Wrapping Things Up

— Written by Ara Yazaryan

Following extensive data collection, my research has yielded some interesting results. After sorting through several sheephead stomach contents, I have discovered some interesting trends. Sheephead tend to eat a lot of urchins! Their stomachs were full of spines and tests. They also have a high affinity for bivalves and algae covered in bryozoans. It was also interesting to directly observe that smaller individuals consumed more bivalves, whereas larger sheephead ate many more and larger urchins. I am currently still processing all this data to derive conclusions and make it ready for our upcoming research symposium.

An Anacapa Sheephead that I caught, dissected and analyzed. Its stomach was filled with mostly algae, as well as a salt-and-pepper urchin.

In the future, I think it would be interesting to continue studying the Sheephead of Anacapa. By increasing sample size and studying more individuals, the composition of this diverse kelp forest community can be assessed. Other fish species could also be studied, using their guts to further elaborate our understanding of kelp forest food webs.
Overall, this research is important for quantifying the many branches that make up the kelp forest community structure. By studying the interrelated dependence and predator-prey interactions, the fine intricacies of kelp forest community structure will be revealed. The vital role that sheephead play in this community will also be further quantified. By limiting urchins and helping control other populations of invertebrates, sheephead play a vital role in helping maintain the kelp forest. Dare I say that they may even be considered a keystone species…?

Data collection has been completed, the microscope has been shut off, and the stomach contents are finally analyzed. Unfortunately, my time here in the Caselle laboratory as a REU researcher is drawing to a close. However, this summer full of fishy adventures will be remembered forever. The interactions, experiences, and techniques I have attained here have helped to mature me both as an individual and as a scientist. Research has captured me in its grip, and tempted me with its allures. The pursuit of the wonders contained in the unknown, as bottomless as the sea is deep, motivates me to carry onwards.


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