Zooplankton are animals typically millimeters in length and thus barely visible to the naked human eye, but of vital importance to the Delaware Estuary ecosystem. They include copepods and mysids along with early life stages of crabs, oysters, and finfish, providing an important link between primary producers and higher trophic levels. However, a comprehensive survey of zooplankton has not been done in the Delaware Estuary for decades, leaving scientists and resource managers with little information on how zooplankton populations have changed, and how zooplankton dynamics in the Estuary relate to fisheries. This project is using a novel optical scanning instrument (ZooScan) coupled with pattern recognition software for the semi-autonomous quantification of zooplankton in field collected samples from the Delaware Estuary over a 12 month period to study spatiotemporal distributions of zooplankton as related to environmental variables in order to compare to historical records and to inform work on invasive species detection, and oyster larvae dispersal and settlement. This work is funded through Delaware Sea Grant/NOAA.
We are also engaging educators, students, and citizen science organizations in zooplankton sampling. Learn more about how we are using zooplankton in education at underthescope.udel.edu.
This project has been featured in UDaily, WDDE radio, The Coast Press, The News Journal (with graduate student Adam Wickline on the front page!), and WHYY First.
Adam Wickline (UD Masters student), Laura Smith (UD Masters student), and Jon Cohen (PI)