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

Friday, September 8, 2017

Field experiment installation

My mussel bed field experiment is coming together! This week I went out each day around 5 am to count what organisms are living in each of my plots and drill holes around them so I can install cages as soon as my cage material arrives. Here are some pictures of my work this week.

A sample cage on one plot.Plots with drill holes and bolt anchors, ready to be caged.A sample cage on a plot.Plots with drill holes and bolt anchors, ready to be caged.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Field experiment prep + OA experiment update

This morning, in preparation for my nascent field experiment testing dogwhelk feeding behavior, I climbed down the cliffs by the Long Marine Lab and scouted spots to install 32 stainless steel mesh cages. My intern and I are excited to be making progress on this project, and once the permits are approved we'll be down there every < 2 ft. tide!

Me checking out spaces to put the experiment at Terrace Point.

The site where the experiment will take place.

Rows of 20 x 20 cm mussel plots where the 
snail predators will go.

Yesterday, my interns finished a large dataset on the shell thickness of all 519 mussels I used in my OA experiment last year. It feels really good to have that done. Huge shout out to Sandra, Xochitl, and Marcos!! Soon I'll be writing up that paper and then just one more chapter to go!

Friday, April 28, 2017

Winter and Spring quarters

It's time for some much-needed updates on my dissertation progress!

This winter I completed my third quarter as a TA for my favorite course: Invertebrate Zoology. Not only did I lead seven animal dissections, but I also baked seven animal-themed desserts for my lab students and held my own review session with lemon coconut doughnuts. I may be the only person in the state (or the country, or the world) who regularly uses snail-shaped muffin tins.

Animal-themed desserts I made last quarter; chocolate cupcake snails, ginger crabs, and assorted fruit tarts.

I worked hard to figure out how to extract and amplify DNA from all the snails from my field study so I can ID them by sequencing characteristic genes. Unfortunately, only two weeks ago did I get the PCRs working—I was hoping to do that much sooner. Thankfully, now the PCRs work, I have lots of amplified DNA, and I'm almost done with that project now. Next week I'll know which of two cryptic species were at my field sites.

Gel electrophoresis with long-awaited amplified 
snail DNA! You can see the DNA as the bright pinkish
dashes near the top of the gel. This gel is on a UV 
light so the amplified DNA, treated with ethidium 
bromide, fluoresces. Before winter quarter this
year, I had no idea how to extract snail DNA and 
use polymerase chain reaction to copy it a bunch
so I had enough to send to a sequencing facility. 
Now I've done it for weeks and weeks, and it's
really rewarding to see bright bands like that!
Notice how not all the blue dashes have bright 
pinkish dashes above them; that is because not all
the DNA samples amplified, and I have to figure
out (or guess) why.

This is a mini centrifuge for PCR tubes. The amplified DNA is 
in the green solution in those tubes. It took me only (ha) a 
month to figure out that only this special green reagent works 
with my snail DNA! Before that, I was trying other reagents 
with zero success.

I have an amazing team of efficient interns, and they collected lots of data on mussels from my OA experiment. After about 12 weeks, most of that collection is done, and now my two paid interns are preparing to present at a malacology conference with me in June! I'm excited to go with them and be marine scientists/ecologists/evolutionary biologists together. One of them just accepted graduate admission to UC Santa Barbara, so soon enough she'll be my colleague!

Planning field work has been a little stressful. I'm currently simultaneously planning two trips: one in Oregon in May and the other over the summer in California. On the Oregon trip, my collaborator (and great friend) and I will be collecting the last bits of info we need to finish a paper modeling the foraging behavior of dogwhelks. Once we have that info, we'll do a few lab experiments and then the model will be fully parameterized! I think it will not take long to write after that. This chapter of my thesis is particularly exciting to me because I came up with it apart from the direct suggestions of my main advisors, and it is my first attempt at using a computer model for something other than statistics. Usually, when I use models, the model gives credibility to the result; this time, the model is the result. 

