Marine Miniature Ecosystem Update #1

I realized a dream of mine today– a dream to create my very own miniature marine ecosystem. As a marine ecology student, the idea immediately appealed to me.

I’d been researching the concept for months and finally had the materials to put it into action! So I drove up to Davenport (where it’s legal to collect algae) this morning and created my brand-new ocean-in-a-jar.

From this angle, you can see Ulva and a red algae I have yet to positively ID. It’s a little beaten up and might actually be two species growing together.

The red algae has some interesting animal life of its own. It has some sort of bryozoan species encrusting on it, which I’m still in the process of identifying. It also has a few tiny ostrich plume hydroids. I’m interested to see if they have survived/will survive. Although I was sad to take them from their habitat, I rescued this algae and its epibionts from the wrack line. If the bryozoans and hydroids aren’t already dead, they would’ve been shortly thereafter.

Here you can see the (empty) mussel shell with encrusting coralline algae.

I included this mussel shell and another mussel half-shell in an attempt to provide algae a place to settle and provide shelter for organisms.

Here you can see the salt residue on the side of the jar and some Cladophora columbiana.

The algae has already begun photosynthesizing, which I was extremely happy to see! You can see some of the air bubbles still attached to the Cladophora.

Earlier today, there was an interesting development.

The unmistakable bristled sides of a polychaete worm!

It seems that a stowaway came along! I rinsed off all the algae in the ocean, but it seems that this one is good at holding on.

Polychaetes are a type of annelid (segmented) worms. The term polychaete means many bristles, which are attached to the little extensions (parapodia) along its body. This particular polychaete uses its bristles and parapodia to “swim” through the water.

I decided that it was a little big to be in the jar so back to the ocean we went. Although it seems that this is some sort of clam worm, which does eat algae, it seemed like too much to have in a jar that was just starting out.

Ready for release!

The release went well and the little polychaete scurried away from the sunlight fairly quickly. When I returned, I was shocked to find another surprise waiting for me!

Another one?! (it’s hanging onto the red algae)

Apparently, one of these types of algae is a common hiding place for these polychaetes! Since this one is a little smaller, I’m going to see how it does in the jar for now. I can’t find it right now, so hopefully it’s found a good place to live.

I’m looking forward to watching the jar change and finding out what other organisms appear!

If you are interested in creating your own ecosystem, I highly recommend checking out the YouTube channel Life in Jars?, which offers tutorials, information, and entertaining jar updates:

Stay tuned for updates on this jar and on the next ecosystem I create…