Chemosymbiosis, the association of bacteria that fix carbon and supply it to their hosts in the absence of sunlight, remains largely unexplored in coastal environments.
Laurie Anderson, Ph.D., head and professor of the Department of Geology & Geological Engineering and director of the Museum of Geology at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, has received a $405,080 National Science Foundation grant to examine the functional biodiversity of chemosymbiosis in clams and its role in supporting sensitive coastal biomes. A collaboration among three universities – SDSM&T, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Clemson University – the project’s total award tops $1.63 million over five years.
Lucinids, the clams to be studied, are the most taxonomically diverse clade of bivalve clams that exploit chemosymbionts to gain energy and avoid toxins. Recent molecular studies by this research team reveal novel genetic and metagenomic diversity typically unassociated with lucinid endosymbionts – an effort that reveals just how little is known of chemosymbiotic associations in these environments.
Anderson’s portion of the project investigates how the morphology of the living bivalve hosts might reveal the presence of endosymbionts or the degree or type of symbiotic dependence. “If we find a link, it gives us a way to track this relationship in the fossil record. Fossils of this bivalve family are common in the Cretaceous rocks of West River and are especially associated with fossil hydrocarbon seeps that dot the landscape out on the prairies,” she explained.
The research will fill gaps in understanding about lucinid biodiversity loss that may occur in habitats sensitive to natural and anthropogenic disturbances – essential to coastal resource management decisions.
Though her project is set to begin Jan. 1, 2014, Anderson’s work on these systems has spanned more than two decades as a paleobiologist and expert in bivalve systematics, especially for the New World subtropics and tropics.
The grant includes significant field work in Florida, the Bahamas and California.
She added: "We will also be working with collections in museums in Florida and California. In addition, we will do lab work here in the Paleontology Research Laboratory, and the field collections we make will become part of the museum’s collections.”
Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.