Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

A true test of colour: StFX student publishes research on colour and marine fouling

August 10th, 2016
Veronica Ells

Does the colour of an anti-fouling coating make a difference in the abundance or diversity of organisms that settle on that plate?

That’s the question Veronica Ells, a student research assistant in the StFX Centre for Biofouling Research and working in biology professor Dr. Russell Wyeth’s lab, wanted to answer.
Now, Ms. Ells of Antigonish, NS, a 2016 StFX joint advanced major in biology and math graduate, is the lead author on a paper just published in the Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology
Other authors include Natalia Filip and StFX Centre for Biofouling Research faculty members, Drs. Cory Bishop, Edwin DeMont, Truis Smith-Palmer, and Russell Wyeth. 
“I was pretty excited,” Ms. Ells, who will begin studies at the Atlantic Veterinary College this fall, says when she learned the paper “A true test of colour effects on marine invertebrate larval settlement,” had been accepted for publication. 
Ms. Ells says the project started as a control for an experiment a graduate student was completing in the lab. The graduate student was studying new anti-fouling coatings that might reduce invasive tunicate growth to help mussel farmers, but her coatings were all different colours. 
“We wanted to make sure the colour didn’t make a difference, which led us to look into previous studies,” she says. 
They found no previous studies had properly tested how colour can affect animals that grow on surfaces underwater (a process known as biofouling). In particular, past tests of settlement by marine invertebrate larvae on different colours were not designed to distinguish between responses to the intensity (i.e. brightness) of the surface colour. 
Using a design based on colour vision testing methods, Ms. Ells’ study examined the effect of colour on biofouling by including both coloured plates and plates with different shades of gray.  Deploying the plates in local harbours (Cribbons and Port Hawkesbury), she then monitored the growth of animals on the different plates over time. The dominant biofouling invertebrate animals at her sites (tunicates and bryozoans), showed no differences in settlement between blue, red or green plates, suggesting they do not prefer surfaces with different colours. In contrast, the tunicates responded to the plate brightness, with less settlement on lighter plates, while the bryozoans showed no preference relative to brightness.  Her results have important implications for the design of future studies testing potentially new antifouling coatings to use on boat hulls, aquaculture gear, and other marine infrastructure.
For Ms. Ells, “I learned a lot about research and what goes into it. I really enjoyed the field work and the planning process.”
She says her time at StFX and in the research lab was beneficial. 
As a smaller school, she says students know their professors and are not as afraid to approach a professor to see if there is anything they can do to be involved. 
Organizing, thinking about, and carrying out the project also proved beneficial to her.
“I learned a lot of leadership skills,” she says. 

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