‘De una Isla a Otra’ (From One Island to the Next)

¡Hola a todos! My name is Adriana Guzmán Domínguez (Yes, I have two last names) and I study in the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao, where I am currently pursuing a degree in Coastal Marine Biology, with minors in Microbiology and Chemistry. I’ll be starting my fourth year this fall, but I’m not graduating yet, still have lots to learn! I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and although I am an islander, my love for the ocean actually sparked in the United States, even though I always loved the beaches in PR. I visited an aquarium, where I fell IN LOVE with marine creatures. I was around 6 years old, so this passion has been going strong for a lot of years. As the years passed, I kept learning of the many branches of science that the ocean can bring us, and so I am brought to a struggle as to define my next focus in my academic (graduate) career, but I know its rests with the oceans and anything I can do to conserve and protect them. I had been looking for new opportunities where I could submerge myself into as much marine science as I could get, so this experience will definitely be an exciting one full of learning and discovery.
I will be working in Dr. Deana Erdner’s lab, which focuses on phytoplankton, and studies its interactions with bacteria. We will be focusing on the phytoplankton-attached bacteria, to find out and understand who is there, why are they there, and what they’re doing. But to be able to analyze these organisms and their interactions, we must separate them from everything else that exists in seawater, and that’s where I come in. My experiment is to find an efficient way to separate phytoplankton, specifically diatoms and dinoflagellates from every other particulate in the water. Our idea is to separate them using density gradients, where each group of organisms would fall on different parts of these gradients.
This is the longest I’ve ever been away from Puerto Rico, and my first time being without family or friends around, so I’ve been adapting a little more slowly than everyone else, (I had a little cultural shock) and because English is not my native tongue, I get a bit lost in translation, but this makes it an ever greater learning experience. Port Aransas is nice, nothing like I thought Texas would be (but we are on an island) and everyone here, all of my roommates and those who work here has been super friendly (which was something I was nervous about) but I am starting to like it here.  I am excited to see where this experience will take me, as I know it’s going to be a journey filled with personal and academic growth, and some new experiences with new friends that I’ll remember forever. From one island to the next, there’s always a new story to tell.

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Is island life the best life? This islander says yes!

Hey everyone, My name is Kwame Forbes from St. Thomas USVI and I attend college at the University of the Virgin Islands. I am a third-year biology student who is interested in going to graduate school for marine science. Born and raised on an island, I have had the pleasure of being within walking distance to the beach all my life.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be working with a well published marine scientist like Dr. Fuiman this summer on the rearing of pigfish. Pigfish is a common baitfish found and used throughout the coastal waters of the southeastern United States. Their short time required to reach market size (3-4 months), and high consumer demand make them an excellent choice for aquaculture. The aim of the my study is to add to the knowledge of rearing larval pigfish by finding out which water condition(s) are most beneficial to their survival, growth, and digestive enzyme activity. Data generated from this study could lead to an increase in native stocks of pigfish by providing a year-round supply of pigfish which can increase fishing opportunities creating a larger income for the local fish industry.

Before this program I have never heard of aquaculture but being here I have learned a lot.  And who know maybe I can introduce it to my island.

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Phytoplankton are Cool, And not the Plankton form the Spongbob

Hi, my name’s Charles. I live in Jackson,MS, and I just completed my first year at Rice University.  I am  majoring in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (this is one major and also a mouthful) with a possible minor in Environmental Studies.

I’m extremely excited to be here in Port Aransas as a part of the 2017 REU program. This summer I will be working in Dr. Erdner’s lab. My project this summer relates to algal microbiome, more specifically the relationship between phytoplankton and bacteria attached to them. In the ocean bacteria exist as free-living organisms and also as attached organisms. These attached bacteria can live connected detritus, or connected to other organisms such as phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton, commonly referred to as algae, are one of the major producers of the ocean. Although it is known that these organism live in close proximity, not much is known about their relationship and possible symbiosis. This summer I am going to try to bridge this gap in knowledge by analyzing sequence data from several algal communities and comparing this sequence data to physiological data from these cultures.

This my first time working with phytoplankton, so I am extremely anxious to get into the lab and start my work. I have done research before, in high school but it focused more on how the bacteria related to human health. My project also involves statistical analysis with software that I am not familiar with, so it will be interesting to learn it. I’m excited to get started on my project and I am looking forward to the rest of the summer at UT MSI.

