Current CAMEOS Fellows
I have always enjoyed learning about nature. As a child, this interest was born from excursions to a small farm outside of St. Louis, Missouri. I played in creeks and forests, finding animals under rocks and climbing trees to see how life worked from a different perspective. While the ocean had always fascinated me, boarding school in New Hampshire was my first opportunity to live near it and actually begin to study oceanography and marine ecology. My interest in marine ecology led to attending Williams College in Massachusetts and to study in the Turks and Caicos Islands, British West Indies, and Mystic, Connecticut.
While the enormity of the ocean and the intricacies of its ecology originally drew me to studying marine systems, my experiences studying in the Caribbean and Connecticut presented a new dimension to my fascination with the sea. Humans rely on the sea for many things, including food, transport, and recreation; however, while we receive much, we also greatly impact our environment, including the introduction of non-native species. With this understanding, my research focuses on understanding how species are moved from one place to another and developing a model to predict where new species are most likely to be introduced. The goal for this model is to create something that is interesting and useful from an academic perspective and, ultimately, a tool that can be used to help prevent new species from establishing and causing damage.
I became interested in marine ecology in high school when I took my first marine science class through a local community college in Bahia de Los Angeles, Mexico. I was hooked after spending one month swimming with Humboldt squid, sea lions and octopus. I decided to remain near the ocean after high school and attended UC San Diego for my undergraduate where I was able to go to Costa Rica and study the movement ecology of sea urchins. I developed a deeper understanding and appreciation for the diversity of life while doing research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography exploring the deep sea. All of these experiences with marine life have affirmed my desire to pursue a career in marine science research with a focus on global change.
I am now in my second year of my PhD at the University of California Davis. My research questions focus on the effects of ocean acidification on calcifying marine invertebrates, such as snails, urchins and mussels. Since preindustrial times, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels has increased by 40%. This elevated rate of increase is driven by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, land use changes and deforestation leading to global warming. The ocean uptakes nearly one third of the CO2 added to the atmosphere that could contribute to further climate change. However, CO2 taken up by the ocean causes another problem called ocean acidification. Increasing the levels of CO2 in the ocean alters the seawater chemistry, decreases the pH and reduces the amount of carbonate available for organisms to make their shells. For my research I am interested in determining the potential for marine invertebrate populations to adapt to the increasing rate of ocean acidification.
When I am not in the field conducting research or in the classroom learning and teaching, I like to spend my time outdoors. I love to go hiking, scuba diving, snorkeling, and camping. My dad recently got me hooked on training for triathlons and I hope to one day hit the 100th triathlon mark like him. As a marine ecologist I have a passion for studying ocean life and I cannot wait to share my love of the sea with my students!
Not until my freshman year of high school did I learn the term–and definition–of the word ecology. Once introduced to the concept, I knew I wanted to study ecology in college and pursue a career in environmental sciences. That ecology lesson from my high school biology class revealed to me that I was always fascinated by the natural world. I attribute my weekly trips with my grandma to Golden Gate Park in my hometown of San Francisco for starting my love of biology. Ever since that year in biology class, I have continued following my excitement for ecology and devotion to environmental conservation.
My passion for ecology blossomed once I started college. Taking courses for my degree in evolution, ecology and biodiversity, and my minor in environmental toxicology at the University of California, Davis helped me realize the significance of scientific research in environmental-policy making. My interest in marine research sparked after taking many marine biology courses with influential professors. It led to independent research studies at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab. My research and class experiences highlighted the importance of conservation-based studies in improving methods to restore and manage natural ecosystems. Ever since, I have become engrossed in marine coastal communities and the growing environmental problems it faces such a climate change, habitat modification, and invasive species.
Currently, I address some of these environmental issues in my 4th year in the San Diego State University and UC Davis Joint Doctoral Program in Ecology. My experiences growing up near polluted beaches in San Francisco has driven my desire in examining the ecological effects of pollutants on species interactions in marine ecosystems. Through my research, I hope to incorporate an ecological perspective to provide better assessment of pollutant effects on ecologically, economically and socially important organisms. Ultimately, performing research that encourages public outreach and participation is a theme I will continue throughout my scientific career.
As the daughter of two parents in the United States Navy, I had the unique opportunity to be raised in some of the most beautiful places in the United States. Some of my first memories as a child were from the tropical beaches of Hawaii were I would feed frozen peas to schools of fish swimming rapidly between my legs. Other childhood memories include exploring the tide pools of the shores of sunny San Diego, were I would find all sorts of unique creatures that would spark my imagination. It wasn’t until the end of my second year as an undergraduate student studying biology when I discovered that a person could have a career engaging in fun activities experienced in my childhood. From that day forward I knew I was going to be an ecologist.
Currently, I am in my 5th year of my PhD in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis. My research focuses on one of the potential causes of the collapse of the San Francisco Estuary aquatic food web. More specifically, I am interested in the impacts of pesticides on zooplankton communities. The ultimate goal of my research is to improve the health of the aquatic food web by providing scientists and managers with valuable information to aid in their decisions making process.
When I am not actively working on my PhD, I can be found enthusiastically cheering on the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Athletics, playing a round of golf, camping the western United States, or traveling the globe.
I was a wild animal until I was about ten years old. I wore through the knees of my pants faster than my mother could repair them. When I wasn’t pouncing on the furniture, I was most certainly outside, stalking lizards through the bushes or perching on the jungle gym, surveying my domain with pride. By the time I entered middle school, my imaginary feathers gave way to a very real fascination with science.
