The 2011-12 PSM students pictured above were engaged in internships that spread from New England, to Florida, across to California, and back up to Washington State. Read about their internship experiences and research projects below, in an update shared during the last week in October.
From L to R are: Chrissie Chater, Becca Shelton, Ryan Knowles, Jackie O’Mara, Sarah Mutter, and Sammi Ocher. (Just before leaving Friday Harbor for their internships)
Chrissie Chater: My internship mainly took place at the New England Aquarium, where I conducted an independent research project on lobsters designed to determine if a lobster’s ability to distinguish a predator cue was inherent or a learned trait. This question is extremely important to the science community because this can help determine if lobster hatcheries have the ability to release their lobsters into the wild in order to sustain their population numbers. With sustainability being one of the biggest topics in research and fisheries, this seemed like an interesting direction to take my project.
The specific goal was to determine if lobsters have the ability to distinguish predator cues innately or if this is a learned trait. I used both wild and hatchery-reared lobsters and Green and Jonah crabs as their predators. My results consistently showed a lack of fear towards those particular predators. This data could ultimately change how scientists conduct field or laboratory experiments because Jonah and Green crabs should no longer be considered an enemy that will elicit a fear response in lobsters. I intend to publish this data with my advisers in the following months after my graduation.
Becca Shelton: I was privileged to join the R.J. Dunlap Marine Conservation Program at the University of Miami. As an intern in Neil Hammershlag’s lab, I participated in his lab’s shark research as well as conduct my own research project. I joined the lab on shark trips where different groups get a chance to participate in shark research. It’s a great way for the public to be involved with shark conservation and all of the data collected from the sharks will further our understanding of not only the sharks preference of habitat but also the ideal environmental conditions.
For my experiment, I am working on a non-consumptive effects study, or how predator presence without consumption affects prey, by examining predator-prey interactions between Florida’s local bonnethead sharks and blue crabs. Specifically, I am testing for changes to foraging, morphology, physiology and cannibalism when a predator present vs. absent. From this experiment, we are hoping to better understand the role that sharks play in the ecosystem as a regulator of prey behavior.
Ryan Knowles: I have been working with the Sebens lab at Friday Harbor in Washington since May. The Sebens lab focuses on benthic subtidal ecology in depths ranging from 10’ to 100’. The main ongoing project consists of a set of surveys conducted in a marine reserve near the lab each Fall. We photograph benthic communities, measure mobile invertebrates, survey fish populations, and deploy a somewhat unwieldy Acoustic Doppler Velocimeter (ADV) which measures current speed. All dives are conducted from small boats.
Given my research interest in fisheries and their impacts on community structure, I was lucky enough to conduct my research project on Copper Rockfish, a locally overfished species. To examine the potential effects of increased temperatures due to climate change on this species, I am using techniques I recently gained in the molecular ecology class to assess the thermotolerance of Copper Rockfish through the expression of heat shock proteins (HSPs).
My experience working at Friday Harbor Labs and in the Sebens lab in particular has been amazing. Working outside in the Fall can be a little harsh and diving constantly leaves little energy for much else, but the facilities, support, camaraderie and natural beauty of being in the San Juan Islands far outweigh these minor inconveniences. Everywhere I turn, it is hard not to get good advice on some aspect of my work or research project.
Jackie O’Mara: I was very fortunate to work in Ken Sebens’ Lab at the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island for my internship. The Sebens Lab focuses on long-term subtidal ecological monitoring. During my time here, I have assisted in photo analysis and database maintenance relevant to this monitoring, but far and away my primary tasks have been to either SCUBA dive or boat tend for other divers at these long-term sites. On any given dive I could be photographing benthic substrate and mobile fauna, surveying fish populations, maintaining and sampling predator exclusion cages, or setting up flow monitoring equipment.
In addition to the work I did for the lab itself, I conducted a research project examining chitons, a specific subset of the community of grazers that impact subtidal rock walls. I studied three co-occurring species of chiton of the genus Tonicella to tease apart their individual grazing patterns on subtidal rock walls, and what impacts they may have as individual species on their community. As of writing this in early November, the results are not yet in. Stay posted!
Sarah Mutter completed her internship at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in the Marine Invasions Lab. “The lab is a constant bustle of people and activity as there are about 40 people working under Dr. Gregory Ruiz. There are many different projects, but I was brought in to help with the hard-substrate fouling community surveys. These surveys have been conducted for the past 10 years as part of a global effort to document and examine patterns of invasion in coastal estuarine waters across both temporal and spatial scales. Survey sites included multiple locations across Tampa Bay, FL, Chesapeake Bay, MD and VA, Bodega Bay, CA and San Francisco Bay, CA.
For her research project Sarah decided to conduct an experiment with invertebrate settlement plates. “I deployed my experiment in Virginia Beach at three sites. I set up a predation exclusion experiment to examine macro-predation on fouling community structure. I examined the plates at the end of October, and am still working on analyzing my data. “
Sammi Ocher’s internship in Stephanie Jenouvrier’s lab at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, allowed her to complete a research project employing capture-recapture models to investigate the effects of foraging efficiency and climate change on the vital rates of a population of breeding Wandering Albatrosses. “I find this project interesting because these two questions have been asked separately, but never together. It’s important to understand not only what the effect of climate change on populations is, but the mechanism by which these effects are enacted as well.
Sammi also had an exciting opportunity to spend three weeks observing seabirds on a NOAA cruise this past summer. The cruise departed from Rhode Island and steamed North to Nova Scotia and back again, with over 100 stops or ‘stations’ along the way. “While the boat was on station, I assisted several teams of scientists to collect water samples from the CTD or wash plankton nets and preserve the plankton when needed. While the boat was moving, I was on the flying bridge with the bird observer and had some very useful practice identifying Atlantic seabird and mammal species. I learned a great deal talking about the life histories and behavior of these species , and would jump at the chance to go on such a trip again.”