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REU Intern Sara Gholson

Our REU interns are back at their respective colleges after a busy summer of independent research here at LUMCON. Over the past ten weeks, they presented a project proposal, designed a scientific study and progressed through the “try-tweak-redo-repeat” process that is the scientific method! Each intern presented his or her research at a student symposium on August 11th, in Cocodrie.

 

Sara Gholson is a rising senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL majoring in marine science. She is an active member of the college’s Marine Science Club that promotes education and volunteer work on campus and in the community. As a Florida native, Sara grew up going to beaches, aquariums and nature reserves and was taught to observe and learn from the world around her. She knew from a young age that she wanted to pursue a future in science because it allowed her to explore, experiment, and ask questions.

Sarah with chainsaw
Sara assisting the McClain lab with project prep at LUMCON

Sara found the REU program through a simple Google search and was drawn in by the possibility of independent research in any number of new locations. LUMCON’s unique locale in the marshes of southeastern Louisiana was particularly attractive to her. Sara’s research was an offshoot of a larger project led by LUMCON’s Executive Director and faculty member Dr. Craig McClain. Dr. McClain’s lab collected deep-sea samples while on a scientific cruise for his Gulf Wood Fall project (http://craigmcclain.com/?page_id=423) in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this summer. Her project focused on examining the community of macrofauna (small invertebrates that live on or in sediment) within sediment cores taken on the aforementioned cruise. Large numbers of cores were taken within feet of each other and yet there were drastically different populations of organisms in each sediment sample. Sara explained that diversity in sediment grain size and unpredictable additions of nutrients create microhabitats that allow for increased diversity of macrofauna. Although there are still more questions than answers regarding the deep sea, scientists are beginning to understand how and why microhabitats form at depth and what factors contribute to both their longevity and fragility (Google “patch mosaic hypothesis” for more details).

Sarah at microscope
Sara would identify, record, and sketch macrofauna from each sediment core

Sara plans to attend graduate school after her graduation from Eckerd and sees herself pursuing research positions in coastal or deep-sea invertebrates. “I find invertebrates to be fantastic indicators of an ecosystem’s health so I would like to further study their roles in the environment as bio-indicators,” she explained. With these plans in mind, the REU program also provided Sara with opportunities to hone her professional skills as each intern had to develop their own research proposal and then formally present their findings in a scientific symposium setting. Sara believes these skills are just as valuable as the research experience as she begins to think about career paths.

Sarah microscope close up
A close up of the invertebrates found within a sediment core

When asked about her favorite aspect of being in Cocodrie, Sara said: “I love how beautiful coastal Louisiana is and how the marsh surrounds the LUMCON facility. I find this area so peaceful and untamed that I believe it’s the perfect area for the most natural marine research possible.”

 

Look for more profiles here and on CWC and LUMCON social media!

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REU Intern Ashley McDonald

Our REU interns are back at their respective colleges after a busy summer of independent research here at LUMCON. Over the past ten weeks, they presented a project proposal, designed a scientific study and progressed through the “try-tweak-redo-repeat” process that is the scientific method! Each intern presented his or her research at a student symposium on August 11th, in Cocodrie.

Ashley McDonald is a rising senior at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. She is majoring in marine science with a minor in Italian and is an active member of the college’s Marine Science Club. Growing up in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, Ashley strived to learn and understand as much as she could. “I have always wanted to understand how and why things work. Ever since I was in preschool, I wanted to know as much as I could about the world around me and science allows me to do that”.

Ashley and Jordan - edit
Ashley (right) and colleague Jordan Logarbo in the field

Ashley learned about the REU program through her mentor at Eckerd and applied to the LUMCON site because of the unique location and possible research topics. “I chose LUMCON because it gave me opportunities that other programs did not. I have become interested in wetlands, restoration, and mangroves and coming to live in the middle of a wetland seemed like a great place to be,” Ashley explained. Her project, under the guidance of Dr. Brian Roberts and his post-doc Dr. Anthony Reitl, examined how Gulf ribbed mussels affect the productivity of marsh cordgrass and the shared soil. From a restoration standpoint, a positive relationship between these two species could be beneficial for the larger ecosystem. Both ribbed mussels and cordgrass are shown to act as soil stabilizers and may prevent, or at least slow down, shoreline erosion. Ashley hopes her time at LUMCON will prepare her for a possible future in research or academia. “I’ve been able to experience theory in my classes, but actually being able to ask and answer questions myself is something else entirely”. She plans to go onto graduate school after finishing at Eckerd in the spring but is still figuring out those details.

Ashley on marsh edge
Ashley (left) with mentors Dr. Reitl and Dr. Roberts collecting blue mussels in the marsh

When asked about her favorite aspect of being in Cocodrie, Ashley said: “I love watching the sunset on the back deck behind the building. It’s the perfect way to end the day!”

 

Look for more profiles here and on CWC and LUMCON social media!

 

REU Intern Katie Ebinger

Our REU interns are back at their respective colleges after a busy summer of independent research here at LUMCON. During their internship, they presented a project proposal, designed a scientific study and progressed through the “try-tweak-redo-repeat” process that is the scientific method! Each intern presented his or her research at a student symposium on August 11th, in Cocodrie.

Katie Ebinger is a rising junior at the University of Colorado – Boulder majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. She is an active member of her residence hall council and volunteers with EcoReps to bring more sustainable practices to residence halls on the CU campus. While working at a nature preserve near her home town of Palo Alto, CA, Katie discovered that restoration ecology would allow her to marry her desire to protect the planet with her love of being outdoors. Ecological restoration is defined as an “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respects to its health, integrity and sustainability” (The Society of Ecological Restoration) and may include actions such as the removal of non-native species and weeds, reintroduction of native species, erosion control, and reforestation. In an effort to fully explore this field, Katie got a job in a lab on campus that studies how some plants have particular traits that make them effective tools for restoration.

Katie on marsh edge
Katie and Dr. Roberts collecting samples along the marsh edge. Photo by Dr. Virginia Schutte.

Katie found the REU program through an ecology listserv called ECOLOG and applied to our program because of our unique location. “I chose LUMCON because I like how here, at the edge of the marsh, land mixes with the sea and the interconnectedness of all organisms is so evident,” she explained. Katie’s project involved Gulf ribbed mussels and their role in shoreline restoration. The thought is that mussels act as a stabilizing agent along marsh edges and are able to deposit key nutrients into the soil to promote plant growth and increase microbial abundance.  Under the mentorship of CWC co-PI Dr. Brian Roberts and his post-doc Dr. Ariella Chelsky, Katie hoped to gain perspective on what it means to be a research scientist and build confidence when conducting field and lab work. “Ultimately, I hope to conduct research in habitat restoration and continue the work of current scientists to make restoration more effective and feasible”.

ribbed mussel
Gulf ribbed mussel. Photo by Dr. Virginia Schutte.

When asked about her favorite aspect of being in Cocodrie, Katie said: “I love the scale of the landscape here. When it’s so open like this, it reminds me of the vastness of our planet.”

Look for more profiles here and on CWC and LUMCON social media!