Currently, my research focuses on avian species. The Harlan’s hawk (Buteo jamaicensis harlani) is a raptor that exhibits incredible phenotypic variation in color and pattern. While many argue that the phenotypic divergence between Harlan’s hawks and western red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis calurus) marks a clear speciation event, recent genetic analyses have indicated that the Harlan’s hawk is not a distinct species, but is in fact a subspecies of the red-tailed hawk. Little is known about either the mechanism or the selection responsible for continued existence of such variation, though recent research has shown that the melanocortin 1 receptor, a gene that has been shown to control polymorphism in many mammal and bird species, does not control polymorphism in Harlan’s hawks. I propose to answer the following questions: 1) do environmental factors such as temperature and diet directly influence variation, 2) is variation strictly genetically determined, or 3) is variation caused by an interaction of genetic and environmental factors?
Like many biologists, I developed an appreciation for wildlife early in life though the endless exploration of my outdoor environment. Having lived in both pristine lakes country and the heavily altered agricultural belt of Minnesota, I eventually noticed that the dramatic alterations human make to their environment have direct impacts on wildlife communities. Early in my undergraduate career, I was serendipitously placed in an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology field course where I learned about the important principles that explain both the natural and human caused differences in diversity that I had observed between the landscapes. The most important part of this experience provided me with a clear connection between hypothesis driven science and environmental issues by direct participation in research and observations in an outdoor setting. In CAMEOS, I hope to provide participants with a similar experience to help make this valuable connection with their amazing Northern California coastal environment.
After additional field courses and I decided that I wanted to peruse research questions that try to understand the long term consequences of alterations on ecosystem function. After working in various positions with the National Park Service, Forest Service, and Student Conservation Association, I continued to study the effects of pharmaceuticals on river fish physiology and behavior. My PhD research questions center around the remarkable adaptability of the Atlantic killifish, Fundulus heteroclitus. Killifish are a small, but interesting fish that have adapted to occupy the very wide distribution conditions along entire east coast. To get at these questions, I use genomic and transcriptomic tools to indicate the impact of contaminants and stressors on individual physiology, and how it relates to the population genetics of adaptability. Remarkably, these fish have even evolved adaptive physiologies to the conditions of sites polluted with extremely persistent and toxic compounds, where little to no other vertebrates can survive. A better understanding of this capacity in killifish will provide insight for the future of other natural populations burdened with a continuously polluted environment. The Gulf Killifish, Fundulus grandis, is a sister taxa to the Atlantic Killifish that occupies the Gulf of Mexico. In 2010, the gulf was devastated by the worst oil spill in history, dumping 210 million gallons of crude into it’s waters and contaminating 125 miles of shoreline environments. Killifish populations are an important cornerstone prey species in shoreline estuary environments, and are susceptible to the persistent toxic components of oil. Even though it is unclear what the immediate impact the spill had on the gulf ecosystem, less is known about the long term consequences of oil spills. We found that although the toxic components of oil were absent from the water and fish tissue, the gills and overall health of the organism were still impaired. We utilize a combination of field and laboratory studies to further our understanding of how coastal systems respond to a major oil spills. Other research interests may include the genomic and epigenetic basis of adaptation to other human induced alterations on a more broad scale, such as ocean acidification and temperature.
My love for science began in high school biology when I first learned about viruses and had my eyes opened to the wonder and complexity of the world around us. As an undergraduate at the University of Washington and a masters student at Emory University, I was fascinated by trying to understanding how disease affects individuals and populations. My research ranged from studying human brain tumor growth, to the spread of a disease within a dispersing bird population, to the future distribution of a parasite under scenarios of climate change. Each new project provided insight into the workings of the world, and raised even more interesting questions worth pursuing!
Now, as a third year graduate student at UC Davis, my research interests have shifted from investigating factors that harm a population, to understanding what we can do to rebuild populations that have been damaged. Specifically, my focus is on oyster populations. In addition to being an important fishery, oysters are important ecological organisms, but due to decades of overfishing and declining habitat quality, a majority of oyster populations have been lost worldwide. There is thus a need to more effectively manage and rebuild these populations to their historic size. Using mathematical models, I am working to discover the best way to restore oyster populations in Oregon, North Carolina, and California when faced with constraints on available resources, continuing fisheries pressure, and, of course, increased mortality due to oyster disease.
Growing up in the woods of New Hampshire, trees figured prominently in the fantastical stories my childhood self created about forest-dwellers and their secret lives. I wondered what conversations between leaves and inch-high people might sound like, whether flying squirrels could be reliable modes of transport, and where an ant colony’s latest adventure amidst the below-ground circuitry of roots would lead. I’ve since learned more reliable information about forest ecosystems, but my curiosity about them lives on, and I know that the intricacies of forests as I now study them are even more complex, adventurous, and exciting than those I used to imagine.
My hook into ecological research came while working towards a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and public policy, when I accepted a summer internship with the Harvard Forest REU program. Over weeks spent wading through chest-high thickets of raspberry thorns, scratching my cobweb-covered head in confusion about the range of plant morphologies, and surveying fallen logs by size and species, I developed a fascination with the afterlife of trees. As trees die and fall over, what happens in the ecosystem? Sometimes woodpeckers move into the snags, sometimes new trees grow on the logs, sometimes the dead wood allows fires to burn, sometimes – we don’t know!
