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Omnibus Research Projects: 2020-2022

Omnibus Research Projects: 2020-2022

Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) is continuing to fund relevant research projects that address information gaps for coastal Louisiana communities and deal with our connection to water – from the  Mississippi River to the coastal estuaries. For the 2020-2022 omnibus cycle, LSG will fund three integrated research teams and three core research projects. Below is a synopsis of the projects, along with a list of the investigators and their affiliations.

Core Research

Principal Investigator, Affiliation Project Title
Matthew Hiatt, Louisiana State University Controls of Physical Drivers on Phytoplankton Community Adaptations in a River Diversion Influenced Estuary
Aixin Hou, Louisiana State University Innovative Biological Control of Vibrio Species in Gulf Oyster Hatcheries
Beth Stauffer, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Understanding the Effects of Varying Prey Assemblages on Oyster Feeding in Restoration- and Climate-Impacted Estuaries

 

Integrated Research

Principal Investigator, Affiliation Project Title
Zhiqiang Deng, Louisiana State University Source Area-Based Monitoring, Modeling and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Pontchartrain (SAM3HAB)
Carol Friedland, Louisiana State University Incentives and Barriers to Increased Freeboard to Enhance Flood Resilience: Southeast Louisiana Perspectives
Christopher Green, Louisiana State University AgCenter Recovery of Louisiana’s Iconic Shellfish: Diagnosis and Evaluation of White Spot Syndrome Virus Disease in Crawfish

 


 

Core Research

Controls of Physical Drivers on Phytoplankton Community Adaptations in a River Diversion Influenced Estuary
Principal Investigator (PI): Matthew Hiatt, Louisiana State University (LSU), Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences
Co-PI: Sibel Bargu, LSU

The Mississippi River set many records this year, necessitating an unprecedented two openings of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. With spillway openings becoming more frequent and diversions planned for the future, there are questions about how things like wind, tides and freshwater pulses will affect the environment. “We want to understand the response of estuaries to these perturbations,” said Hiatt. “There’s an event of freshwater inflow – it comes and then stops. We want to understand how the system recovers.” Hiatt and Bargu are also interested in how these physical environmental changes impact phytoplankton communities — the base of aquatic food webs — in Lake Pontchartrain. Of particular concern is how cyanobacteria respond, as some species can cause Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). “Louisiana needs to understand the effects of freshwater input on algal bloom dynamics because it’s not just going to happen in Lake Pontchartrain. It’s going to happen in Breton Sound. It’s going to happen in Barataria Bay. We need to know how they’re going to changethe landscape.”

Innovative Biological Control of Vibrio Species in Gulf Oyster Hatcheries
PI: Aixin Hou, LSU, Department of Environmental Sciences

Vibrio has long plagued the seafood industry. These bacteria are a leading cause of food-borne illnesses in the Gulf of Mexico. With the rise in oyster aquaculture, Vibrio are infecting
new areas – oyster hatcheries. Hou and her lab are trying to find safe, sustainable ways to combat the pathogens using a biological control tool. “We just call them BALOs,” said Hou.
“They are bacteria that feed on other bacteria, with the added benefit of being good for the environment and human health.” In the past, antibiotics were used as treatment, but they are
harmful to the environment and gave rise to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A new approach is required. “One problem with using antibiotics is that you wipe out everything, including
beneficial bacteria. BALOs target very specific prey. No potential environmental concerns have been reported.” The goal of the project is to find ways to make aquaculture hatchery facilities
more productive to further support the state’s oyster industry.

Understanding the Effects of Varying Prey Assemblages on Oyster Feeding in Restoration and Climate-Impacted Estuaries
PI: Beth Stauffer, University of Louisiana at Lafayette (ULL), Department of Biology
Co-PI: Jerome LaPeyre, LSU AgCenter

Louisiana’s estuaries expected to become hotter and less salty as climate warms and freshwater diversions are implemented. Facing this change is a species of great concern: the oyster. Studies have already looked at how changing salinity and temperature affect oysters, but little research has been done on how those changes affect what they eat. “We’re trying to understand how changing estuaries affect the food source for oysters,” said Stauffer. “As our estuaries freshen, they might still be salty enough for oysters, but the food web might not be there anymore.” Using both lab and field experiments, Stauffer and her team will determine what prey items currently exist, how they respond to environmental changes and how oyster feeding is effected. “We have important investments in shellfish – both for commercial and restoration importance. We also have low salinity estuaries that are going to be changing,” said Stauffer. “We need to understand if the temperature and salinity will be hospitable for oyster food webs in these restored and changing estuaries to maximize those investments.”

