Horse Conchs Rule the Seagrass Bed

In the Grass, On the Reef: Testing the Ecology of Fear

Premieres on WFSU-TV Wednesday, June 29 at 7:30 PM, 6:30 CT.  In high definition where available.

Rob Diaz de Villegas WFSU-TV

IGOR_chip_predators_NCE_100This clip is a short segment on one of the predators featured in this program: the horse conch.  It’s practically an ecosystem onto itself, as you can see in the video’s poster frame above.  Barnacles, crepidula, bryozoans, and other marine creatures that affix themselves to hard surfaces settle on its shell.  In the video you’ll see its bright orange body as it roams the seagrass beds of the Forgotten Coast.  And you’ll see it eat another large predatory snail, the lightning whelk.

The coast is a rough place.  At least it is for mollusks and crustaceans.

Just think about it.  When people are in their homes on Cape San Blas, St. George Island, or Alligator Point- enjoying the sun, sand, and water- they are surrounded by violence.  And we benefit from this violence!  Stone crabs gobble down mud crabs, those mud crabs don’t eat oysters, and we have more oysters to clean the water and to eat ourselves (after they reach maturity).  Crown conchs eat periwinkle snails (pictured to the right), and the cordgrass making up coastal salt marshes flourishes and continues providing habitat for commercially important fish and preventing erosion.  And for every snail or crab eaten, many more might be scared and alter their behavior.

It’s strange to think that these little critters have such an impact on us (Read a post by Dr. Randall Hughes on the financial value of coastal ecosystems).  They affect the food we eat, the economy of the coast.  They affect the physical coast itself, as the marshes and oyster reefs build the edge of the coast by holding sediment.  This is why David Kimbro and Randall Hughes are out their studying it, and why we decided to make a program about it.  And also, honestly, those critters look pretty cool!

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About Rob Diaz de Villegas

Rob Diaz de Villegas is a senior producer for WFSU-TV, covering outdoors and ecology. Early in his television career, Rob focused on music production. After a couple of years of producing and editing Spanish and bilingual music video shows in San Antonio, Rob returned to Tallahassee in 2002 to resume production of his local music performance show, OutLoud. From that, he transitioned to local music documentaries, until one day he found himself standing in a muddy salt marsh with a camera, and his life was changed forever. Rob created this blog for a National Science Foundation funded marine biology project called In the Grass, On the Reef. No one asked Rob to expand on this work and cover all ecology in our area, but it seemed like a good thing to do. Subsequent projects under the Ecology Blog umbrella include EcoShakespeare (funded by WNET and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting) and Roaming the Red Hills (funded by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy). His most recent documentary follows the lives of four red wolf pups born at the Tallahassee Museum, apex predators that once hunted in our local wild spaces. Rob is married with two young sons, and they try to have outdoor family adventures as often as possible (you might see them on the blog from time to time).