How strange to call this planet 'Earth' when quite clearly it is ocean. Arthur C. Clarke

Monday, April 25, 2016

Quailties of a Successful Graduate Student

A few tips from a professor's talk at an American Fisheries Society conference.

Qualities of a successful graduate student:

1. Perseverance
2. Maintains a positive attitude
3. Excellent at communication
4. Has a strong work ethic
5. Takes initiative

I add:

6. Enjoys taking on seemingly impossible tasks
7. Never hopes to maintain a regular work schedule
8. Is comfortable periodically losing sanity
9. Enjoys flying by the seat of her pants and knows that control is not something to be grasped, ever.

If you are considering graduate school, please think about if you have or can learn these qualities!

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

OA experiment done!

I am happy to report that I successfully finished my ocean acidification experiment testing snail drilling behavior. This is extremely exciting as I had no idea if the experiment would work, and was going to treat this as practice for a real, better experiment down the line. But it worked so well, I don't think I'll need to do that!

Here are some final stats:

  • Number of snails I started with: 173
  • Number of snails that died: 13 (7.5%)
  • Number of snails that ate a mussel: 150 (86.7%)
  • Dates the experiment was running: Jan 14 through Mar 14
  • Number of days the experiment ran: 60
  • Shortest recorded feeding time for any one snail: 24 hours (feeding on a small mussel)
  • Longest recorded feeding time for any one snail: 246 hours, or 20.5 days (feeding on a large mussel)
The preliminary analysis shows that there was no effect of pH treatment on the snails' choices of which size mussel to eat. I have a lot more data exploration yet to do, so I'll provide any cool updates about results when I get them!!

A close of up the amazing pH probe
that precisely measured the pH in my 

A close up of the backside of my snail bins. This is where
the treatment water entered the bin.

We used these CO2 tanks to acidify the
seawater for the low pH treatments.

This is how many boxes of glass bottles I used 
for water sampling. Each box contained 24 
bottles. There are 22 boxes. Yikes.

Here is my experiment being cleaned up! I was so happy!

Friday, February 26, 2016

OA Experiment Update

As of this morning, 123 snails have drilled and 13 have died. That means 78.6% are done! Now I'm just waiting until the remaining snails stop eating. Hopefully that is soon, but I'm not so sure because three more finished drilling this morning!

This is what a snail basket looks like when the snail has finished eating a mussel. The small 
mussel is open and empty. 

 Often, the snails drill a mussel and eat everything but the muscles and foot. You can see the 
posterior adductor muscle below the borehole in this small mussel.

This is a posterior view of the eaten small mussel. You can clearly see
the white posterior adductor muscle! That is the main muscle that holds 
the two valves (shells) of the mussel together.

These are the computers that control the pH of my treatments.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Mussel foot

Did you know mussels have feet? This is one of my favorite photos from my experiment:

The mussel's foot is that long, skinny dark red/brown organ coming out of the mussel. The snail is under it, drilling into it to eat it. I like to think the mussel is trying to reach up and move away to escape from the snail, but I'm really not sure why its foot is out like that. Plus, it wouldn't even work since the snail is stuck on it. When I touched the foot, it retracted immediately. It's unusual for the foot to be out all the way like that, so I had to take a photo! 

If you are curious, the preliminary results from my experiment are showing no effect of pH treatment on the number or size of mussels drilled. But, it's still going, so who knows what the final results will be! 

Friday, January 22, 2016

First Ocean Acidification Experiment

I am excited to be running my very own ocean acidification experiment!

For the last two months I have been planning and executing an experiment testing the feeding behaviors and abilities of Nucella dogwhelk snails from different sites in different pH treatments. To my great satisfaction, everything has been working according to plan. As a result of this experiment, I will witness sunrise outside every day for at least 14 days straight! Hooray!

Thanks sooo much to the volunteers who have helped me every step of the way. You guys are super great!

Enjoy these pictures of the process!

Pre-experiment holding tank.

The experimental setup. Snails are in the baskets in
bins covered with acrylic sheets weighted with cinder blocks.

Experimental bin.
The marine lab when I get there in the morning.

Snail in a basket. It fell on its back and is trying to right itself.

