With Every Breath You Take, Thank the Ocean

When was the last time you thought about your breathing? Take a breath right now and think about it. You breathe because you need oxygen, a gas which makes up 21 percent of the Earth’s atmosphere. All that oxygen has to come from somewhere. You might already know that it comes from photosynthetic organisms like plants. But did you know that most of the oxygen you breathe comes from organisms in the ocean?

That’s right—more than half of the oxygen you breathe comes from marine photosynthesizers, like phytoplankton and seaweed. Both use carbon dioxide, water and energy from the sun to make food for themselves, releasing oxygen in the process. 

Want to know who to thank? Up top, we have a picture of the giant kelp, a brown algae that grows along coasts in cooler regions around the world. The swirling blue image is of the ocean and was taken from a satellite in space. The light blue areas are where there are high concentrations of chlorophyll, the molecule used by phytoplankton to convert sunlight into energy. Lastly, this zoomed in image of a red algae shows its filamentous hairs, which are only a single cell width across, at 250x zoom. Pretty cool!

Spotted salamanders and green algae make for an odd couple, but they share a close bond that begins when the algae start growing in the salamander’s egg. Just because it’s an intimate arrangement, though, doesn’t mean it goes smoothly for both parties, a new study by Museum scientists shows. While salamanders seem to take the connection in stride, it leaves algae cells struggling to get by. 

This rare “cellular roommate” relationship between two very different species—which you can learn about in this episode of the Museum’s Shelf Life web series—has intrigued scientists for decades. That’s in part because, while algae are known to form similar relationships with invertebrates like corals and cicadas, this is the only algae symbiosis that involves a vertebrate species.

“Science shows us the many ways that life is interconnected, especially on the microscopic level, where we see how many organisms depend on close contact with or internalization of other species for food, defense, or reproduction,” said lead author John Burns, a postdoctoral researcher in the Museum’s Division of Invertebrate Zoology. “But the relationship between this particular alga and salamander is very unusual.”

Read more about this research on the Museum’s blog. 

Southern sea otters were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in the 1970’s.

Their population is returning to the California coast and with it, scientists are able to gain a better understanding of their important role in the kelp and seagrass ecosystems they inhabit. Turns out the cute sea otters help keep seagrass healthy even in an environment overloaded with excess nutrients from runoff.

New aquarists, please remember

Algae is not bad.

Sure, it may not always look nice, but unless your tank is so filled up with algae that your fish can’t move, or completely covering your live plants, it’s not a problem.

I have algae in my 66 gallon, but I don’t do a lot to remove it, since it’s natural food for my creatures! I have seen every single one of the different species of fish/inverts I own, nibble on algae. It’s especially great for my shrimp and otos, as it is what they would eat in the wild, and much better for them than any algae wafers I can buy.