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UTS C3 Climate Change Cluster

Seagrass Health

Background

Seagrass are vitally important to the healthy functioning ecosystems, and play a key role in mitigating climate change by locking up atmospheric carbon in their sediments, rhizomes, roots and leaves.  The worldwide loss of seagrass meadows concerns C3 scientists and this drives them to use the latest technology to understand how these plants live under such complex conditions, and furthermore, how to better manage and conserve them. Research over the past 20 years driven by staff in C3 has established much of the fundamental knowledge of stress physiology in seagrasses.

Establishing a systems biology approach to understand seagrass physiology

C3 has gathered experts in a wide range of disciplines with a common focus on seagrass: plant physiology, photobiology, biogeochemistry, optics, molecular biology, metabolomics, stable isotopes, bioinformatics, microbial ecology, microsensors and modelling. A systems biology approach is used to understand the complex physiological controls of seagrasses when exposed to dynamic and anthropogenically-modified conditions. An integrative system-based approach gives a better understanding of coastal biogeochemical cycles, the importance of bacteria in seagrass ecosystem, metabolic processes and, ultimately, how to link these processes with mechanistic models.

Research themes

  • Blue Carbon where members contribute to the CSIRO Coastal Carbon Cluster and International Blue Carbon Scientific Working Group; targeted with having seagrasses and saltmarsh recognised as carbon sinks
  • Seagrass-bacteria interactome focuses on the astonishing diversity of microorganisms associated with seagrass and the metabolic activity of this collective community of organisms, which is essential to coastal biogeochemical cycles
  • Molecular physiology assists in understanding complex responses and adaptations of seagrasses to the marine environment by using cutting-edge technologies from isotopic imaging, metabolomics and transcriptomics
  • Dredging impact mitigation using optics, photobiology and molecular physiology to provide managers with the next generation of decision making tool

Research impact

  • The impact of dredging on seagrasses was previously monitored and controlled using a turbidity-based management plan; however, C3 research has demonstrated the importance of using measures of the light reaching the seagrass as a more accurate tool. Working with research staff at JCU (formerly Queensland Fisheries) this has been integrated into a dual water quality management plan; using both turbidity and light to help protect the seagrass meadows in Gladstone Harbour, Queensland.
  • C3 has recently reported the first transcriptome assembly of a southern hemisphere seagrass species
  • C3 researchers have also developed a protocol to monitor seagrass health using gene expression in collaboration with research staff at JCU. This molecular tool kit has great potential for the management of dredging impacts to seagrass, allowing a reliable and rapid assessment of whether seagrasses are under low light stress prior to any actual declines taking place

Collaborations/Links

CSIRO Coastal Carbon Cluster (opens external website)
IUCN Blue Carbon Working Group (opens external website)
Deakin University, Centre for Integrative Ecology
James Cook University
University of New South Wales
Bioplatforms Australia (BPA)
Mount Allison University
Old Dominion University

Facilities

Members

Peter Ralph - C3 Executive Director, Team Leader

Mathieu Pernice - Deputy Team Leader,Research Fellow

Audrey Commault - Research Associate

Michael Kuhl - Distinguished Research Professor

Manoj Kumar - DECRA Fellow

Unnikrishnan Kuzhiumparambil - Research Associate

Tony Larkum - Adjunct Professor

Jean-Baptiste Raina - Research Associate

Justin Seymour - ARC Future Fellow

Milan Szabo - Research Associate

Associate members

John Raven - Visiting Professor

PhD students

Katie Chartrand -Environmental tolerances and drivers of deepwater seagrass photophysiology

Kasper Elgetti Brodersen - Analysing the below-ground microenvironment of seagrasses

Peter Davey - The development of molecular biomarkers to monitor the health of seagrass

Bojana Manojlovic - A dynamic carbon model for Australian seagrasses

Nasim Shah Mohammadi – Molecular and physiological investigations of heavy metals stress in the seagrass Posidonia australis.

Valentina Hurtado McCormick- The microbiology of seagrasses in a changing ocean: Does environmental stress encourage seagrass pathogens?

Mikael Kim - Molecular and cellular investigation of photosynthesis-driven carbon fixation in seagrass

Alex Thomson (PhD) - The role of bioturbators in blue carbon cycles.

Honours students

Harvey Bates - Photosynthetic energetics in seagrasses; what do electron and proton circuits tell us about the fine tuning of photosynthesis under stress?
Whitney Heiniger - Alternate form of tissue generation for testing herbicide impact on seagrass
Ritu Soni – An integrated view of seagrass response to nutrients: from gene expression to assimilation at a tissue specific level

Alumni

Pemika Apichanangkool (PhD)-Assessment of blue carbon reserves in Thailand
Ponlachart Chotikarn (PhD)- A comparison of computer model and eddy correlation system
Jeff Kelleway - Carbon Dynamics of Saltmarsh Wetlands
Stacey Trevathan-Tackett (PhD)- Dynamics of sedimentary carbon pools and fluxes in seagrass meadows
Regan Hayward (Hons) - Developing an open source comparative transcriptomics portal for Zostera muelleri
Mikael Kim (Hons) - Do seagrass have an intermediate photosystem between a C3 and a C4 plant?
Jessica Roy (Hons)- Do burrowing infauna increase carbon turnover in seagrass sediments? 
Brendan O'Keefe (Hons) - Stability of Holocene "blue" carbon in seagrass meadows in Jervis Bay, NSW
Lachlan Webster (Hons) - How chemistry links plants and bacteria: the role of exudates in seagrass ecology
Simon Hardy (Hons) - Effects of warming on seagrass carbon stocks

Projects

Publications

Consult individual member profiles for their latest publications or C3 Publications for a complete list

Contact us

Professor Peter Ralph
C3 Executive Director, Team Leader
Phone: 02 9514 4203
Email: Peter.Ralph@uts.edu.au

Dr Mathieu Pernice
Deputy Team Leader
Phone: 02 9514 4162
Email: Mathieu.Pernice@uts.edu.au