We made it! This is the final week at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology for the REU interns. The summer has provided so many opportunities to each of us, in the form of gained skills and knowledge, new connections, and research credentials. I am incredibly grateful to have participated in this experience, and will certainly miss my fellow interns, my mentor, and the rest of my lab.
This week we presented our research in two settings. The first was a poster session, where we presented our research to the scientific community of Charleston, including the faculty and students of OIMB, members of the Charleston Marine Life Center (CMLC), and staff from the local ODFW station. Our posters were a way to graphically represent our projects, and to summarize our research. It was refreshing to have experts in marine science look over our research, and to ask questions and force us to critically think about the implications of that information. It was a good way to start a conversation about what our research really means. Several of us may also present our posters at scientific conferences in the near future. The second presentation was at the CMLC, where we conveyed our projects to visitors of the center, which was actually really fun. I brought several crabs with me and let visitors (mostly excited kids) help feed the crabs, while I told them about how crabs settle from larvae, the competition they experience, and their growth. It was busy, but fairly relaxed, and people were excited to learn about crabs.
Primarily, we (the interns) tried to spend as much time together as possible. This included several surfing sessions, and for many of us, it was our first time surfing. It’s something that I’ve meant to do my whole life, but have never had the opportunity to do before now. Jacob was willing to help us learn, and we were able to catch a few good waves and stand a couple of times. Spending time at the beach every day was a great way to end the summer here at the coast; we spend countless hours laying in the sand and soaking up the sun.
As excited as I am to go home, it is very hard to leave all of these fantastic people. It has been an amazing summer, and we’ve all become very good friends. I really admire and respect everyone I’ve come to know this summer. We plan to keep in contact, but life gets busy, and we’ll all be far away from each other. I’m sure everyone will go far in their careers, and I’m excited to see where life takes them.
I want to thank the National Science Foundation for making this experience possible, and especially to thank Aaron, Richard, Maya, MacKenna, and all of the other faculty involved in selecting us and providing such a fantastic program to do real science and research.
It’s been a pleasure, and as always, thanks for reading!
Week 8 is coming to a close, and with that, so is the last full weekend here at OIMB! The week has been a sort of continuation of last week’s crunch to finish collecting data, analyzing it, preparing figures, and putting together a scientific poster for presentation next week. Then, suddenly, our posters are finished (aside from minor revisions), our projects has concluded, and we have a chance to ask ourselves: What now? For myself, the work isn’t quite done. We concluded that although none of the dietary treatments seem to influence overall growth (carapace width), they do have an apparent effect on the amount of time between molts. Each of the meat diets exhibited relatively fast molt intervals overall, while neither the algae nor fecal pellet diets had any molts to the third instar. While that’s enough information to present on, it isn’t quite satisfactory in terms of the initial question: what is the real difference between each of the diets in terms of growth? Can crabs molt at all on a diet of algae or urchin pellets? My lab and I are working on ways to carry on the project after I’ve gone home. We would like to monitor the crabs through at least one more molt, and then analyze their fatty acid profiles to determine how they differ between treatments. This may help current or future researchers to determine what types of foods are making up the diets of wild Dungeness crabs.
Aside from preparing for posters, we (the REU interns and the rest of OIMB) attended the annual Invertebrate Ball. Party-goers dressed as a variety of marine invertebrates, and participated in a runway-style contest that included awards for categories such as Most Anatomically Correct, LEAST Anatomically Correct (new category, created specifically for the “Muscle Bed” bros), Best Group Costume, Best “Strut,” and Best Pun. The costumes were amazing, and most were hilarious. Kaz, Kaitlyn, Leela, Nico, Elena and I dressed as a chain of salps, which are pelagic tunicates forming long chains of connected tubes. Though Salp-Squad had a well-coordinated group costume, it was hard to compete with Chiton-Crew, who won the Best Group Costume Award. We were awarded “Best in House.” It was a great time, and definitely embodied all of the good-natured, fun aspects of living at OIMB.
Realizing that we only have a week left together, the REU interns have been trying to spend as much time together as possible, and are trying to go to all of the places we’ve been meaning to all summer. On Saturday we explored Golden and Silver Falls State Natural Area, which features two gorgeous waterfalls that are fairly easy to access. It also happened to be the first time we had seen the sun in nearly two weeks. I feel very lucky to be involved with a group of such amazing people, and I’m looking forward to seeing where their careers and lives take them in the future.
Thanks for reading!
Seven weeks down, two more to go! Things have really turned up in intensity this week as deadlines for our projects are fast approaching. We’ve begun finalizing our data collection, and are well into analyzing our results to determine what we can from our data. So far, my results seem to indicate that while juvenile crabs can certainly be sustained on diets of either algae or sea urchin feces, these diets do not result in growth equivalent to the various meat treatments being tested. This is likely due to the protein and fat concentrations of the diets; we attempted to run nutrient analyses last week on the food types, but were unable to complete them. However, based on the results of the experiment so far, we can infer that algae and fecal pellets do not have the nutrient density to compete with meat in promoting growth in juvenile Dungeness crabs. This is evident in the fact that while almost all of the individuals from the clam, crab, and fish treatments have molted into their third instar, none of the crabs from the “vegetarian” diets have, despite appearing relatively healthy and active. Hopefully at least a few will molt in the next few days so that I can make some comparisons between the groups.
