During my undergraduate career at UC Santa Cruz, I had the opportunity to work with a variety of different research projects from salmon ecology to kelp physiology.
2010-2013: Salmon Ecology group, NOAA Fisheries, Service Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SFSC).
I spent a majority of my time as an undergraduate at Scott Creek, just north of Santa Cruz, CA. I was working with Ph.D. student Ann-Marie Osterback, helping her with various chapters of her thesis with a widely varied methodology. I spent some time preparing mass-spectrometry samples of seagull feathers to understand the historical record of bird predation on juvenile salmon in the seasonal lagoon at the mouth of the river.
In addition, I spent a large amount of time with the PIT tag system in Scott Creek. Juveniles from the hatchery, as well as returning adults, are implanted with this RFID technology. I was building, repairing, and maintaining a suite of antennas (similar to these but home-made out of wires threaded through PVC and sealed with spray foam) up to 10’x3′, which were used in tandem with weirs and traps to monitor adult return rates, juvenile growth rates, and many other factors important in salmon ecology.
The picture above is from a lagoon-seining day in Scott Creek, one of my many miscellaneous field days helping with a slew of projects through the salmon ecology group.
2013: Raimondi-Carr Lab, UC Santa Cruz
Due to my long-term salmon work, I was recommended for the role of primary field technician for the summer of 2013, working on a project led by Ph.D. student Brent Hughes of the Raimondi-Carr Lab. The project explored the top-down effect of otters on the distribution of seagrass and algae in Elkhorn Slough, Moss Landing, CA.
The project involved very long and technical dive days of up to 4 hours of bottom time, along with on-land construction of cage exclusion experiments and biweekly checks and maintennance on the entire experimental system. Visibility ranged from 1~6 inches with a maximum depth of 6-7 feet, so most of the work was conducted by feel. I was active in most stages of the experiment, including experimental design, dive day planning, and the constant maintennance and upkeep that the cages required.
In addition to this, I was given the opportunity to help with the Moss Landing benthic ecology lab’s annual seagrass surveys in the area. This was a more conventional scientific diving survey project, and visibility opened up to 3-4 feet depending at ~15 feet depending on the tide.
Altogether, after boat engine failures and getting bitten by a seal, it was an incredibly demanding but rewarding experience!
2012: NSF Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU). Shannon Point Marine Center, Western Washington University.
As an NSF-REU fellow for the summer of 2012, I worked with Dr. Kathy Van Alstyne on chemical defenses in marine macroalgae. In the high-disturbance, space-limited regime of the intertidal zone, some seaweeds have evolved the capacity to exude chemicals in order to deter predators or to kill competing algae. The most notable genus exhibiting this trait is Desmarestia. Some species in the genus are known to concentrate corrosive sulfuric acid in their vacuoles down to 0.5 pH units, releasing it in response to stress. Some other species of algae are known to release DMSP (an osmolyte as well as a predator deterrent) or dopamine (a neurotransmitter in humans, but a predator deterrent in algae) in response to stress.