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A Mid-Westerner Sweating in Texas for Science

Hey guys, my name is Ally Savoie and I am from Dayton, Ohio where I attend Wright State University. This upcoming fall I will be a senior and will be graduating in the spring (WOOH!). I major in Earth & Environmental Science with a concentration in Environmental Science, which basically means I prefer to study water and plants instead of rocks. I have always been in love with traveling and being around the water, which is a good thing because I work at a pool, swim for Wright State, and study nitrogen in different aquatic ecosystems in a lab back at Wright State. I really enjoy biology and chemistry and I feel that my project this summer combines those two subjects in perfect balance.

I’m very excited to be working with Dr. McClelland this summer on studying phytoplankton communities in the Aransas River’s tidal freshwater zone. We will be using three different methods to look at the communities in this zone including flow cytometry, size fractionation with chlorophyll and phycobiliproteins, and microscope examination. I will also be working on a small side project related to nitrogen uptake and regeneration. This is pretty exciting research because there hasn’t been a lot of studies done in this area or these zones so we’re not really sure what to expect yet.

So far the program has been a really awesome experience since I have never been to Texas or gotten to really work on my own research project. The other students have all been super helpful and supportive, which is a huge relief since I didn’t know how I would like living in a dorm around people all the time. Things have been pretty hectic from the start but on the plus side, I’ve already gotten a pretty rad tan.

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Reconstructing Chronologies through Tree Ring Increments

Hey y’all! My name is Aileen Qin. I attend Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, but I am originally from Houston, Texas. I love Texas and the Gulf Coast with all my heart and I am so excited to be here in Port Aransas!

I will be working with Dr. Bryan Black on a project involving tree and geoduck chronologies and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, or PDO. The PDO is kind of like the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) in that they are both cyclic climatic fluctuations of sea surface temperature, pressure, and wind direction. These fluctuations have prodigious impacts on oceanic nutrient cycling, tropical cyclone occurrence, and weather conditions on land. This in turn affects fisheries, forest fire occurrence, tourism, vegetation growth, and safety for people in North America.

Though chronologies of the PDO have been recreated through tree increments, there is little agreement between the timelines on what the PDO may have looked like before the 1900s. The goal of Dr. Black’s lab for the next three years is to create a multi proxy timeline using geoduck chronologies and tree ring data so that patterns of the PDO may be studied further and the effects of current changes in climate can be seen. I will be helping by cleaning and running statistical analyses on tree ring data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. I will compare the chronologies to the 20-30 year pattern the PDO is on to see if/how the signal has changed over previous centuries according to the tree rings.

Admittedly, it was a little hard to get excited about the PDO initially, but after Dr. Black explained how important it was and how revolutionary the research we are doing is, I’m super excited to start working! I’m also kind of excited I don’t have to get my hands too dirty since I’m just going to be sorting through online databases. It’s definitely hard work, but it’s not messy. I’m a little bit of a princess (though I would be willing to get my hands dirty I promise!), so it’s a relief to be sitting in an air conditioned lab even if it means sorting through thousands of data sets. I can’t wait to see what I stumble upon!

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Tracking Sheepshead Growth and Spawning in the Gulf of Mexico

Hey! My name is Samantha Vanderhoof, I mostly go by Sam and I am from New Jersey.  I’m an upcoming junior at Stockton University. I first attended community college for a year as a biology major but after one year transferred to Stockton to pursue a degree in Marine Biology. For the longest time, I thought I would go to college to be a teacher in math or science, but in seventh grade I became enthralled with the ocean. I always enjoyed going to the beach, but as I got older and learned of the dangers the marine organisms face due to our life styles I choice to become a marine biologist. After I graduate I hope to work in conservation and outreach to teach other people about the dangers of plastics and chemical runoff has on the animals and the water itself, and try to preserve the biodiversity in the ocean. The other REU students are super friendly its been great so far hanging out and getting to know everyone

I am super excited to have gotten accepted to this REU to conduct research on how age and growth correlate in Sheepshead fish here in the Gulf of Mexico at UTMSI. I will be working with Dr. Erisman and his lab team to determine the age of hundreds of sheepsheads by examining each individual’s fish’s otolith. An otolith is an ear bone that is in a little sac in the fish’s head. Like a tree trunk an otolith has rings that can be used to determine the age of the individual. To get an otolith, it needs to be extracted from the fish. Then it gets mounted on a wooden stick, and a cross section taken then placed under a microscope to view the rings. The length of all individuals is taken; all I need to do is put the right age with the right fish and length.

Not only will I be doing otolith analysis, I will also be assisting in determine what stage of reproduction the fish is in by looking at a section of its gonad. I have already read a few articles about studies similar to this one in different states, and can’t wait to get started in the lab.

Can’t wait to see how everyone’s research comes out, and the fun adventures that are ahead for all of us!!!

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Oh I better make this title good. I want everyone to read my post.