 


 

Integrated Research and Engagement

Integrated Research and Engagement Source Area-Based Monitoring, Modeling and Mitigation of Harmful Algal Blooms in Lake Pontchartrain (SAM3HAB)
PI: Zhiqiang Deng, LSU, Bert S. Turner Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Co-PIs: Sibel Bargu (LSU) and Samendra Sherchan (Tulane University)

Excess nutrients cause spikes in phytoplankton populations, and in large quantities certain species of phytoplankton can result in Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). However, knowing which specific conditions give rise to HABs and predicting them has proven challenging. A new research team hopes to change that. “We are trying to forecast the harmful algal blooms in a way similar to weather forecasting,” said Deng. “Based upon this, managers might be able to post information, so that the public is aware of an upcoming algal bloom.” HABs can pose health risks to the environment, fisheries and even human health, all of which can have impacts on Louisiana’s recreation and tourism in the popular Lake Pontchartrain area. Deng has experience using machine learning to forecast other types of outbreaks and is optimistic that the approach can be applied here as well. And the team hopes to take the research a step further by identifying some of the major sources contributing the nutrients. “The early warning can only partly protect the public, but it doesn’t reduce the occurrence. We’ll need to eventually address the source issues, but we need to first identify the critical sources.”

Incentives and Barriers to Increased Freeboard to Enhance Flood Resilience: Southeast Louisiana Perspectives
PI: Carol Friedland, LSU, Bert S. Turner Department of Construction Management Co-PIs: Monica Farris (University of New Orleans), Robert Rohli (LSU) and Yongcheol Lee (LSU)

Freeboard is the clearance height a home or business has above the base flood elevation. With over 50 percent of Louisiana in the flood plain, this is an important cushion. However, there is no state freeboard requirement, though some parishes are proactively creating their own. Friedland and her team of researchers want to better understand what obstacles are preventing homeowners, homebuilders and parish officials from increasing freeboard and what could be done to incentivize it. “If you elevate at the time you build, you could elevate 20 buildings instead of one.” said Friedland. “I believe a resilient home or business is fundamentally a cost saving measure, rather than having repeated floods and losing the things you have worked to build up for you and your family.” The research team’s work will focus in Jefferson, St. Tammany and Terrebonne parishes. “All three parishes have different levels of freeboard, have shown interest in higher regulatory standards and moving forward with flood plain management. And all three have a high risk of flooding,” said Farris about the communities selected. And increasing freeboard doesn’t just improve the quality of life of the homeowners, it has the potential to ripple through the community. “The money saved by enhancing mitigation and reducing payouts can be spent in other more productive ways that contribute to a better society and a higher quality of life,” said Rohli.

Recovery of Louisiana’s Iconic Shellfish: Diagnosis and Evaluation of White Spot Syndrome Virus Disease in Crawfish
PI: Christopher Green, LSU AgCenter Co-PIs: John Hawke (LSU) and Stephen Midway (LSU)

Crawfish are part of Louisiana’s cultural identity and increasingly important to the economy. That is why concern has grown regarding a virus that is killing the species. White Spot Syndrome Virus infiltrates crawfish, disrupts their natural body functions and ultimately results in the death of the crawfish (the virus poses no threat to human health). Despite being identified 10 years ago, little research has been done on the virus. Green and his team of researchers will change this by studying both the disease and the conditions that give rise to it. “We’re combining laboratory investigations on how this virus works with field-based environmental factors to understand outbreaks better,” said Green. This research will involve a strong collaborative effort with crawfish farmers and the Louisiana Crawfish Promotion and Research Board. Grant funds have been allocated to provide free shipping and testing of suspected virus-infected crawfish at the LSU Vet School, with all results remaining confidential. “At the end of the day,” said Green, “we want to let farmers know if there are practices or conditions that make outbreaks more likely. The ultimate goal is to provide best management practices for producers so that they could reduce their chances of outbreaks in the future.

The execution of these projects is subject to the availability of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) resources and is scheduled to begin Feb. 1, 2020.