, and a shallow support diver who was responsible for ferrying the samples to the surface from about 50′ for immediate analyses and preparation for storage/shipment.
A total of 6 stations were sampled for bacterial biomass and water chemistry. Water samples were analyzed immediately on site for alkalinity, ammonia, iron, and sulfide since these parameters will change quickly in response to sunlight, temperature change, and exposure to air. Additional water samples were shipped to UVa’s Laboratory for Microbial Ecology for analyses, and biomass samples were frozen and sent to the VCU Microbial Ecology lab. Once the bacterial sampels arrive back at the labroatory, we will examine the microbes under a microscope and clone (makes copies of) its DNA sequence. We receive the sequence as an electronic file and then use these data to determine what type of bacteria are growing in the submerged cave.
Understanding what types of bacteria are growing in these caves is extremely important for Florida Springs conservation efforts as it is believed that these microbial mats may serve as the primary food source for many other organisms (cave-adapted isopods, amphipods, crayfish, etc.) that inhabit the groundwater. In addition, their physiology may play an important role in speleogenesis (cave formation). This research gives us a look inside an ecosystem that has been inaccessible by most humans for hundreds, or thousands, of years and is poorly understood. The combined efforts of our team can help provide an in-depth understanding about our natural resources and how to properly care for them.
After we left, Blue Springs we were off to fill tanks and head to Hollerbachs Willow Tree Cafe in Sanford, FL, for a delicious and entertaining evening of food, folks, chicken-dancing, schnitzel, and fun!!!
Rachel Crane, 2011 Frank Scalli Intern/Boston Sea Rovers
Steve Dunn, CF Intern/Rollins College
Rima Franklin, Ph.D., VCU
Shawn Hill, VCU
Aaron Mills, Ph. D., University of Virginia
Amber Taylor, VCU
Andrew Vossler, CF Intern/Rollins College