I’ve carried this question with me from New England to forest research in Southeast Asia, the Pacific Northwest, and the Sierra Nevada region of California. Now, as an ecology graduate student at UC Davis, I have the opportunity to focus on it. My research centers on the functional roles of coarse woody debris (dead wood) in forests, and on possible drivers of tree spatial patterns. I’m especially interested in how these roles, drivers, and patterns may interplay and change between mixed-conifer forests with different disturbance regimes. By better understanding spatial arrangements of trees and their (after-)life history, I hope to contribute to ecosystem function-based forest management objectives.
I feel immensely fortunate to have grown up in Sonoma County, California where there is an amazing diversity of landscape and natural beauty. There are few places where such a variety of coastlines, forests, woodlands, rivers, and grasslands are so readily accessible. My interests in ecology were borne out of a love for natural history that I developed there as a young child. Some of my earliest memories are of exploring the hills and creeks near my home with my dad.
There is such a big, complex, and diverse world to explore, but fortunately there have been generations of similarly curious scientists and naturalists that have been developing our understanding of the universe. The more I learned about what we know about the world, the more fascinated I became. And science offers a process by which I can contribute to this body of knowledge in my own small way. I find it incredible that I can spend my career participating in this process of discovery.
My broad research interests involve understanding the processes that structure plant communities, and how we can use our understanding of these processes to improve conservation and restoration efforts. My dissertation research has focused on how grazing effects grassland community composition in California, and how the strength of that interaction changes across a gradient in site productivity. California grasslands have been drastically altered by a wide variety of human impacts, foremost being the introduction of non-native annual plants, which overwhelmingly dominate these landscapes. The intelligent use of grazing is one of our best potential management tools for reducing non-native cover, and increasing the richness of native species in grasslands.
Born and raised in waterless Tucson, Arizona, little did I expect that I would become a marine ecologist. However, inspired by family vacations to my grandparents’ house in Maine, by an open water SCUBA course in Rhode Island, and by my undergraduate advisor (a steadfast subtidal researcher at Brown University), I took the proverbial plunge. Since 2006, I have conducted research in marine systems spanning from the San Juan Islands to the Galápagos Archipelago, and from the Gulf of Saint Lawrence in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. In these systems, I have explored topics ranging from toxicology, to global climate change, to biodiversity. Of all things, I love best just being in the water.
Two years ago, I started my PhD research at the University of California, Davis. My current academic interests lie at the interface of community ecology and behavioral ecology. In particular, I study the ecological effects of behavioral red abalone, which is a large marine snail that lives on the rocky sea floor of California’s kelp forests.
Just like you or I, individual animals act very differently from one another, and their unique behaviors affect the community at large, including the outcomes of their interactions with other species. In the case of red abalone, individuals show consistent and different feeding and movement behaviors. They are often either wanderers, which boldly move around a lot and feed, or sedentaries, which are shy, and hunker down in one spot and do not feed as frequently. These two types likely differ in their ability to reproduce and survive, and also interact differently with their seastar predators and algal food. Typically, these two types coexist together in a single area. However, this is rapidly changing due to recreational fishing for red abalone, which selectively removes the bold wanderers from populations. I am investigating the community impacts of individual behavioral variation in red abalone, and how the recreational fishery might be impacting red abalone populations and kelp forest ecosystems as a whole.
I have always been fascinated by the marine environment. Visits to aquariums and the rocky coasts of northern California enthralled me with wacky creatures that seemed from another world. In college, I investigated this other world as an Environmental Studies student at USC, combining my interests in ocean science with my passion for conservation and environmental stewardship. I went on research trips to Central America, Micronesia, and the Channel Islands, where I explored reefs and kelp forests to understand the ecological importance of marine protection. It was incredibly exciting to learn that I could impact conservation through scientific research. Plus, I got to play in the ocean for work!
These experiences led me to the UC Davis graduate program in Ecology. My research is on the interaction of multiple human impacts on key species in coastal ecosystems. I am interested in how interactions between native and introduced species in seagrasses will be affected by climate change. My broad goals are to understand how changing species roles may affect overall ecosystem function and health. In addition to research, I have been involved with science education and conservation outreach for several years and look forward to working as a CAMEOS fellow.
Former CAMEOS Fellows
I grew up on the Puget Sound, swimming in cold water and playing with shore crabs on the beach, but I never thought of marine biology as a career in my years growing up. I think it seemed like too much fun!
Instead I pursued pre-med coursework in my undergraduate years at the University of Washington eventually moving to Berkeley in order to apply to California medical schools. Berkeley (thank goodness) has a way of bending the road in life. So, after deciding not to become a physician, dabbling in religious studies and landscaping, and then becoming a father, I finally came to terms with my connection to the ocean.
As a graduate student working in ecological genetics, I’ve managed to integrate my background in molecular biology with my love of the ocean. On a broad level, I want to know why particular species occur where they do. Part of answering such a question comes through investigating how populations are connected to one another.
For my dissertation work, I’m using genetics to measure connectivity between populations of the Flat Porcelain Crab, Petrolisthes cinctipes. Crabs at neighboring beaches potentially mix gene pools as young crabs migrate off-shore for many weeks before returning to the coast. If they land at neighboring beaches, populations are mixed by immigration and emigration. However, there is evidence that these tiny crab larvae may actually manage a return to their natal beaches in high numbers. Uncovering such patterns of connectivity allows managers to better design marine reserve networks. On a basic science level, it cues us into what these tiny larvae might be doing during their time at sea, and it begs the question: do they actually know how to get home?
