A baseline assessment of the trophic dynamics within a tropical anchialine lake, Sweetings Pond

Our work in the Sweetings Pond ecosystem continues in collaboraiton with the Univeristy of Tampa.jpg

The use of insular systems as models for evolutionary-ecological feedbacks have been critical in furthering scientific understanding of both terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems. However, despite the unique attributes that make these systems so valuable for scientific scrutiny, there is a paucity of data concerning closed marine systems, their ecological significance, and ultimately their conservation value. Therefore a broad ecological assessment of such a system, employing holistic approaches will contribute directly to conservation strategies for ecosystems of this nature.

In The Bahamas, anchialine or saltwater lakes provide such an example of an insular ecosystem and are characterised by by their limited connectivity to the wider marine environment via subterranean aquifers. We will focus our research effort on Sweetings Pond due to its proximity to Gregory Town and its neglect as a research site.

Within Sweetings Pond, a complex benthic ecosystem is distinguished due to its geographical isolation from the ocean and minimal tidal influence. It also hosts a substantial (sub) population of genetically important Hippocampus erectus (lined seahorse) and Octopus briareus (Caribbean reef octopus). For any further unified work using Sweetings Pond as a model insular marine system, an understanding of its various components is required. There is robust data on the H. erectus population due to continuing work by Dr. Mason-Jones at the University of Tampa but literature on the remainder of the ecosystem has been neglected. Therefore the trophic interactions present need to be identified alongside the dispersal ability of Sweetings Pond organisms as a measure of insularity.

By focussing on these ecosystem traits in particular, the requirement of a baseline understanding of the system could be achieved and Sweetings Pond may be established as a natural laboratory. Study will also serve as a platform for scientific enquiry and future collaboration, combining academic and public engagement with the potential to be both a research and teaching resource for local Bahamian communities.

To achieve these objectives we aim to:

1) Assess system wide trophic structure, function and interaction via stable isotope analysis.

2) Assess what dispersal means (if any) are available for organisms between Sweetings Pond and the wider Eleuthera reef system and vice versa.

Updates on this project can be found here and on our Instagram Page. Please contact us through our website for further information!