Saturday, October 3, 2015

College of Marine Science, USF | Jan. 2015 - Present

Graduate Assistant
College of Marine Science, University of South Florida
Primary Advisor: Dr. Frank Muller-Karger
Committee: Dr. Steve Gittings and Dr. Chris Stallings

The composition of marine ecosystems are impacted by human activities and changing climate.  In order to preserve natural resources provided by marine ecosystems it is vital to understand how the marine environment is changing over time. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary (FBNMS), Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary (CINMS), are collaborating with the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON) as part of a national effort to monitor marine biodiversity. 

Chapter 1: This study aims to overcome the many variables along the analytical pipeline to determine if environmental DNA (eDNA) can be used to adequately monitor reef fish biodiversity in coral reef ecosystems. The study is guided by the hypothesis: eDNA can be used to reflect the taxonomic composition of reef fish communities along the Florida Keys reef tract. To test this hypothesis, we collected water samples in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) from April 2015 to September 2016 for processing and analysis and then compared the species detected to data obtained from SCUBA methodologies. The results will be used in collaboration with the Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON), a five-year project that collects and processes eDNA in the FKNMS. The study further compliments the MBON objectives to determine if novel genetic techniques can be used to synoptically assess the characteristic biodiversity within the sanctuary as well as help update the FKNMS Condition Reports on the status and trends of biodiversity.

Chapter 2: Here I examine the potential effects of lionfish predation on the density of reef fish in the FKNMS coral reef ecosystem. I hypothesize that the introduction of invasive lionfish in 2009 has significantly reduced the abundance of small reef fish through predation. To determine if lionfish are impacting the biodiversity of reef fish I plan to compare the natural variability in reef fish abundances and biodiversity from 1994-2009, 15 years prior to the first lionfish detected in the sanctuary, to changes in reef fish abundances 5 years after the invasion. The results will be relevant to inform the process of developing the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) condition report, specifically on the status and trends of living resources including invasive species, keystone species, and biodiversity as well as compliment the Marine Biodiversity Observation Networks (MBON) objectives to measure changes in marine biodiversity in the FKNMS. 

Processing for traditional biodiversity variables like chlorophyll-a, High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC), Colored Dissolved Organic Matter (CDOM), and phytoplankton,  as well as environmental DNA (eDNA), a novel technique that can identify organisms in the ocean from DNA in seawater

Collecting and filtering water samples along the Florida Keys on the R/V Walton Smith

(Left to Right) Brady Booton, Lonny Anderson, Bill Goodwin, Kelsey Jeffers, Megan Hepner, Nancy, and Enrique Montes sampling water at Molasses Reef, Looe Key, and Western Sambo in August 2015
Research scientists at the FKNMS are using a hand deployed niskin bottle to sample water at Molasses Reef. The niskin bottle is lowered to a meter above the seafloor and sends a messenger down, which springs the caps on the two ends of the niskin bottle shut. Watch the curious filefish follow the niskin bottle to the surface.
A time series capturing research scientists aboard the R/V Walton Smith collecting and filtering water samples along the Florida Keys Reef tract in July 2015 

The FKNMS team assisting in the collection of water samples to be processed for Chl-a, HPLC, CDOM, phytoplankton and environmental DNA (eDNA)
This work was supported by the NASA grant NNX14AP62A ‘National Marine Sanctuaries as Sentinel Sites for a Demonstration Marine Biodiversity Observation Network (MBON)’ funded under the National Ocean Partnership Program (NOPP RFP NOAA-NOS-IOOS-2014-2003803 in partnership between NOAA, BOEM, and NASA).

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Mussel Sea Grant Research - two week field surveys in May & July 2014

Volunteer Research Assistant 

Mussel Sea Grant Research, Gulf of Maine
Mentor - Dr. Cascade Sorte

Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) are important both ecologically and economically, but their have been recent declines potentially due to to factors such as climate change, increased storm disturbances, and species invasion. Dr. Cascade Sorte received a Sea Grant to determine population trajectories of blue mussels in the Gulf of Maine by characterizing abundance, population age structure, reproductive output, and dispersal patterns. This work will allow us to asses the scope of current population densities and identify sources that drive population replenishment throughout the GOM. The survey involved visiting 20 field sites between Cape Cod and Northern Maine to get a sense of blue mussels population trajectory and estimate their fecundity. At each site we identified and counted species and than measures and dissected blue mussels. 

