As regular readers will know, I’ve spent the summer traveling around the Northern Hemisphere sampling the red seaweed Gracilaria vermiculophylla, an introduced alga in North America and Europe. I’ve rewound to the beginning of the summer in order to highlight our Japanese colleagues without whom our trips would not have been possible nor as enriching! Plus, who doesn’t want to look at some pictures on a (stormy if you’re in the Southeast) Friday?!
For just over a week at the beginning of our field expedition at the beginning of June, my greenhorn assistant and husband, Rob, and I completed a quasi-circumnavigation of Hokkaido.
Our first stop was in Hakodate where we met up with my colleague Erik Sotka. Due to our late arrival, sampling was delayed and we ended up with a day of tourism.
We were then guided by Dr. Chikara Kawagoe to a beautiful rocky shore and our first glimpse of G. vermiculophylla.
In order to process our samples, we were pointed to the Muroran Marine Station. The station is one of the satellite campuses in the Field Science Center for Northern Biosphere. The Center was established in 2011 as one of the research facilities of Hokkaido University and integrated 16 research facilities affiliated with the Faculties of Agriculture, Sciences and Fisheries.
The research faculties focus on conservation, the mechanisms underlying biological diversity and ecosystem processes, sustainability and long-term monitoring of the diverse ecosystems comprising the Center (forests, rivers, lakes, agriculture and coasts).
There are six main divisions of research and education providing fantastic opportunities for students at Hokkaido University as well as foreign students and researchers. Research ranges from bio-resource development in order to reduce the environmental impact while improving agricultural practices for cold regions, such as Hokkaido, to phylogenies and life cycle strategies in plants. In addition to the main campus in Sapporo, there are a plethora of field stations. For example, in the Nakagawa Experimental Forest, a long-term tree census has been carried out since 1967 in order to establish appropriate methods for selective cutting and sustainable yields of timber.
Our visit to Muroran, one of the four aquatic stations, was a last minute addition to our itinerary. It was a perfect example of the hospitality of every single place we ventured throughout Japan. Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, we were welcomed with enthusiasm by Drs. Motomura, Nagasato and Tanaka.
The Muroran Marine Station was founded in 1933. It is located in an area of rich marine flora and fauna due to the cold Kurile Current and warm Tsugaru Current.
The researchers at the lab focuses on algal fertilization and development, morphogenesis and improving gene transfer techniques. Drs. Motomura and Nagasato were contributors to one of the first algal genomes, Ectocarpus (Cock et al. 2010, Nature, Vol 465: 617-621).
Unfortunately, we did not find a population of Gracilaria vermiculophylla, but we did get to see local fishermen drying kelp right near the marine station.
Packed tightly into our Wingroad, we drove over 400 km to the Akkeshi Marine Station, arriving right at sunset.
The Akkeshi Marine Station, one of the other aquatic stations of Hokkaido University, was founded in 1931 in order to explore marine organisms inhabiting cold-current ecosystems. The Akkeshi Bay is influenced by the cold Oyashio Current with a unique marine flora and fauna from all other marine stations in Japan.
We sampled a population of G. vermiculophylla very similar to the populations we see in the non-native range.
On our final night before heading north (and Erik heading to the US), we were treated to a dinner with all the students at the marine station hosted by our colleague and collaborator Dr. Masahiro Nakaoka.
Having never traveled in Japan, we were nervous about the language and cultural barriers making field work and our very tight schedule difficult. Yet, all those qualms easily washed away in the first few days due to the kindness and generosity of every single person we encountered, whether they were our hosts or the owners of a restaurant taking great pains to translate a menu for those of us without LTE.
I’ll be back next week highlighting some of the work of a post-doc at Akkeshi, Takefumi Yorisue, plus more images from our sampling in Hokkaido.