Maryland Department of Natural Resources Bay Grasses in Classes
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Expected Results for the Sago Pondweed Experiment

a bell curve showing increasing temperatures and increasing growth rateThis experiment is designed to test the influence of water temperature on the growth rate of Sago Pondweed (Stuckenia pectinata). The water temperature in growth chamber A will be set at 24C (75F) while growth chamber B will be set at 29C (84F) or 33C (92F). Both growth chambers (black tubs) are identically setup except for the water temperature.

Plant Height: All bay grasses have an optimal temperature range which maximizes growth. As temperatures deviate from this optimal range, growth rates decrease.

Maximum sago pondweed growth rates typically occur between 15C (59F) and 26C (79F). As temperatures are increased above 15C (59F) or below 26C (79F), growth rates will decline until the plants eventually die. In the Chesapeake Bay, these conditions maybe found in the summer in very shallow, poorly flushed areas.

a line graph showing effects of water temperature on Sago Pondweed and plant heightAs temperatures decrease below 15C (59F), growth rates will decline. A decline in water temperature is a cue for sago pondweed to begin preparing for the winter. In early September, sago pondweed will begin producing over-wintering structures (tubers). As temperatures continue to decrease, the leaves and roots will decompose. By late November, only the seeds and tubers will remain. When water temperatures increase the next spring, the remaining seeds and tubers will produce another bed of sago pondweed.

pH: The pH scale is a measure of the acid-base balance of water, with a pH of <7 representing acidic solutions, and pH of >7 representing basic solutions. Pure water would be perfectly neutral (pH of 7), but water naturally contains a certain amount of dissolved substances that act either as acids or as bases. If the water contains more acids (H+) than bases, it is said to be acidic; if it contains more bases (OH-) than acids, it is basic or alkaline. If acids and bases are present in equal amounts, the water is said to be chemically neutral. When CO2 is in short supply, many aquatic plants take CO2 from the hardening constituents of the water (CO3 and HCO3). When this happens, more OH-1 molecules are generated, increasing the pH of the water. So as more and more OH-1 molecules are generated by the shortage of CO2 and the production of more oxygen, the pH in the growth chambers will increase over time. Because the sago pondweed in the 92F growth chamber will be growing slightly faster than the sago pondweed at 75F, pHs may be slightly higher in the warmer tank.

a line graph showing effects of water temperature on Sago Pondweed and pHThis increase in pH also occurs in the Chesapeake Bay as the water temperature warms and the amount of bay grasses and algae increase. During the summer months, large amounts of algae can grow in the water column changing the water color to a green or dark brown color driving up the pH to 10! In some areas of the Bay that have dense bay grass beds, pH levels can also get above 10. Thats a lot of OH-1's!

pH values above 10 have been shown in lab tests to decrease photosynthesis of sago pondweed, which in turn decreases its growth rate. When the pH values are acidic (below 7) a lot of OH-1 is in water, and the CO2 (carbon dioxide) that plants need for photosynthesis turns into CO3, which plants cant use. The plants have a harder time "breathing," and as a result they grow more slowly. Causes of low pH can be the result of acid rain (local rain pH is about 5) and the poor buffering capacity of the land due to variations in geology. Sago pondweed can be found in pHs ranging from 6 to 10 with a preferred pH around 8.

Nitrates: Nitrogen is one of the most important plant nutrients (along with phosphorus). With the help of bacteria, nitrogen goes through a cycle of chemical changes as it is absorbed, used and then restored to a form which it can again be used. Most plants absorb nitrogen from the sediment or water column in the form of nitrate (NO3-) or ammonium (NH4+). Other common forms of nitrogen (nitrite (NO2), ammonia (NH3), etc) arent available to plants, and can even be toxic at high levels.

a line graph showing effects of water temperature on Sago Pondweed and Nitrates.Sago pondweed and algae primarily use nitrogen as nitrate (NO3) and ammonium (NH4+), and can obtain these molecules from both the sediment mixture in your growth chamber and the water itself. Any excess nitrate (and phosphate) in the water will contribute to increased algal growth. Since the sediment mixture contains a large amount of nitrogen from the topsoil, it is common to see an initial increase in the nitrate levels prior to the growth of the sago pondweed and algae. As the sago pondweed and algae increase over time and consume the available nitrate and ammonium, concentrations in the water will decline. Slight variations in nitrate concentrations may occur between growth chambers as a result of the varying growth rates of the sago pondweed and algae. The warmer tank with the fastest growing plants may remove nitrate at a faster rate than the cooler tank.

In the Chesapeake Bay, areas with excess nutrients typically have large concentrations of short lived microscopic plants called phytoplankton (algae). Large concentrations of phytoplankton (algal blooms) can color the water green or brown and greatly reduce or eliminate the amount of light available for bay grasses. In addition, since algae are also plants, they produce oxygen during the day and consume it at night. A large algal bloom can remove so much oxygen in an area at night that it may kill any fish and crabs present! When phytoplankton die, they decompose (consuming oxygen) and release a large amount of nutrients back into the water which can fuel more algal blooms.

Sago pondweed (and other bay grasses) are important because they consume nutrients as they grow and only slowly release them back into the water column late in the year when the water temperature has cooled below the preferred temperature of the phytoplankton.

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