Identifying species in quadrants every half meter up for 50+ meters

Searching for Blue Mussels! No luck finding any in Hamilton Cove, ME

Dissecting GSI blue mussels

Weighing gonads!

Team work identifying species! Mastocarpus or Dumontia ... debate of the day

Northeastern most part of the continental United States in Lubec, Maine

What we do for science! 

Kelsey Magrane and I at Rock Harbor, MA

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

NOAA, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries | Jan. 2014 - Dec 2014

Research Assistant
NOAA, Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, Silver Spring, MD
Mentor - Dr. Steve Gittings

Videos from Conch Reef Deep Diver Surveys 

Dr. Steve Gittings and I are studying the potential importance of deep reefs as nursery grounds. I am collecting data from twenty hours of video footage taken from Conch Reef in Florida Keys from different habitats (reef top, reef wall, flank, hardbottom, and softbottom) and recording the relative abundance of species observed in each habitat and the species life stage.

Below are some fun clips from the video footage.

High abundance of juveile bicolor damselfish, Stegastes partitus,on tilefish mounds

Green moray, Gymnothorax funebris, ready to forage

Octopus in conch shell with a Jackknife fish swimming around the conch shell! 

Squid :)

Invasive and venomous Lionfish, Pterois volitans 

Two sharksuckers attached to one another

Okeanos Explorer 2014 

Assisting Dr. Steve Gittings with the biological characterization of 19th century shipwrecks during the third and final leg of the Okeanos Explorer Gulf of Mexico 2014 expedition. 

Adding to the discovery of archaeological artifacts on a mission to explore three early 19th century shipwrecks, the important benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration to explore the sea were also discovered.  Scientists with diverse expertise, together with thousands of people around the world, saw an unprecedented time capsule of life on the ocean 200 years ago and worked together to record it. Below are some photos taken during the expedition. 

A king crab, white anemone, and stoloniferous corals perch on ship hardware

Ctenophora (comb jelly)


A dumbo octopus uses his ear-like fins to slowly swim away

2014 Oceans Awards Gala #Oceansprom

Every June in conjunction with Capitol Hill Ocean Week, the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation recognizes our nation’s ocean heroes at its annual Ocean Awards Gala (formerly the Leadership Awards Dinner). At the dinner, NMSF presents its Leadership Award, Lifetime Achievement Award, and NMSF Volunteer of the Year Award. Since 2003, honorees have represented a shared committment to a healthy ocean. 

Photo by: Matt McIntosh, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
2014 Ocean Awards Gala at the Ronald Reagan building 

Photo by: Matt McIntosh, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
U.S. Senator Carl Levin was presented with the Leadership Award for 2014

Photo by: Matt McIntosh, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
Robyn Walters was presented with Volunteer of Year for her exceptional service with the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Robyn logged over 450 hours in 2013 alone and over 15,000 hours since she started volunteering in 2010. 

Photo by: Matt McIntosh, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation
Dr. Sylvia Earle with Dr. Kathryn Sullivan at #oceansprom

Photo by: Matt McIntosh, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Capitol Hill Ocean Week 2014 

Capitol Hill Ocean Week plays a critical role in providing dialogue in all the sectors in the ocean community by bringing together leaders in industry, government, academia, and nonprofits groups from around the nation. The week was full of exciting seminars and interactive discussions on everything from the importance of our ocean economy and its linkage in ocean exploration to the need for marine conservation. 

You can view the many panels from this past June on the CHOW website or they can also be found on youtube

My favorite panels were: State of the Ocean, Climate Realities: Preparing for the Worst, The Ocean and Human Health, and the Honorable Sheldon Whitehouse empowering speech.