Hello darkness, my old friend. But no, really, hello everyone.

My name is Andrea Reynolds. I am a biochemistry and biotechnology major at Minnesota State University Moorhead. By credits I was considered a senior last semester, but I will graduate next May and I am very excited about that. I am a non-traditional student and have been working on my degree since 2011 so it’s been a long time coming. I am originally from Sioux Falls, SD but currently reside in Fargo, ND for school. (Fargo-Moorhead is one big metropolis separated by a river. You’d never know you’re even crossing the state borders). And no, Fargo is nothing like the movie.

I’ve always been enamored by the ocean and coming from the Midwest I was not exposed to it as much as I wish I could’ve been growing up. There’s nothing quite like an ocean view. I chose to apply to this REU because it was near the ocean and they had mentors who dealt in organic chemistry, which I think we can all agree is life’s greatest joy. Lately I had been thinking of pursuing a graduate degree in biogeochemical processes and anyway  I can apply that to the water is a plus. So this summer I will be working with Dr. Zhanfei Liu in his lab where he works to understand organic biogeochemical processes.

From what I understand so far, my project will revolve around a polypeptide called trileucine. Before I got here, one of the grad students in my lab, Kaijun Lu, discovered that trileucine might exist naturally in seawater. It’s not actually definitive yet of the structural makeup of this trileucine compound; it could be actual leucine-leucine-leucine or it could be some isomer. The first part of my project is to compare the sample taken from seawater and compare it to a stock standard of trileucine using LC/MS. If it turns out that it does in fact exist naturally in seawater, the second part of my project will be to observe how fast the compound degrades.

I am excited to apply organic in a more biochemical way. Previously I have done research with organic compound synthesis, which is also very interesting but there’s not much biology involved. I’m excited to use new machines, learn new techniques and apply classroom knowledge to real life science research.





I’ve done more fun things here already in the past week than I have done living in Fargo for the past two years. But maybe that’s not hard to do when you live in Fargo. We went kayaking on the Laguna Madre (I think that’s what it was) last week which was amazing because I love kayaking. All of the fellow REUs here are awesome and we’ve been getting along well. I’m finally getting the dorm experience I always missed out on because I was a non-traditional student. I always thought I would hate it but it’s actually not too bad. But when you have ocean views outside of your dorm, how bad can life be? I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer! Stay tuned!


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Science finally agreed with me!

I don’t even know how to even start with this last blog post. I learned so many things in this REU! Namely, I learned about the immense amount of thought that has to go into writing methods; every single little detail matters so much more than you initially thought it did. It took me like four tries to figure that out (five if you count my… experience with the ctenophores). Another important thing I learned was all the interesting careers and opportunities outside of academia and research. And all this time I’ve been thinking research was all that there was (thank goodness it’s not). All in all, it has been an absolutely beautiful and amazing summer filled with people I can truly say I will never forget. We had so many laughs and adventures and unexpected moments, it’s gonna be really, really hard to say goodbye to all of them tomorrow. Rest assured there will be plenty of waterworks. I’m gonna miss the MSI so much, I’m gonna miss Bella, the science dog so much, but most of all I’m gonna miss my REU fam! To finish my very last blog post here is my (modified) abstract:

Phytoplankton play a key ecological role as the base of the marine food web and as regulators of atmospheric carbon. However, little is known about the ways in which these organisms interact with petroleum-related compounds. In the face of this growing environmental problem, insights into phytoplankton-petroleum interactions has never been more important. In this study, we exposed Pyrocystis noctiluca, an open ocean dinoflagellate, to varying levels of crude oil, dispersant, and chemically dispersed oil, and evaluated its response in terms of growth rate and individual


The fam!!!!!! 

bioluminescent output. Given the toxicity of crude oil and dispersant, and its known effects on other plankton species, we hypothesized P. noctiluca to exhibit a decrease in growth rate and bioluminescent output as crude oil and dispersant concentrations increase. Additionally, we expected the dispersed oil treatment to have the strongest effect on P. noctiluca’s growth and bioluminescence. Our results show that crude oil in the form of the water accommodated fraction and dispersed oil both have an inhibitory effect on the growth of P. noctiluca, while dispersant only has an effect at extremely high concentrations. Bioluminescence was affected only by dispersed oil, which suggests that dispersed oil may affect the biochemistry of bioluminescence. We conclude that P. noctiluca is resistant to typical levels of dispersant used in the aftermath of an oil spill in both its growth and bioluminescence. However, our results suggest that this species is vulnerable to petroleum pollution at levels commonly found in the water column after a spill. Due to the threat that oil pollution presents and the importance of phytoplankton to marine ecosystems, it is imperative that we continue studying phytoplankton-oil interactions and effects.

