UTMSI faculty have a range of expertise in coastal processes. Some examples of potential research projects include:
- Dr. Edward Buskey’s research focuses on zooplankton ecology. Students working with Dr. Buskey will have the opportunity to learn plankton culturing methods, and to carry out laboratory based studies using high speed video, video-computer motion and image analysis systems, image intensifiers and photon counters for quantifying bioluminescence, and an imaging flow cytometer (FlowCAM). Dr Buskey is also the Research Coordinator for the new Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve (MANERR), so students working in his lab that are interested in field studies can take advantage of weekly field trips to Aransas and Copano Bays to service monitoring equipment and collect plankton samples. Students involved in these trips would learn how to calibrate YSI data sondes and work with radio and satellite data telemetry systems. This monitoring data can then be applied to their specific field studies. Students working with Dr. Buskey could carry out research projects in a number of areas, including studies of (1) bioluminescence in planktonic marine organisms, (2) behavior and sensory perception of marine zooplankton or (3) the role of zooplankton grazers in harmful algal bloom dynamics.
- Dr. Deana Erdner’s work focuses on the physiological ecology of marine microbes, primarily eukaryotic phytoplankton but including cyanobacteria and bacteria. More specifically, her work seeks to apply and integrate molecular methods with traditional ecological techniques to understand the factors that effect the distribution of marine microbes in the environment. REU students in Dr. Erdner’s lab would learn field sampling, measurement of physical and chemical conditions, molecular techniques, and computer-based genetic data analysis. Furthermore, Dr. Erdner has ongoing projects in both the Laguna Madre and Mission-Aransas ecosystems, which would provide great context for development of REU projects. Specific REU projects might include (1) investigation of nitrogen assimilation in the harmful alga Aureoumbra lagunensis, also known as the Texas Brown Tide, (2) characterization of planktonic picoeukaryote communities along estuarine gradients, and (3) population biology of the toxic dinoflagellate Gambierdiscus.
- Dr. Lee Fuiman’s work focuses on the behavioral and sensory capabilities of fish larvae using both laboratory and field experiments. Much of Dr. Fuiman’s work involves frame-by-frame motion analysis of high-speed video. This approach has led to important insights into the change in vulnerability of larvae to predators during early life. Behavioral studies are combined with detailed assessments of changing sensory and locomotor morphology to understand how behavior may be constrained during development. An important part of the ongoing work involves exploring seasonal variability in escape responses of larval fishes, and the effects of environmental variables (e.g., temperature and salinity) on larval capabilities. REU students working in the Fuiman Lab would learn a number of techniques for studying the behavior of early life history stages of marine fishes. Specific projects might focus on (1) seasonal variability of escape performance of fish larvae (2) effects of early-life thermal experience on fish behavior or (3) sensory ecology of larval fish.
- Dr. James McClelland’s work focuses on the transport and fate of water, nutrients, and organic matter from land through coastal ecosystems. Much of this work emphasizes human impacts on the coastal environment. To identify and explore changes in land-sea coupling, Dr. McClelland uses a wide variety of approaches including analysis of historic data sets, field studies of biogeochemical cycling and constituent transport, and modeling. His field studies often take advantage of stable isotopes and other natural markers to track the fate of water, nutrients and organic matter. REU students working with Dr. McClelland would be trained in these approaches and encouraged to use one or more of them in local studies of land-sea coupling. Dr. McClelland is currently working on projects in the Nueces, Mission-Aransas, and San Antonio-Guadalupe systems that would provide excellent context for development of REU projects. Specific projects that students might pursue are (1) GIS-based analysis of relationships between land use and water chemistry in south Texas watersheds using data from state and local archives, (2) sampling and analysis of nutrient profiles along salinity gradients in local estuaries, and (3) examination of relationships between stable N and C isotope ratios in estuarine biota and watershed sources of nutrients and organic matter.
- Dr. Dong-Ha Min’s main research interest is ocean observation of physical and chemical characteristics on coastal to global scales by utilizing various analytical techniques. Locally, Dr. Min maintains a variety of sensors on the UTMSI research pier in the Aransas Pass tidal inlet and he is also characterizing hydrographic conditions in south Texas bays and estuaries. REU students working with Dr. Min will have the opportunity to develop projects such as (1) analysis of water and chemical exchange processes between the Gulf of Mexico and interior waters through the Aransas Pass inlet, (2) comparison of hydrographic characteristics in the Laguna Madre versus bays northeast of Port Aransas that receive greater freshwater input such as Copano Bay and Aransas Bay, or (3) analysis of atmospheric trace gases such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) at a relatively pristine marine air site.
- Dr. Chris Shank’s research interests include dissolved organic matter cycling, marine photochemistry, and the optical characteristics of coastal waters. Understanding the spectral characteristics of coastal waters is important because the penetration of solar radiation through the water column, including both ultraviolet and visible light, influences seagrass habitats, controls primary production, regulates chemical reactions, and affects predator-prey interactions. REU students working with Dr. Shank will have the opportunity to develop projects that explore the dynamics of optical characteristics in south Texas coastal waters and investigate how variability in the light field influences dissolved organic matter cycles. The student will learn both observational and analytical laboratory procedures that include water column optical profiling (using a spectroradiometer) and laboratory based chemical and spectrophotometric analyses. Specific projects might focus on (1) in-situ analyses of optical properties of coastal waters near Port Aransas, including daily profiles at the UTMSI research pier, (2) examining how solar UV radiation chemically alters dissolved organic matter in south Texas coastal waters and (3) investigating into exchange of dissolved organic matter between local estuaries and offshore Gulf of Mexico waters. It is anticipated that by examining optical characteristic and dissolved organic matter dynamics over the course of 10 consecutive weeks, students will have the opportunity to observe the resiliency of south Texas coastal ecosystems to episodic flooding events.