New Research Focuses on Seaweed’s Impact on Estuaries

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By Milthon Lujan

By Katelyn Vause, NCSU
A new study is exploring the impact of non-native seaweed in the North Carolina Coastal Reserve & National Estuarine Research Reserve. Aaron Ramus, recipient of the 2020 Coastal Research Fellowship, is investigating the effects of Gracilaria vermiculophylla (“Gracilaria,” for short) on estuarine lagoons.


North Carolina Sea Grant and the N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve Program sponsor the fellowship, which supports work in the state’s reserve system. Ramus, a doctoral student in marine biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, is looking specifically at how Gracilaria influences predator-prey relationships, as well as the production of hard clams.

Ramus also is gathering data about what’s happening at the “benthic” level – that is, at the lowest level in a body of water, including some of the layers of bottom sediment. In addition, he is studying the seaweed’s abundance and variation.

“Understanding the distribution and impacts of invasive and non-native species on coastal ecosystems is a pressing management issue,” says Brandon Puckett, research coordinator at the N.C. Coastal Reserve. “Aaron’s previous research, as well as past Coastal Research Fellows’, has suggested that these impacts are likely context dependent and not always negative.”

In particular, Ramus’s new research will provide insights on the potential for Gracilaria to affect – and perhaps even to reduce – predation on the hard clam, an important species for North Carolinians.


Hard clams constitute the basis for a popular recreational and major commercial shellfishery in North Carolina,” Ramus explains. With his new work under the Coastal Research Fellowship, he says he hopes to better understand how Gracilaria affects the food chain, including the hard clam fishery.

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Ramus received his master’s in marine biology from UNC Wilmington and his bachelor’s in biology from UNC Chapel Hill. His advisor at UNC Wilmington is Lawrence Cahoon.

“I’m very excited about receiving this award,” Ramus says, adding that he plans to share his results through an open access journal, conferences and other avenues. He also will develop a web-based interactive map of Gracilaria’s distribution and abundance.

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