This objective will focus on the health of Sabellaria alveolata individuals. We will investigate the relationship between colony ‘health’ and the apparent ‘health’ of the bioconstructions.
We will test the hypothesis that healthy worms (i.e. growing individuals, producing gametes) produce healthy bioconstructions (i.e. growing and developing reefs, with new recruitment). Providing that the amount of sand material is not a limiting factor, we will try to relate the shape, condition and associated biota of bioconstructions (see objective #2) with morphological and physiological measurements of individuals. We will select key sites (the same as in objective #2) situated over the distribution of S. alveolata, comprising a range of different types of bioconstructions. These bioconsructions can range from small and thin veneers to large hummocks and expansive reefs. Several proxies of S. alveolata health will be investigated, each providing different information related to the activity of the worms, at the individual or the population levels.
In addition, a conservation genetics survey will be conducted to assess the genetic diversity present across the study sites to identify vulnerable populations exhibiting reduced diversity. Genetic connectivity will also be assessed among populations, to determine which populations are most likely to exchange larvae. Genetic connectivity has been effectively used to determine optimal distances between marine protected areas (MPAs) to ensure dispersal and recruitment across MPAs within a network. This population genetics approach will aid in making decisions about the best spacing and location of protected areas for S. alveolata.