Thesis research: Investigating local recruitment in the Flat Porcelain Crab, Petrolisthes cinctipes.
I spent my childhood catching salamanders and snakes in the rolling Appalachian Mountains of Southwestern Pennsylvania. My fascination with the natural world fueled my desire to study biology as an undergraduate and my passion for outdoor recreation. I am currently an ecology graduate student at the University of California, Davis. When not chasing tiger moths on the coast, I am usually exploring the wild and beautiful Sierra Nevada range.
My research focuses on questions concerning how trophic forces structure the spatial distribution of populations and how these forces vary across spatial and temporal scales. Additionally, I seek to understand how organismal movement may interact with these structuring forces to influence within-patch dynamics. My study system consists of a generalist, herbivore tiger moth (Platyprepia virginalis; Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) and its primary parasitoids and host plants within the Bodega Marine Reserve on the Northern California coast. A twenty plus year dataset exists for the population of P.virginalis within the reserve. Combining this historical dataset with my ongoing manipulative field experiments and observational studies provides a rare opportunity to identify and possibly explain long-term patterns and gives context to more recent population trends.
Marine reserves are one of the most powerful tools to protect the incredible biodiversity of the ocean from the human impacts of overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. How do we design reserves to be effective in protecting ocean wildlife? What shapes, sizes, spacing configurations, and regulations will effectively protect the marine communities that we rely on for food, for many of our livelihoods, and for inspiration? In my research, I attempt to figure out how to design marine reserves that effectively protect marine communities.
Fascinated by marine wildlife at an early age, I did not begin formally studying marine ecology until 2008. I grew up investigating the beaches and coral reefs of Maui. After high school, I moved to Providence, RI to attend Brown University for college; I earned a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy and began pursuing my interest in education. I taught high school history for seven years following college, and during those seven years, I found a myriad of ways to investigate, and sometimes teach, ecology.
I began my graduate studies in marine ecology at UC Davis in the fall of 2009. I can usually be found at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory or somewhere along the California coast investigating shore crab populations, sandy beach communities in marine protected areas, or the implications of climate change for managing coastal parks and reserves.
I caught the travel bug early when I took my first solo international trip to Thailand in high school. I spent the next summer in Costa Rica and then left my hometown in upstate New York to attend university in the New Orleans. As I visited field sites in the bayous and bottomland forests, I saw just how severe the wetland losses and Gulf ecosystem changes have been due to human activities. I then studied abroad in the West Indies and spent time traveling in Asia where I saw more and more examples if this across a variety of coastal and marine ecosystems. These experiences spurred my interest in researching the organismal and ecological effects of anthropogenic activities and effective conservation. Since then I have worked on field and laboratory research projects studying these questions in different ecosystems such as Delaware, California, Florida, Thailand, Palmyra and Mexico. I completed my M.S. degree in San Diego investigating pollutants and their impacts in East Pacific green turtles (Chelonia mydas), and now am in my third year of my Ph.D. in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis.
Thesis research: Understanding physiological responses to sublethal stressors in marine turtles
I’ve always loved working with computers, poking around in them and seeing what made them tick. I guess that’s why I ended up studying databases at UC Davis. When I’m not working on research or school miscelleanea, I might be out singing karaoke or riding my bike.
When most people think of databases (if they do at all), they think of thousands and thousands of status messages on Facebook, or transaction records at a store. There’s a lot more out there, though. The field of databases is just about keeping data organized. I specialize in scientific workflows, working with scientists to help automate their repetitive experimental tasks. Not only does this speed up research, but the details of the automation can be analyzed, or just kept around as a record of what happened.
I became a scientist because I love learning, and a career focused on research and discovery was irresistible. And secretly, I chose ecology because I turns out it’s a JOB where I’m asked to hike, fish, and swim! As a kid I knew it was fun to catch fireflies and watch them blink, and it was amazing to ponder how such a small creature could create its own light. However, I also enjoyed literature and music, and I loved the ‘Eureka’ moments in my high school chemistry and physics classes. My desire to learn about a broad array of things led me to attend Whitman, a liberal arts college in Washington state. It was there that I became hooked on learning about the intricacy of the natural world, and the subtle feedbacks that shape communities and ecosystems. The seemingly endless things to discover, combined with my childhood experiences outdoors, led me to embrace a degree in biology and a career in the natural sciences.
Since earning my bachelors degree, I have become fascinated with the way that we divert, control, and manipulate freshwater systems. These impressive engineering feats provide water for drinking, agriculture, and recreation, and reduce the chances that floods will damage our cities and farms. However, we have now learned that dams and diversions can be incredibly damaging to fish, frogs, and other living things in rivers and wetlands. There is an urgent need to balance our engineering accomplishments with the basic needs of ecosystems, and this will only be possible if we first learn more about the threatened habitats and the animals that live in them. To expand our understanding of aquatic communities, my dissertation research examines how fish respond to alterations in their habitat. I have used small acoustic tags to track juvenile salmon in the Delta, as they swim past water diversions on their trip to the ocean. I have also used similar technologies to explore how adult largemouth bass, non-native predators, use Delta habitats. Ultimately, my goal is to help managers predict how fish will respond to various changes in their environment, such as altered patterns of flow, restoration of wetlands, and the removal of invasive vegetation.
When I’m not fishing in the Delta I can be found hiking in the Sierras, playing ultimate frisbee, or gardening with my husband.
