Why do we do fieldwork?
Aiptasia is a great model for investigating how the cnidarian-dinoflagellate symbiosis works in the lab. In order to bring the knowledge we gain in Aiptasia to bear on the ecologically crucial symbiosis of reef-building corals, we carry out targeted experiments with corals to test whether what we find in Aiptasia is also true in corals.
Because corals can’t practically be kept in the lab, we have to travel to a coral reef to carry out field experiments. We time our fieldwork to the annual coral spawning, which lets us carry out experiments with both adult corals and larvae. We visit the Sesoko Marine Station of the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan, where we have access to lab facilities, accommodation, and a healthy reef.
The conditions at Sesoko are basic: we get an air-conditioned room with bench space and piped-in seawater, but we have to bring everything we need for a field lab with us. This means all plasticware and reagents, as well as algal cultures, microscopes, lab machinery, water filtration systems, and anything else that is required for the experiments to be done. All this has to be brought with as luggage on the airplane, and set up before work can begin.
Our collaborator, Masayuki Hatta, organizes the paperwork necessary for working with corals. He identifies coral species on the reef and collects small fragments, which we keep alive in flowing seawater tables. We inspect these each night for signs of spawning, and when it is time, we separate the fragments into individual bowls, collect the gamete bundles as they are released, and carry out crosses.
The larvae produced from the crosses are reared in large plastic bowls, and are very sensitive for the first few days. Dying embryos have to be carefully removed and the larvae washed and transferred to bowls of clean water twice a day.
After a few days the coral larvae can be used for experiments at Sesoko, or can be brought back to Germany if the experiments can’t be done in the field lab.