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Valdosta State University

Verified 501(c)(3) Non-Profit


Project Description:

Coral reefs are among the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world. They are home to more than 25% of all marine life and are among the world's most fragile and endangered ecosystems. Worldwide, coral reefs have experienced an estimated 80% reduction in coral cover over the last three decades. The decline of these key ecosystems has been commonly linked with ocean acidification, global climate change, disease, habitat destruction, and pollution. Reefs in near-shore environments close to heavily populated areas with substantial anthropogenic inputs are particularly threatened from combined exposure of multiple interacting stressors. Though much attention has been focused on global changes in ocean acidification (increased carbon dioxide (CO2) in the oceans) and to some extent local changes in water quality, such as metal pollution, very little if any research has addressed the impact of combined exposure of both pollutants to coral reef organisms.
Laboratory-based studies are needed to better understand the extent of metal accumulation, the biological effects of metal toxicity, and the potential for recovery and/or acclimation in coral reef organisms after combined exposure to ocean acidification and metals. The research proposed will occur during summer 2015 and will quantify an array of physiological (enzyme activity, ion balance, photosynthetic activity, etc.) and whole organism (growth) responses of coral reef organisms to ocean acidification (various CO2 levels) and metal (various concentrations of several metals) exposure by conducting a series of 4 to 7-day laboratory experiments. In this research, both seaweed and sea anemones (which have been used as coral surrogates) will be utilized with the overall goal to better understand the health of coral reefs. Bioindicators of metal toxicity may be elucidated from this study and used in field monitoring before irreparable damage occurs.
Funding of this proposal will increase stewardship of the natural environment. The ocean is a valuable resource, used and enjoyed by many people, and therefore should be conserved for future generations. Pollution is produced as a consequence of our lifestyles; however, contributions to understand and minimize the impact of humans on valued resources by good corporate citizens will inevitably lead to a brighter future.
Valdosta State University is primarily a teaching university. This proposal is focused on interdisciplinary research for undergraduates in the field of aquatic toxicology and physiology.
The valuable experiences gained in the laboratory will provide a better understanding of the local environment, with global application. Students will learn to formulate and test hypotheses, design experiments, learn new scientific techniques, collect and analyze their data, and communicate their research findings via writing and oral presentations. These studies will enhance the understanding and interest in the biological sciences for participating students by providing them with resources and support to do original experimental research and mentoring through the research process. Participating in this project will give students invaluable applied research experience and credentials leading them to careers in science. Total funding of this project is $7,500. Donations of any amount towards this study are tax deductible.


Dr. Bielmyer-Fraser is a tenured Associate Professor in Environmental Toxicology with over 18 years of experience investigating the effects of metals on many different aquatic organisms and is well suited to undertake the proposed work. Recent findings in Dr. Bielmyer-Fraser’s laboratory have demonstrated impairment of anti-oxidant enzyme activity and photosynthesis in some tropical marine organisms exposed to metals in varying water quality conditions, suggesting that these could be useful biomarkers in field situations. However, more data is needed to better understand this complex issue. For access to current publications and more details on Dr. Bielmyer-Fraser’s research, please visit the following website:
Dr. Bielmyer-Fraser’s laboratory is committed to providing undergraduate research experience and she has mentored 39 undergraduate students outside of regular classes, 35 of whom have presented their findings at a conference, and 20 of whom are co-authors on manuscripts in preparation, submitted to, or published in peer-reviewed journals. She also serves as a reviewer for several biology and toxicology journals and has published 24 journal articles and three book chapters.
Dr. Bielmyer-Fraser’s laboratory is equipped with state of the art toxicological and physiological equipment, including an atomic absorption spectrophotometer, carbon dioxide analyzer, vapor pressure osmometer, an imagine pulse amplitude modulating fluorometer, a specialized system for measuring the enzyme carbonic anhydrase, and an automated Loligo pH/pCO2 system. A shared laboratory also provides access to various centrifuges, UV/VIS spectrometers, and sequencers.

Expected Project Outcomes:
Data generated from this study may be used in conjunction with other parameters to determine the health of coral reef organisms prior to irreparable damage and may also be used to develop or improve current environmental regulations.
Approximately four to five students will be recruited to participate in this project. The research will be presented at the Valdosta State University Undergraduate Research Council Symposium in the spring, as well as a Biology or Toxicology conference such as the Association of Southeastern Biologists, Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, or Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology. Also, the research findings will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal in the field of Biological Sciences, such as Aquatic Toxicology, Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, or Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, part C.

Products of project available for donors:
All donors will be acknowledged in all products of this research. Journal article and poster reprints will be available for all donors. Additionally, the students will maintain a blog/website, documenting their experiences throughout the project.

Supplies (list any items above $500. Smaller items can be combined as "General Supplies"):

  • AA spectrometer supplies (nitric acid, metal standards, argon, acetylene) = $3,000
  • centrifuge tubes, filters, syringes = $1,000
  • Enzyme assay kits = $2,500
  • Carbon dioxide = $1,000
  • Student stipend(s) (numbers of students and number of weeks): N/A
  • Student Housing: N/A
  • Student Travel (state destination(s) and purpose): N/A
  • Other (please describe): N/A

TOTAL: $7,500

Matching funds (amount and source):

  • Valdosta State University, Graduate School will provide up to a $1000 match if we meet our goal.
  • Valdosta State University, Department of Biology will provide a 2,500 matching contribution if we meet our goal

Amount to raise on CREU: $4000 ($1000 VSU Graduate School Match & $2500 VSU Biology Match of CREU)

How will any additional funds be used?

The $4000 CREU amount that has been asked for is the baseline amount that will allow the experiment to be performed with potential for publication. However, the study could be performed to a much higher utility if we are able to measure more endpoints and have increased replication. Any funds raised with CREU beyond $4000 will be used to purchase additional organisms and supplies to increase the breadth of the study.

(Note: This proposal has been revised to address review comments)

CREU recommends this project at the recommended level.

Reviewer Comments:

" Valuable research, accessible to students." " This is an important project that involves a strong number of undergraduates in the lab of an experienced researcher " " I could see this as an exiting project if I had more information on the details: which parameters are assessed on what time scale, rationale for choses test species"

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