I grew up in Austria where I spent a lot of time in nature, but only had access to the marine environment during summer vacations at the Mediterranean Sea where I spent most of my waking hours either snorkeling or turning over rocks and looking into crevices to find marine creatures. After I moved to California I fulfilled myself a dream to learn more about the marine environment and enrolled in marine science courses at a local Community College while working as a trained health professional. The first time I looked at a plankton sample I was awed by the diversity and beauty that I saw and became interested in microscopic things. I decided to switch careers and pursue my love for marine science. I received a BS in Marine Biology from UC Santa Cruz and an MS in Ecology and Biological Systematics from San Francisco State University and am currently a PhD candidate in the Graduate Group in Ecology.
For my dissertation research I am investigating the association of a group of high intertidal isopods Ligia sp. and their symbionts. I am particularly interested to understand how animal microbial interactions evolve and how these associations can allow animals to occupy new ecological niches. The isopods I am using for my research are of great interest because they live in a transition zone between marine and terrestrial environments. I am using a combination of field surveys, experimental approaches and molecular methods in my research.
Over the years I have been fortunate to participate in a variety of different research projects: dynamics of toxic algal blooms, marine bioluminescence midwater plankton communities, effects of herbivory on intertidal algal growth, mating behavior in reef squid, population genetics of symbionts in deep sea vent mussels, associations of a specific copepod with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria in subtropical oceans. Working in different marine environments have made me increasingly aware of the complexity as well as fragility of the marine environment
When I am not doing research, I am helping my husband manage a ranch and large organic garden in northern California. I enjoy hiking, backpacking and skiing and am an avid reader of mystery novels.
Dale Trockel, Fellow 2011-2012
I have always had a strong desire to understand how things work. As a child I would take apart every thing and study it to try and understand it. Throughout my life I have been designing and building all sorts of projects including guitars and surfboards, two of my main hobbies. I have also always enjoyed taking advantage of the beauty and fun the natural world had to offer me. I grew up in several locations–mainly Washington, Colorado, and Vermont–but, in all was able to enjoy the outdoors camping, river rafting, hiking, mountain biking, and sailing with my parents and five siblings.
I earned an undergraduate degree in Hawaii where I continued to develop my profound love for the ocean. There I found that one of the best tools for understanding how things work was mathematics. To me mathematics is the study of logic; it can help you to see structure and patterns where there is seemingly none. Math is the science the world is designed upon. Math has now given me a way into the science and natural world and allowed me to continue studying how things work and observe the beauty of the natural world. I currently am attending UC Davis as a PhD student in Applied Math. For my Phd I study near shore mixing cased by the shoaling of internal waves. Internal waves are waves that form in a fluid between two layers of different densities. Just like waves you see on the surfaces, as these internal waves get close to shore, they steepen, break, and run up the sloped bottom. This can bring cold water from the deep ocean up to the surface near shore affecting near shore mixing. I enjoy teaching others and helping them see the vast possibilities math provides and that math is more than just tedious arithmetic a computer could do.
Brian Cheng, Fellow 2010-2011
Unlike other budding marine biologists, I didn’t spend time as a child picking through tide pools or surfing the waves of Santa Cruz. I grew up quite removed from the ocean and knew little of it. But I did have a magic window into the ocean and it was through a plate of glass. Aquarium glass to be exact. Fish, hermit crabs, snails and algae were all characters in a microcosm of the ocean that unfolded in my aquarium. I could spend hours watching the habits of these critters as they went about their daily lives. Maybe some of this enthusiasm influenced my decision to go to college at UC Santa Barbara? Perhaps, but it wasn’t until my second year, after a year of pre-med and then a switch to political science, that brought me to my final course of study in Aquatic Biology. I can actually recall the moment in time when the wick was lit. I was watching a video describing the research activities that took place at Santa Barbara. A graduate student swam by the screen, hovering amongst the fronds of a kelp forest. People do this for a living?!? I was hooked. That summer I was a scientific research diver, watching the habits of marine fish and invertebrates, but this time I was the one diving.
Since Santa Barbara, I worked for a number of public aquariums throughout California (not surprisingly). But the call to have my own research project and to contribute to the field of marine science was too strong. I did my Master’s research at San Diego State University, where I looked at how native predators consumed an invasive mussel in a southern California bay. As it turns out, lobsters and snails love to eat this invader but they will only go so far. They stop about one-third of the way into the estuary and it is beyond this imaginary line that the mussels proliferate. In fact, this appears to be common for many invasive species. They seem to be restricted to the back of estuaries. From San Diego, I moved to UC Davis, where I joined the marine invasion ecology lab. I still work on invasive species, but I am interested in how climate change and invasive species interact to influence native communities. I use native Olympia oysters, invasive eastern oyster drills (a snail that eats oysters), and native crabs (that eat snails) to understand how increases in temperature might affect their physiology and ultimately the community as a whole. Ultimately, I’d like to know what the future (and climate change) portends for Tomales Bay and other ecosystems.
Thesis research: Climate change effects on estuarine communities, physiology and species interactions.
Amanda Newsom, Fellow 2010-2011
I study biological interactions among introduced species on mudflats. Introduced species are organisms brought by humans, either accidentally or intentionally, to places where they have no evolutionary history. Mudflats are intertidal habitats of mixed sand and mud that support a wide diversity of ecologically important species like eelgrass and juvenile fish. Mudflats are also heavily impacted by human activities. One of the major human impacts on San Francisco Bay mudflats has been the introduction of marine species from seaports around the world.
