Influence of Fish-Eating Seabirds on Kelp Forest Ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine

By Ajay Patel

My summer of 2020 was supposed to be filled with beautiful, lush forests and jagged rocky cliffs. I imagined cool ocean spray, and the warm, inviting funk of the sea. Unfortunately, I was only able to experience the next best thing…. remote data analysis and literature review.  Though my anticipated research did not fully come to fruition, I have had the wonderful opportunity to remotely imbed myself in Doug Rasher’s lab. His lab is currently focused on understanding Maine’s kelp forest ecosystems in the context of rapid environmental changes and their community assemblages. Our current long term plan is to investigate the influence of fish-eating seabirds on kelp forest ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine.

The idea is that since seabirds typically feed far from their nesting locations, their guano (poop) may provide an important avenue for nutrients to cycle from pelagic communities into kelp forest ecosystems surrounding their nesting islands.  This topic is important because it will help further understanding of the marine nutrients cycles in the Gulf of Maine, as well as help establish the role of birds in the larger ecological context of the Gulf.

Attempting to answer this question without physically being in the field is an impossible task. Instead, I have focused my efforts towards uncovering relevant data and information pertaining to seabirds in the Gulf of Maine. This is likely to culminate in a literature review overviewing population trends and ecologies of breeding seabirds of the Gulf of Maine. My undertaking will help guide future fieldwork anticipated for later this year.

Thus far, the most surprising thing about my experience has been sense of community from the other REU interns. I thought being scattered across the country would prevent us from connecting with each other in a meaningful way, but I was mistaken. It has been nice to have a group of like-minded people my age to discuss science with.

Overall, this experience has shown me the importance of adaptability. Only through tweaking my ideas and methods was I able to find a way to address this issue while being a thousand miles away. My research experience has given me practical experience in both rigorous scientific research and contingency planning. Though I would have loved to be fully immersed in the lovely ecosystems of Maine, my current project seems to be my best foot forward during these troubling times. 

Ajay Patel is a University of Florida student in Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science’s Research Experience for Undergraduates program. This intensive experience provides an immersion in ocean research with an emphasis on state-of-the-art methods and technologies.

Influence of Fish-Eating Seabirds on Kelp Forest Ecosystems in the Gulf of Maine