Snails in baskets. The snail on the right is drilling that mussel!

A snail in a basket drilling a mussel.

Filling bottles with water samples to measure pH.

We even do it all in the rain!

Snail drilling a mussel.

Snails resting on the underside of the lid.

The little mussel was eaten by that snail!

This snail has its proboscis through the hole it drilled in the
right valve of this mussel. Since the mussel is open, you can see
the snail's proboscis on the inside!

Sunrise during sampling.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Field pictures

I was browsing through my photos and found some cool ones I took at Soberanes Point and Bodega Marine Reserve. Enjoy these close-up views of intertidal life!

A Nucella emarginata dogwhelk drilling a Mytilus californianus mussel (center). Around it are Tetraclita barnacles (pink and volcano-shaped) and Policipes barnacles (gooseneck barnacles; white with plates). Taken at Soberanes Point in July 2015.

The unsuspecting Nucella emarginata drilling Mytilus californianus right before I pulled it off to see what damage it had done! The mussel appears to be alive  still because it is closed. Once a mussel dies, it gapes open because it only has closing muscles.  Taken at Soberanes Point in July 2015.

Nucella emarginata dogwhelk (right) and the drill hole it was making in Mytilus californianus (center).  Taken at Soberanes Point in July 2015.

A dogwhelk foot! Also shown in this picture are Mytilus californianus adults and recruits (aka babies; lower left), Policipes recruits (with white spots and also in the lower left), and some mussel byssus (the thread-like things all around but most obviously at the top).  Taken at Soberanes Point in July 2015.

A tidepool at sunset at Bodega Marine Reserve. Photo taken 11 Nov 2015 by Cornelius R. Pickering.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Friday Harbor Labs Course in Ocean Acidification

This summer I took a wonderful 5-week course in ocean acidification (OA) at the Friday Harbor Labs. I learned an incredible amount about how OA works in the ocean, what our current state of knowledge is, how to set up robust experiments testing for OA, and how to measure OA! This course was essential to my major research question, "Are Nucella populations locally adapted to seawater pH?"

The ocean naturally absorbs gasses from the atmosphere. When this occurs, the dissolved gasses react with seawater and various compounds in it. Since the ocean is extremely huge, covering about three-quarters of the planet, gasses that dissolve in it from the air usually don't change the seawater in any big way. But since recently there is an extremely and ridiculously excessive level of carbon dioxide in the air, like billions of tons, well, actually, 236 petagrams, or 236 trillion kilograms, or 260,100,000,000 tons added since 1750, it turns out that carbon dioxide gas is changing seawater chemistry[1]. It decreases the pH and makes it more acidic. How will this affect marine life? It is difficult to say, but it is generally accepted right now that it will negatively affect calcifying plankton. This can mean big trouble for anything that relies on plankton for food (i.e., everything in the ocean).

I am now planning an OA experiment that will test if predatory snail populations are affected by seawater pH. Maybe their prey choice depends on seawater pH, which could mean they are differentially structuring prey populations throughout their range as a result of the changing climate. I also want to test if there are site-specific differences in their reactions that could be due to a genetic predisposition.

Here are some pictures from this summer's course! Most of the photos are by one of the students who took the course with me, Jack Koch, who now attends Oregon State University.

Learning to use pH equipment in the field.

Measuring the pH of tidepools at Deadman Cove.

A fishing boat off the west side of the island.

A sea plane, possibly with Mt. Baker in the background on the left.

Islands in the San Juan Archipelago.

On San Juan Island.

Most of my classmates on a short hike around the labs.

The following photos are by Alexandra Bausch (but not the anemone photo):
Kayak trip to see orcas.

Jack Koch, the great photographer who took many of the pictures above!

A ferry arriving at Friday Harbor.

My favorite instrument: the bull kelp horn!

There are no pictures of the experiment I did with anemones during the course, which is unfortunate but not surprising given that one usually only thinks to take pictures of play and not work. But here is an anemone we did not experiment on!

I just noticed there are a bunch of Nucella canaliculata cuddling up next to the anemone. Cuteness!

1. Howes, E. L., Joos, F., Eakin, M., & Gattuso, J.-P. (2015). The Oceans 2015 Initiative, Part 1, (March).