— Written by Xavius Boone
The Santa Barbara coast is lined with many wonderous creatures and year around people flock to the beaches and head out on boats to explore all that it has to offer. Jellyfish are famous for their tentacles armed with many stinging cells, but the average beachgoer is unaware that their anemone cousins share the same defenses. This was something I learned and shared with visitors during my time volunteering at the Sea Center on Santa Barbara’s Wharf while I attended Santa Barbara City College. Now, exactly a year later and after transferring to UC Davis, I am back studying the effect strawberry anemones have using those stinging cells to deter and dictate sea urchin feeding behavior.
There are many different anemones that inhabit California’s coastal waters, each with varying levels of aggression as well as varying strength in regard to their stinging cells. The strawberry anemone is known to be one of the most aggressive anemones and is equipped with some of the strongest stinging cells as well. These two characteristics make patches of the clonal animal quite a formidable barrier for predators perusing the area to deal with. Interestingly enough, strawberry anemones have been found to exhibit several different color morphs and it is speculated that behavioral characteristics such as aggression may differ by color. My research seeks to investigate just how much of a deterrent strawberry anemones really are. Is deterrence linearly related to anemone patch population density? Does it vary with urchin density? Is it decreased when urchin food availability is scarce? In the first few weeks I am determining what questions I want to answer and what is possible to accomplish in the time I am here.
Through this first week and a half it has been a bit like what I imagine low tide feels like to an exposed anemone. Much like being exposed to direct sunlight, I have been exposed to tons of new information and tasked with running my own experiment which I have never done before. My duties thus far have been reading through many scientific articles that look at strawberry anemone physiology as well as their associational relationship with kelp via herbivory deterrence, coming up with methods and procedures to follow, and feeding the anemones we are currently keeping for the experiment. In the coming weeks I look forward to finalizing the project goals and running through the trials with the anemones.