Saving the Coastal Grasses

For many years, different environmental shifts, such as more droughts, melting glaciers, and a rising sea level, have all been indications of climate change. Today, many debates circulate on what should be done, if anything, to solve this worldwide issue. Recently, a new discovery in Nature Communications indicated that some environments may promote relationships based on mutual benefits in order to survive the adversity of a shifting environment, which relates to information gathered in Chapter 1 of this unit.

The effects of climate change contain significant reach as designated by the death of many grasses in the marsh areas of the United States due to drought, which in turn affects the inhabitants of the marsh environment, the overall water quality of the area, and the fishing industry. Estimations demonstrate that around 60,000 acres of marsh land have been lost to either land destruction or rising water levels. During the course of this week, researchers produced a study signifying that ribbed mussels and salt grasses may be working together to save the marshes from their new, dry climate.

The report found that both the salt grasses and the mussels gain benefits from interacting with each other in order to better the marshes. Mussels protect the grasses by grouping up near the salt grass stems to increase water storage by the roots and reduce the salinity- the measure of salt dissolved in a solution (in this case water)- of the soil. The mussels, then, receive a more hospitable environment due to the positive effects of the salt grasses on water quality and the other species of the marsh lands (particularly young fish that are raised in the marshes away from predators). The salt grasses are nurseries for crustaceans and fish as well as filters for water pollutants. Without the help of the mussels, then the marshes may never return to their full health within our lifetime.

In terms of a solution for the degradation of the grasses, Duke University conducted research to restore the marshlands and has found that clumping plants near each other produces more beneficial results than negative results. Older principles settled on the belief that too much competition would arise from plants growing close together, especially in a time of drought with little resources. However, the study demonstrated that plants with no neighbors had trouble opposing erosion, surviving the invasion or grazing of another species, and living through low-oxygen levels. Despite the implications of the new, inexpensive research and the increasing failures of the old model (placing plants far apart in hopes of increasing growth rate) to apply in the marshlands, many organizations in the United States and other countries still maintain the older practice with poor results. In the future, the study may be an indication of how researchers can harness the positive interactions of a species in order to produce new benefits between the organisms in a particular environment.

Overall, the recent events of mussels and salt grass interactions and grouped plant development apply readily to Chapter 1 of the textbook, which describes different connections between species. In the cases mentioned above, the organisms were in mutually beneficial relationships as both sides received an advantage from their contact. Relationships amongst organisms may also provide for only one of the species in an interaction to receive an improvement and one side to suffer (parasitism) or one species to benefit and nothing significant to occur to the other (commensalism). In such a way, the current studies and findings relate to our recent chapter information by providing information on how species interact with each other and how that may affect individual organisms, populations, and communities. Hopefully, in the future, the marshlands and other declining environments may improve due to the research being conducted today over species and their mutual relationships.

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About Mr. Mohn

Biology Teacher

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