The three introduced species that I study are the European green crab (Carcinus maenas), the Asian or amethyst gem clam (Gemma gemma), and the Japanese sea slug (Philine orientalis). Both the slug and the crab are predators of the amethyst gem clam, but the Japanese sea slug slows down the feeding rate of the European green crab. This suppression is possibly due to the copious mucous that the sea slug secretes. When the slug is disturbed, it drops the pH of its mucous to less than the acidity of stomach acid (pH ~ 1)! I am interested in the consequences of these interactions for all of the introduced species in this interaction web (e.g. Does suppression of European green crabs by the Japanese sea slug protect gem clams from predation?). Studying biological interactions in simplified food webs can tell us a lot about how more realistic, complicated food webs work.
My fondest childhood memories include trips to museums, national parks, beaches, and the library. I was constantly collecting shells, fossils, and rocks. As a graduate student, I conduct integrative research exploring questions in ecology, physiology, paleontology, and conservation biology. My desire to do independent research as an undergraduate led me to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where I studied biology and geology. I am currently a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Geology at the University of California, Davis, and have taught courses at California State University, Sacramento. I enjoy mentoring students and developing science curriculum for K-12 and college students while completing my Ph.D. research.
I am currently studying marine snails and how shell characters, shape, and size of modern and fossil species relate to their ecology and evolution. My research aims to determine if the bumps, ridges, and bands on shells seen on many species are indicative of patterns of shell and body growth and reproductive activity throughout the life of the animal. Some shell characters likely indicate how many growth seasons snails experience during their lives, yet these hypotheses have not been previously tested. My findings to date indicate that shell growth and reproduction in northern California populations of whelk snails may occur only during certain times of the year. Yet, these patterns may differ depending on the local environment. Fossil specimens indicate changes in growth patterns in this species through time and space, allowing for study of life history patterns of marine snails of the distant past.
Michael Byrd, Fellow 2010-2011
I was drawn to science, the business of asking and answering questions, at an early age. Nobody could really answer my endless “why” and “how.” I was curious about the world, which seemed to have some order in every day occurrences and I wanted to know more about it. There was a problem, however. I was very lazy. I was pretty good at math but I quickly got sick of doing the same problems with different numbers over and over again. Certainly “real scientists” were not wasting much of their day doing long division by hand. I realized that I could use a computer to do the busy work. Computers are great because if you teach them how to do a job well enough once, they will do it for you forever.
I am currently earning my PhD in computer science researching in two areas. I am finishing a big project on analyzing the patterns of moving objects. An example of my work occurs in real life when you consider the incredible number of cell phones out there with GPS (Global Positioning System) built-in. Someone with hundreds of friends would like to be notified if at least 10 of her friends are headed towards a similar location. This can make spontaneous gatherings for food easier. This is a difficult problem for a computer to solve and my job is to find a way to make this faster.
My next project is in the area of Scientific WorkFlows (SciWF). SciWF is, simply put, a pre-made system of plumbing for assembling computer programs in a visual manner. This paves the way for advanced features like provenance, parallelizability and reusability. We plan to run a demo of the Kepler SciWF system (kepler-project.org) for the other CAMEOS fellows. Some pictures of an example work flow can be found here.
In the CAMEOS project, I fulfill the role of “cyberfellow” where I strive to accommodate the technical needs of the other fellows in their classroom projects. I also plan to coach technically apt students towards being the “cyberstudent” in their group. In my spare time I enjoy reading, listening to podcasts, and more programming.
Rachel Fontana, Fellow 2010-2011
My brief personal history begins growing up on the east coast in Connecticut. I spent many summer days investigating the animals living in and around the ocean. Although I did not realize at the time, this was the beginning of my science investigation career. For my undergraduate degree, I opted for a change in climate and moved to Miami, Florida. At the University of Miami, I obtained degrees in both marine science and biology. Upon finishing my degree, I worked as an outdoor educator for three years. During this time period, I sailed, taught, and sang sea shanties on a tallship in Long Island Sound. After that I moved to a cove that one could only get to by boat on Catalina Island to work as a marine science instructor.
After many epic adventures, I returned to graduate school. My research interests are interdisciplinary and broadly focus on linkages between physical oceanography and marine ecology. By studying these linkages, we can better educate the general public and inform policy makers on important decisions, such as where to place Marine Protected Areas or the effects of marine debris. My research more specifically is focused on analyzing water flow off the coast of northern California and how flow features enhance biological activity. I am researching flow features called fronts; these are areas where a dense water mass subducts under a less dense water mass. Fronts form boundaries where particles accumulate, such as such as plankton and debris. Due to the accumulation, fronts are important feeding ‘hot spots’ for predators, such as large fish, marine mammals, and seabirds. Studying frontal systems will assist in understanding biological activity in this region.
When I am not learning or teaching science, I enjoy any activity that involves being outdoors (rock climbing, SCUBA, kayaking, snorkeling, backpacking). Additionally, I like to pretend to know how to cook, garden, and knit.
Thesis research: Oceanic fronts: creation, propagation, and biological significance off the coast of Northern California.