My other field work will be executing a reciprocal transplant experiment in the intertidal zones at two sites. I am still not completely sure about what sites yet because I need to know what species I'm dealing with, so I'll need the DNA data first. As the clock ticks, the pressure builds, because I have to submit a scientific collection permit before I can do anything. Those can take months to get approved, but I basically only have June and July to do the experiment because the low tides are terrible in August and September. Luckily I have an intern working on writing up the methods for that because I am stressed and swamped preparing a paper for my committee members to read in a week!

A simple diagram of the reciprocal transplant design. Colors indicate site. There will be snails from each site at each site. The grids represent the cages containing the snails. Grey grids are control cages with no snails.

I have my first post-quals committee meeting in mid-May, and I really want feedback on the paper I'm writing about my field survey. I need to make it good because the more work I put into it, the more meaningful our discussion will be. I really want to submit the paper in June so it's out of the way. Since I'm not TAing this quarter, now is the time! 

More updates will come after my Oregon field work and the field experiment get started!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Nudibranchs at Davenport Landing

At the low tide today at Davenport Landing, I found so many nudibranchs, there must have been a convention or something!

Acanthodoris lutea, the orange peel nudibranch

Triopha catalinae, the clown nudibranch

Acanthodoris lutea, the orange peel nudibranch with
Troipha catalinae, the clown nudibranch

Okenia rosacea, the Hopkins rose nudibranch

Archidoris montereyensis, the Monterey sea lemon nudibranch

Hermissenda crassicornis, the opalescent nudibranch

 There were other cool molluscs as well.

Calliostoma canaliculatus, the Channeled top snail

Either a mossy chiton or a hairy chiton

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Future Leaders in Coastal Science

I am pleased to announce that I and my undergrad team were awarded the inaugural Future Leaders in Coastal Science Award!


The purpose of this award is to support a graduate student studying the coastal zone in mentoring two undergraduate students in her research. Our project will be a continuation of my PhD project, examining local adaptation and coastal climate in intertidal predatory dogwhelks. We'll be working mainly on two chapters:

  1. Analyzing the effects of ocean acidification on dogwhelk drilling
  2. A field experiment testing dogwhelk drilling in different environments.

We'll present our results at two different conferences, travel up (or down) the coast for the field experiment, and, more broadly, we'll also be reading and compiling studies that show evidence of adaptation to climate change and how those changes can have broader community effects.

I am very excited to have such dedicated and motivated students working with me!

Sandra Traverso, Gina Contolini, and Xochitl Clare,
winners of the Future Leaders in Coastal Science Award
UC Santa Cruz, 2016

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Which Would a Whelk Want?

This summer I had the opportunity to mentor a high school student on a science project. She spent 10 weeks learning about the research process, building and running an experiment, and analyzing the results. Here is a quick summary of what we did. I say we, but she really did most of it.

Main question: Do dogwhelks use olfactory cues (smell) to detect prey?

Hypothesis: If dogwhelks are placed in a divided chamber, they will be more likely to move toward the side with a prey item.

Method: We built divided chambers and set them up under running filtered seawater. We randomly placed one mussel on one side of the divider. We then put one hungry dogwhelk on the opposite end of the chamber and recorded its movement until it crawled to one side of the divider.  We repeated this several dozen times.

The control trial is on the left, where we tested if the dogwhelks
are inherently predisposed to go on one side or the other. They 
were not, so we proceeded with the prey experiment. Once the 
dogwhelk crossed the red dotted line, we recorded which side
of the divider it was on.

Dogwhelks in position at the beginning of a trial.

Dogwhelks at the end of a trial.

Main result: Dogwhelks chose the side with the prey significantly more than the empty side. They seem to be using smell to find their food. 

Discussion: In today's warming and acidifying ocean, organisms' ability to use chemoreception is often altered. Dogwhelks are important predators in their habitat, and if they are going to have a tougher time finding or choosing their prey, their impact on the habitat will change, possibly changing the ecology of the prey community. For example, if dogwhelks stop eating their preferred species of prey, e.g. the blue mussel, this species may become more abundant and compete more with others. 


Thursday, June 2, 2016

PhD Candidacy

Last week I passed my qualifying exam and this week I gave the public seminar that is the last step to advancing to candidacy. Now all I have to do to get a PhD is finish analyzing my data, do one more experiment, and write everything into one cohesive thesis!