Sandy beaches look like they are devoid of life, but nothing could be further from the truth. In the small spaces between sand grains, a rich community of microscopic organisms thrive. These complex communities are mostly comprised of unicellular microorganisms (archaea, bacteria and protists) and other small animals that are key to the biogeochemistry and ecology of these environments. They are important components of food webs and nutrient exchange between the benthos and the water column. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these organisms and their ecological functions are essentially unknown because they have been overlooked given their microscopic size.
Our goal is to establish fundamental knowledge on the biodiversity of pristine sand communities through seasonal sampling of beaches on the beautiful BC central coast. In parallel with a variety of microscope techniques, we will also use high-throughput molecular sequencing to track biodiversity over time and space and investigate the biology and ecology of individual microorganisms and different meiofaunal groups in relation to a suite of environmental factors. We will also examine the ecological relationships between animals and microorganisms in the sand (e.g. predation, symbiosis) and test theoretical assumptions on the spatial distribution of meiofaunal and microbial communities in general.
Our research will provide essential knowledge on the biodiversity of pristine sand ecosystems and uncover the ecological roles of organisms living in the sediment, especially in their capacity as a buffer between land and sea. This knowledge will also set a baseline to recognize changes in coastal sand ecosystems in response to climate change, pollution, or other environmental stressors.