Sarah Gravem, Fellow 2010-2011
I spend a whole lot of time peering into tide pools. If you look closely, there are thousands of little creatures of all different kinds. If you stay awhile, you see that their lives are full of drama! There are predators, especially seastars, which would love to stick out their stomachs and gobble up everything in sight. But the prey, which are mostly snails and limpets in my tidepools, have ways of evading their hungry nemeses. They can run away (yes, snails can move fast when they need to!) and hide up above the waterline at low tide. Snails also have evolved the ability to tolerate conditions that their predators can’t; they can live high up in the intertidal zone where it is hot and sunny and seastars can’t follow. The only problem is, snails can’t eat when they’re running, and when all the snails escape together, they end up eating all the food up in the hot and sunny pools and getting hungry. This is where it gets interesting: because the seastar predators can scare away the snails, they actually help out the algae nearby that the snails would have eaten. However, the algae in the hot and sunny pools with all the hiding snails get eaten up really fast. So the algae are negatively affected by the seastar that isn’t even close by, and hasn’t even necessarily eaten anything yet!
I love taking students out to the intertidal, and intertidal critters are the best for show and tell. Did you know that seastars have little pinchers all over the tops of them, and if you put one on your arm it can tug on your hair? They use them to keep things like settling barnacles off their backs. I am a marine ecologist, which means that I study how organisms in the sea interact with each other and their environment. I am excited to help students run all sorts of little experiments with live animals in the lab and in the wild and to teach them all about the ocean. I have taught around ten different undergraduate lab courses in biology and organic chemistry, and I paid for college by coaching a competitive swimming team for 5 years. I’m really enthusiastic and can’t wait to get students excited about their world!
Thesis research: Effects of predators on prey behavior in rocky intertidal communities: density and trait-mediated indirect interactions and optimal patch use.
Susanne Brander, Fellow 2009-2010
I have been concerned with human impact on nature from the first time I took a walk in the woods as a 4th grader near our new home in suburban Pennsylvania, only to find a stream littered with broken bottles and old potato chip bags. I immediately felt that change was needed and, although I wasn’t sure how I could best protect what I saw being lost, I wanted to learn as much as I could about it. Although I enjoyed science classes as a child, especially biology, it never occurred to me that I could actually become a scientist. Being one of the first in my entire extended family to earn a bachelor’s degree, I was encouraged to become something more “traditional,” such as an accountant or a lawyer, so I majored in Business Administration. Fortunately, I happened upon an internship with a conservation organization during my sophomore year in college and quickly declared a minor in Biology the following fall. I then found myself during the two years following college working in fundraising but pining after a career as a biologist, so I took a leave of absence from work and volunteered for a sea turtle conservation project in Greece. This trip, along with a few others, inspired me to return back to school to earn a master’s degree in Environmental Science and then eventually lead me to pursue a Ph.D. at UC Davis in Environmental Toxicology.
Now as a Ph.D. candidate, I am in a unique position to integrate my past experience in the fields of Business, Environmental Science and Ecology with an understanding of the physiological mechanisms through which organisms experience toxic conditions. I am most interested in examining the effect of ecologically-relevant concentrations of contaminants in run-off and effluent (pesticides, pharmaceuticals) on aquatic organisms, specifically those that may cause reduced reproductive success in fish and the potential for population decline. For example, sub-lethal changes to the reproductive ability of a population could have cumulative effects on an estuarine system (such as altered food webs or increased vulnerability to invasive species) that could greatly transform our rivers, estuaries, bays and coastlines. I hope that the dissertation research I am undertaking in Suisun Marsh, just east of the San Francisco Bay, will address some of these issues.
When I am not out collecting fish or working at the lab bench, I enjoy running, doing yoga, and most of all, making wheel-thrown pottery. One of my favorite places to be is on my front porch on a sunny Petaluma weekend afternoon with my husband and two cats.
Thesis research: The potential for endocrine disruption in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta: response of a resident fish species.
Annaliese Hettinger, Fellow 2009-2010
My recent research experiences have shaped my professional career plans, but my interest in the natural world, science, and ecology began much earlier. I grew up spending every summer of my life on my family’s small island in Georgian Bay, a 200 mile long bay that is part of Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes, in Ontario, Canada. My family was the only people on this island, and without any electricity, telephone, or television, my brothers and I had to get very creative in the outdoors to entertain ourselves. Through this experience I began to discover and appreciate the wonders of the natural world, and developed a deep curiosity for understanding how nature “works.” When I was 15, this deep-rooted love of being out-of-doors was channeled into thinking about ocean ecosystems when my Dad taught me to SCUBA dive and invited me to join him on his annual sailing trip in the Bahamas that he guided his university students on. Interaction with the Bahamian people taught me about their culture and gave me an appreciation for ocean life and those who depend on it for survival. This love of the ocean led me to Dalhousie University on the east coast of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, where I studied marine biology and participated in research projects that allowed me to travel and to conduct marine ecological research in a variety of habitats. After I finished college, I worked as a research assistant in the kelp forest ecosystems of Santa Catalina Island, California and in the coral reef habitats of Hawaii. The past ten years of experience with marine science have affirmed my desire to pursue a career involving marine science research and education about the significance of global oceanic issues.
