Crinoid ecology on a deep, tropical island slope (2012-2014)
Deep-water tropical rocky seafloors are among the least studied habitats in the ocean. Karl Stanley’s three-person submersible, stationed on the island of Roatán off the coast of Honduras in the western Caribbean Sea, affords us a unique opportunity to visit, and re-visit, the same locations, and even the same individual marine creatures. Just a 20-minute surface run out of Half Moon Bay takes us beyond the shelf for a vertical drop into the depths. I am working on two main projects here with paleontologists Tom Baumiller (University of Michigan) and Forest Gahn (Brigham Young University, Idaho). Both focus on crinoids—the sea lilies and feather stars: “Ecology of the ‘Living Fossil’ Holopus rangii” (funded by NSU) and “Predation and its effects on the bathymetric distribution of crinoids" (funded by National Geographic). Crinoids have a vast and important fossil record. By investigating the living species, we hope to learn more about evolution and life in ancient seas. We are also collaborating with NOAA scientists to learn more about the distribution, ecology and growth of local deep-water corals and other organisms. An unexpected bonus was recently published in Messing CG, Stanley K, Reed JK, Gilmore RG (2013) The first in situ habitat observations and images of the Caribbean roughshark, Oxynotus caribbaeus Cervigón, 1961. Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington 126(3):234–239.
In July 2013, Tom, Forest and I were accompanied by a production crew from WPBT-2 Public Broadcasting in Miami led by producer Alexa Elliott, who shot an episode of their long-running series "Changing Seas" that focused on our research. The episode, "Living Fossils", aired on WPBT-2 in June 2014 and can be viewed at http://video.wpbt2.org/video/2365255097/.
Tom and I returned to Roatán in May 2014 for our third expedition. Results from our first two trips on the strange barnacle-like crinoid, Holopus rangii, were recently presented at this year's North American Echinoderm Conference:
Syerson VJ, Messing CG, Baumiller TK (2014) First insights into growth and population dynamics in the extant cyrtocrinid Holopus rangii (Crinoidea). 7th NAEC, University of West Florida, Pensacola FL, 1-6 June 2014. Abstract #19, p. 32.