Sapelo Island: Algae showcases biodiversity in Georgia

Observations

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Kalina Manoylov is happiest when out in the field, studying algae.

An assistant professor of biology at Georgia College and State University, Manoylov is known around the the college’s Department of Biological and Environmental Science as the one who loves diatoms.

While supervising a group of students collecting samples on Sapelo Island in early September, she’s even wearing a shirt that expresses her love for algae.

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“The biodiversity of these primary producers is outstanding,” she said. “On this island, there are probably 14 groups of algae and 10 million species.”

Manoylov promoted the phycology field trip to Sapelo to document diversity in Georgia. Once the students take samples from several ocean, lake, and river sites, they return to the classroom and study what they see under the microscope.

“With the low human activity, we can really see what’s happening,” she said. “We can use it as a reference for the other barrier islands that have major tourism.”

Manoylov, who hails from Bulgaria, earned a biology degree from the University of Sofia, followed by a master’s in ecology and environmental sciences. In 2005, she earned a double doctorate at Michigan State University in zoology and ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior.

Her research interests include aquatic ecology, population and community ecology, speciation and aquatic ecosystem health, and algal taxonomy and ecology.

She applied for a grant from Georgia College to study freshwater algae in barrier islands and traveled with the phycology class this fall for the third time. The group of 20 undergraduates measured biomass, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, salinity, and pH levels for three types of algae — cyanobacteria, green algae, and diatoms. Then the handful of graduate students summarized the data into a poster presentation.

IMG_4357“These different groups of algae live in complex environments and complex communities,” she said. “We mark our data carefully to study how day-to-day changes affect these algae communities.”

Manoylov also appreciates the social and hands-on nature of the trip. As the students ride bikes around the island, cook together in the dorms, and catch ghost crabs on the beach at night, they form friendships that stick in the classroom.

“They get to know each other and become good friends,” she said. “Some of the students are in the field for the first time when they do this trip, and this is a great way for them to get started.”

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