Exito a todos!

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All summer 16, including sediment characteristics of the tidal freshwater zone!

lib group picThis summer has been a truly amazing learning experience that I will remember and cherish for years to come. I have met so many wonderful people at UTMSI and had the incredible opportunity to make great connections and friendships. I am sad today is my last day in Port Aransas, I will miss this campus, the staff, my mentors and fellow lab members and last but not least I will miss my REU family. I love you guys, thank you for all the amazing memories, without you this summer would have not been the same at all.

reu group picI learned so much in Amber Hardison and Jim McClelland’s lab this summer while working on my research project. With the help of my mentors and the grad students in my lab I successfully finished this summer by presenting my research. Below is a copy of the abstract used for my presentation in the REU research symposium: a summary of my research project and my findings. Cheers!

Tidal freshwater zones (TFZ) are understudied areas of rivers that experience tidal variations that swing between river and reservoir-like conditions. The TFZ often feature long residence time, slow flow rates, and even reverse flow directions. Such unique hydrodynamic conditions can affect nitrogen cycling within the zone profoundly, with possibly enhanced nitrogen transformation and removal in the interface between sediment and water. A lot of nitrogen cycling pathways take place in the sediment/water interface such as denitrification and remineralization. Thus, the physical characteristics of sediment, such as grain size distribution and porosity, may influence the organic content (OC) of sediments, which affect the cycling of nitrogen in the river. To understand the role of sediment-water processes in the transformation and removal of nitrogen in the TFZ, we 1) quantified grain size and porosity of sediments at five study sites along the TFZ in the Aransas and Mission rivers; 2) investigated how the physical characteristics of sediment could affect OC of sediments; 3) determined how OC varies spatially and seasonally within the TFZ.

group pic reu w deanaOur findings show the different geological characteristics in terms of grain size and porosity between both rivers. The sediments of the Mission get finer downstream. Carbon and nitrogen content follow similar pattern of grain size and porosity in both rivers. There is a strong correlation between the physical characteristics of the sediments and the organic content in the rivers. Mission has higher OC than Aransas, probably due to its higher sediment porosity. There is considerable spatial variability in the Aransas river. No obvious seasonal patterns of OC were found in the rivers. Overall, my result points out that physical characteristics of sediment have strong influence on OC which is important for respiration of microorganism communities. The data and the results of this study will be compiled with future research and thus provide a better understanding of the sediment/water interface and the nutrient cycling that occurs in the TFZ.


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My FIN-ished Summer Research Project

The last ten weeks of summer has passed by within a blink of an eye, it’s hard to believe that I’ll be leaving in the morning. This REU has been a wonderful experience and has taught me so much about research in marine science. In just these few short weeks, I got to explore a wide number of ways to study and research fisheries that I know I can use throughout my career. In addition, I got to meet so many amazing people who I’m so glad to call my coworkers, friends, and family. No matter where our careers take us, I know we will remain close and I can’t wait to see how successful everyone will be in the future!

Group Pic

Since my last blog post, my project has changed a little bit to accommodate my results. Below is my abstract that describes my new project and a summary of what I found. In addition, below are the two maps I created of the distributions of Spotted Seatrout and Silver Perch in relation to the size of their spawning aggregations and habitat type.

The fish family Sciaenidae has developed a unique adaptation of vocalizing to communicate during the process of reproduction. Two species of fish in this family are present in the estuaries surrounding Port Aransas, Texas—Spotted Seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) and Silver Perch (Bairdiella chrysoura). In these species, the male fish make vocalizations when they are actively spawning, releasing their sperm into the water column. In addition, both Silver Perch and Spotted Seatrout reproduce in spawning aggregations, or a dense gathering of fish that occurs when males and females alike are actively spawning at one time. These sites are important to study in particular because they are how most of the spawning in these fish species occurs and are vital to their reproductive success. We used passive acoustic technology to survey the surrounding bays of Port Aransas for spawning aggregations of Spotted Seatrout and Silver Perch. Once the fish were identified and quantified, I mapped the distribution of aggregations found during our sampling. I analyzed whether temperature, depth, salinity, and habitat type affect the presence of spawning aggregations for each species, as well as aggregations where both are present. Results found that temperature does affect the presence of spawning aggregations in both species and salinity was also found to have an effect on the likelihood of Spotted Seatrout and Silver Perch spawning together instead of in single-species aggregations. This study gives a greater understanding of where and how these two species of fish reproduce, which is important for ecological and conservation needs.

Silver Perch MapSpotted Seatrout Map

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