Mentors and Projects 2020

1.  Does lugworm behavior affect eelgrass germination in the Salish Sea?
Dr. Megan Dethier, University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories
Dr. Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria, University of Washington Friday Harbor Laboratories

Using a combination of field observation and laboratory experiments we will determine whether the behavior of lugworms (Abarenicola spp.) can prevent germination of eelgrass (Zostera marina) seeds in the Salish Sea.


2. Biotic and abiotic factors influencing kelp bed communities in the Salish Sea
Dr. Katie Dobkowski, 
Bates College

Dr. Katie Dobkowski is a marine community ecologist and especially focuses on foundation species such bull kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana). Nereocystis is an annual kelp species that provides the bulk of the complex three-dimensional habitat space in rocky subtidal habitats of the San Juan Islands and elsewhere in Washington State. There are a variety of potential projects that focus on investigating biotic and abiotic factors influencing bull kelp across their complicated life history using a combination of lab and field work. Topics of interest include Northern kelp crab (Pugettia producta) feeding preferences (in the lab) and distribution and abundance (in the field, snorkel or SCUBA surveys); contribution of P. producta feces to detrital food webs (in the lab, using the intertidal copepod Tigriopus californicus); effect of intraspecific and interspecific competition with invasive Sargassum muticum on growth of juvenile N. luetkeana (in the field, using transplant experiments); and the relationship between maximum force exerted by crab claws and crab food preferences (collecting organisms in the field, testing in the lab using P. producta as well as shore crabs, genus Hemigrapsus). Subtidal data collection using SCUBA may possible for a student who is already a trained scientific diver at an AAUS member institution. A better understanding of the dynamics of N. luetkeana beds in the Salish Sea is crucial not only because they create valuable habitat for economically and ecologically important species, but also to inform management decisions and restoration efforts in a changing ocean.


3. Functional morphology and biomechanics of marine sculpins
Dr. Emily A. Kane, Georgia Southern University

Description to be posted soon.


4. 3D anatomical reconstruction of the feeding apparatus in jawless fishes
Dr. Andrew J. Clark, College of Charleston

The student will work with Dr. Clark to examine and reconstruct the three-dimensional structure of the mouth parts (dentition, cartilage, and muscles) of hagfish and lamprey specimens using microCT, gross dissection, and electron microscopy.


5. Impacts of fish scales and shark dermal denticle density on spine puncture performance
Dr. Marianne Porter, Florida Atlantic University

Dr. Porter’s lab works on biological materials, skeletal system mechanics, and understanding whole body locomotion in marine animals. Recently, we have been interested in examining predator and prey interactions by examining mechanical properties of hard and soft tissues. Using a combination of mechanical testing, SEM, and micro ct scanning, we have been examining the relationships between puncture tools (lion fish spines) and target materials (bony fish and shark skin). We are interested in continuing this work to examine the impacts of fish scales and shark dermal denticle density on spine puncture performance. Students working with Dr. Porter will gain experiences in dissection, specimen preparation, mechanical testing, and imaging.

6. Effects of a food patch at the halocline on swimming speeds and time spent feeding by sea star larvae
Dr. Sophie George, Georgia Southern University

The student will Investigate the effects of a food patch at the halocline on swimming speeds and time spent feeding by sea star larvae. The results will give us an idea of the effect of increased surface temperatures on feeding, swimming and ultimately the survival of larvae to metamorphosis of a keystone species.


7. Electrophysiology, pharmacology, and behavioral relations for chemotactile receptors for food signals in nudipleuran mollusks: Comparative studies of across specialist and generalist foragers
Dr. Rhanor Gillette, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Description to be posted soon


8. Evolutionary and functional morphology of novel behaviors in fishes
Dr. Stacy Farina, Howard University

New behaviors typically arise from the co-option of existing morphological systems for new functions. But what happens to the evolutionary trajectory of a structure when it begins to be used for a new behavior? The ability to bury underneath the sediment has evolved convergently many times among fishes. Representatives from at least four of the groups demonstrating burial behavior can be found at FHL, and each group uses a different set of structures to accomplish this task. Some of these groups are very diverse (e.g., flatfishes, 800+ species, 9 species at FHL) and some are evolutionary one-offs (e.g., sandfish, one species). My mentees can choose to study either the evolution of morphology involved in burial behaviors, the function and biomechanical performance of structures involved with burial in live fishes, or a combination of both evolution and function.


9. How animal behavior intersects with conservation biology, ecology, and evolutionary biology
Dr. Amy Cook, The Evergreen State College

One of the greatest challenges animal behaviorists face is observing their subjects in the wild. However, San Juan Island offers opportunities to make detailed observations of the behavior of a variety of animals in the field with relative ease. My mentees will learn the techniques of studying behavior in the field including how to describe behaviors, sampling and recording methodologies, and data collection and analysis. We will practice the use of these techniques on rabbits and foxes at the San Juan Island National Historical Park at the southern end of the island. Once they are comfortable with the methodology, my mentees can choose to continue to study foxes or rabbits or apply the field behavior techniques they learned to one of the following projects – nesting behavior in bald eagles or osprey, foraging behavior in songbirds in oak woodlands, or the behavior of juvenile sculpins (Oligocottus maculotus) in tide pools – or propose a project of their own. Animal behavior intersects with conservation biology, ecology, and evolutionary biology and we will discuss these connections in regular research seminars. On San Juan Island, the interaction between human behavior and the behavior of other animals is an important factor in many of our study systems. We will talk with rangers at both the National Historical Park and Lime Kiln Point State Park (the primary site for watching orca whales on San Juan Island) to learn more about those interactions. This project will benefit mentees interested in pursuing a careers or advanced study in animal behavior, field ecology, or conservation biology.


10. Thermal stress in mussels: the effects of stable vs. fluctuating temperatures
Dr. Michael Nishizaki, Carleton College

In this age of climate change, the biological impacts of rising temperatures have been documented in terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems around the world. These effects are especially evident on intertidal shores, where organisms commonly live near their thermal limits. Although temperature clearly impacts the ecology and physiology of many benthic marine organisms, most experiments have been conducted under stable thermal conditions. While these data are informative, they do not approximate the type of thermal variation that organisms face under natural conditions. For example, mussels (Mytilus trossulus) on San Juan Island can experience rapidly fluctuating temperatures while submerged in tidepools and shallow waters. This REU project will quantify physiological responses of mussels (e.g., changes in respiration rate) under stable versus fluctuating thermal conditions. In addition, students will also make in situ measurements of oxygen use by mussel beds in the field.

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