Investigating Ocean Toxicity with Evan Tjeerdema, Marine and Coastal Sciences Undergrad

Posted: 11.01.2018
Evan Tjeerdema holds a red abalone
Evan Tjeerdema, a Marine and Coastal Sciences major, spent the entire summer at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, participating in both of the facility’s summer sessions. The opportunity to work continuously near the ocean was a dream come true for him. David Slipher/UC Davis
Posted by Greg Watry

A red abalone perches atop an algae-covered rock. The sea snail’s spindly tentacles wriggle in the water, spilling from beneath its brick red shell as it feeds. The ocean current is light; the scene seems peaceful—if just for a moment.

Suddenly, an intruder emerges. A sea star is on the hunt, clambering across the rocky ocean bottom. After closing within the abalone’s range, it stretches out an arm lined with twitching, tubular feet and grasps the abalone’s shell.

To survive, the red abalone must act quickly. Fortunately, its tentacles have already chemically detected the sea star’s presence.

In defense, the abalone raises its shell high and shakes it back and forth vigorously, attempting to dislodge the sea star’s powerful arms. The sea star soon loses its grip, and the red abalone skitters away, moving much more quickly than expected for a snail. It disappears into the ocean blue. Safe, for now.

Such predator-prey interactions fascinate UC Davis undergraduate student Evan Tjeerdema, a senior Marine and Coastal Sciences major and Environmental Toxicology minor.

“What I’m interested in is seeing how these anti-predatory behaviors might be impaired in future ocean conditions,” said Tjeerdema. “A lot of the reading that I’ve done and the work I’ve done seems to show that ocean acidification may impair a red abalone’s ability to detect chemicals exuded by predators in the water.”

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