For my Ph.D. research I ask questions related to the effects of climate change on calcifying marine organisms, like oysters, mussels, and abalone. Anthropogenic increases in greenhouse-gas production (e.g., carbon dioxide) and changes in land use have led to global climate changes since pre-industrial times, such as increases in temperature, and these trends are expected to continue far into the foreseeable future. Many climate change research studies have focused on how temperature affects organisms, such as shifts in species distributions and abundances according to their thermal tolerances. However temperature is only one of a suite of interacting climatic variables that will create change in ecosystems. An equally important consequence of increased atmospheric greenhouse-gas production (namely CO2) is a process called ocean acidification. Ocean acidification refers to changes in the world’s oceans pH levels and carbonate system as a result of increased concentrations of CO2 being taken up by the oceans as more CO2 is released into the atmosphere. When the CO2 levels increase in the atmosphere, the amount of CO2 taken up by the surface waters of the oceans increase, and ocean pH and carbonate saturation (the amount of carbonate available to organisms) decreases. This makes it more difficult for calcifying marine organisms to make shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate (e.g., oysters, mussels, sea stars, sea urchins, lobsters). Just in the time that the United States has been a country, atmospheric CO2 levels have increased by 40% from pre-industrial levels. This rate of increase, caused by human fossil fuel combustion and deforestation, is at least an order of magnitude faster than has occurred for millions of years, and the current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is higher than experienced on Earth for at least 800,000 years.
To explore how ocean acidification effects marine organisms, part of my Ph.D. research focuses on impacts occurring over the complete life cycle of the native Olympia oyster (Ostrea conchaphila) in Tomales Bay. Native Olympia oysters are found in bays and estuaries along the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California, Mexico. These oysters were historically an important foundation species in California’s estuaries, providing habitat for other species while contributing to the maintenance of water quality through filter feeding. Native oyster populations have declined dramatically in California since the mid-1800’s due to commercial exploitation and pollution, although small populations persist locally in San Francisco Bay and Tomales Bay.
I still love being out-of-doors more than anywhere else, and when I am not conducting research I spend my time rock climbing, surfing, hiking, camping, and surfing.
Tawny Mata, Fellow 2009-2010
I am a 5th year PhD student in the Graduate Group in Ecology at UC Davis. As an undergraduate I took a course on biodiversity in Tucson, Arizona and had my eyes opened to the prevalence of introduced and invasive species in our native ecosystems. This experience sparked what is now an 8-year long passion for invasive species ecology. I currently study invasions in California’s native-dominated grasslands, one of the most threatened habitats in the state. I want to know what biotic and abiotic factors influence the establishment and spread of invasive grasses. Most native perennial California grasslands have converted to non-native annual grasslands, yet on the coast we are experiencing a peculiar conversion to non-native perennial grasses. These grasses are likely to experience heavy niche overlap with the native perennial species, some of which are in the same genera. So what is the key to their success? To find out, I currently have projects going that look at the effects of nutrient limitation, pollen limitation, native herbivores, and non-native viruses on invasive grass establishment.
In addition to my research activities, I have a strong interest in primary and secondary education. In collaboration with the Student-Landowner Education and Watershed Stewardship (SLEWS) program and teachers from Yolo County, I helped write a high-school level module on the population ecology, community ecology, and environmental history of invasive species. I am also a mentor for SLEWS. As a mentor, I am paired up with a new high school class each year and we repeatedly visit a recovering ecosystem throughout that year to implement new restoration projects. In addition to getting our hands dirty with planting and building, we also talk about the ecological science behind restoration and bond with the students through games. This type of outreach has been exceptionally rewarding, and I look forward to continuing it throughout my career.
When not at work, I enjoy horseback riding, cycling, drinking coffee, reading the New Yorker, and eating/baking baked goods.
Thesis research: The impact of environmental heterogeneity on the establishment and spread of invasive species in California’s grasslands.
Amber Szoboszlai, Fellow 2009-2010
I received a clipboard as a gift from my grandparents when I was eleven. Is it possible they saw something of a budding scientist in me? As a child, I was fascinated with the natural world, but I actually wanted to be a dancer when I grew up. After finishing college, where I studied a combination of science and literature, I moved to New York City and worked for a small publishing company. Here I pursued a life enriched in art and cultural awareness, yet alienated from the natural world. I remained keenly aware of a latent interest in science, and often daydreamed about my favorite course in college where we studied the diversity of life found in seaweeds. Needless to say, none of my close friends and family was surprised when, after several years of promoting art and poetry in New York, I decided to pursue a career as a scientist and study marine ecosystems! I am now working to help protect and manage coastal habitats by studying key marine foundation species including kelps, seagrasses, and intertidal seaweeds.
In this endeavor, I have become interested in a variety of ecological questions: How does marine aquaculture affect natural ecosystems? How important is biodiversity to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems? How do stressful conditions like high temperatures or pollution affect where organisms can live? Because of a strong personal interest in conducting research to help resource managers and government policy makers, I have focused my dissertation research on interactions between oyster aquaculture and a common species of seagrass: eelgrass. Oyster aquaculture is an important part of the local economy because it provides a potentially sustainable source of food and jobs. Eelgrass is a critical component of the marine ecosystem because it serves as a “nursery habitat,” providing shelter and food to economically important species including salmon and herring. However the effects of oyster farming on eelgrass and vice versa are poorly understood. As a result, local managers of the natural ecosystem and the oyster aquaculture industry need answers to questions like: How do oysters affect eelgrass? How does eelgrass affect oysters? Is the sum of the various effects of oysters on eelgrass and vice versa positive or negative? Which environmental variables are most important to eelgrass survival and oyster production? Answers to these questions can help develop guidelines for managing potential expansion of oyster farms while conserving populations of eelgrass.
Thesis research: Integrating the positive and negative effects of oyster aquaculture on eelgrass population dynamics.