We took a group trip last weekend to Newport, OR to visit the Hatfield Marine Science Center, Oregon State University’s marine biology campus. We got a “backstage” tour of the center and surrounding labs, and we learned about the structure of the marine biology programs for students, current and past work conducted at HMSC, and plans for future projects and between HMSC and other organizations such as NOAA. The visitor’s center is awesome; along with touch pools, interactive exhibits, and featured fish and marine invertebrates, the center has exhibits on marine geology, fossils, and Oregon Coast history. Afterwards, we visited the Newport Aquarium, which was super fun but very busy. The drive to and from Newport was gorgeous; taking the Coastal Highway (101) is always exciting and full of amazing views.
This weekend was busier than last, as we are all trying to scramble to finish our projects and put together posters to present to the Coos Bay scientific community, which will occur in the final week here at OIMB. It’s been a whirlwind of a summer, and I’m excited to see the finished products of all of our work from the past two months!
Thanks for reading!
Week 6 is over! This means there are only three full weeks left in the program. Soon, it’ll be time to get busy compiling data into coherent figures, and attempting to untangle and interpret our results. I had been concerned that because of the time constraints, I wouldn’t be able to get a full molt cycle in with my crabs, but many of them have already started molting into their third instar. Interestingly, the only crabs to molt thus far have been individuals from the meat treatments- black rockfish, crab, and razor clam. Neither the algal nor fecal pellet treatment groups have undergone any molting into the third instar, which is unsurprising given their lower fat and protein contents. In any case, it’s exciting to know that I will have information to work with, and hopefully it will be useful in improving our understanding of the diets of juvenile Dungeness crabs.
This week, Leela and I (with the oversight of our lab post-doc, Julie) began conducting some pre-tests for analyzing the nutritive content of each of the diets for the Dungeness feeding trial. We were working with algae only, just to get a handle on preparing these kinds of tests. We want to determine the protein, lipid, and carbohydrate contents of each of the foods to inform us about the quality of each as a food source. Hopefully, this will help us to make predictions about the effects of each on the growth of juvenile Dungeness. Setting up the tests feels very “science-y,” and actually involves a fair bit of chemistry, which got us to scratching our heads for a bit trying to work out some conversion factors for our protein analysis. It’s cool getting to see how the subjects we study in school are actually applied to our research projects.
I wanted to give a shoutout this week to the graduate students here at OIMB; each of them have been instrumental in answering our (the REU interns) questions, helping us problem-solve, and showing us new ways to approach our projects. They also took time out of their schedules this week to meet with us and give us the rundown on applying to graduate school, what we should expect, and tips on writing applications and getting letters of recommendation. It was a super open, conversational discussion that was extremely helpful to have. It’s been awesome to have them around, and to have their encouragement and the reminder that yes, research and grad school are hard and can be frustrating, but you aren’t alone, and nobody really knows what they’re doing anyways. So, thank you to Reyn, Zofia, Mike, Kara, Ella, Nicole, Alexa, MacKenna, and Carly for all of your help and guidance!
Hello, readers! This is the end of week five, marking the halfway point of the internship here at OIMB! This summer has given me so many opportunities to conduct meaningful research, explore scientific questions, learn valuable skills, and make fantastic connections both with my fellow interns and the researchers here on campus. I am extremely thankful to be here. It’s sad knowing that it’s already halfway over, but it also means that questions are being answered, and real data is hopefully just around the corner.
This week, I began some preliminary trials to determine typical consumption rates for juvenile Dungeness crabs; in other words, how much do they eat on a regular basis? This is important in determining how much of a given food is required to sustain that crab. This applies to each of the five diet types that I’m testing, each of which have different nutritional quality, and may influence the growth of the crabs in different ways. To test this, a set amount of food will be dried and weighed, then fed to the crabs, and then the remaining food (after 24 hours) will be dried and weighed again, and the difference (minus what is lost to deterioration) is the amount they eat. This will help us to understand how much of each type of food the crabs need, and may give clues as to the types of food they prefer. More on this next week!
We attended a seminar this Wednesday on the early life history of fish in the Pacific Northwest, presented by Dr. Rick Brodeur of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The talk detailed how fluctuations in ocean currents and temperatures affect populations of marine fish such as rockfish, salmon, sardines, and many others, as well as the distribution of fish eggs and larvae in the ocean. Dr. Brodeur also showed us images taken from the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System, a brilliant device which is used to conduct large scale surveys over huge areas by being dragged behind a vessel and various depths. The submersible captures 17 images each second by refracting light off of a mirror and taking a picture of the shadow of whatever passes through the light. It does so without capturing them, making it a very useful tool for surveying without removing animals from their environment.
Leela and I were invited to join our mentor Aaron Galloway on the R/V Pluteus, as he and his post-doc Julie Schram tested the boat as a diving platform here in Coos Bay. They were joined by a dive safety officer from Oregon State. This was a really cool experience; Leela and I were simply there to observe, but we were also able to assist moving gear around and helping the dive team suit up. This was a very good introduction to the nuances of diving, which relies on numerous factors, such as the swell of the waves, the locations of undercurrents, the condition of the tides, etc. It was nice to get a first-hand experience watching people who have dived many times in the past, without having to go into the water myself. As much as I want to do that, it is critical for me to understand the many factors that influence dive conditions before I try to put on a wet suit. They did see some cool things, though, including several large rockfish, huge barnacles, and equally large purple sea urchins. Hopefully I’ll be able to experience that in the future!
Thanks for reading!
Week four has come to an end! This puts us at nearly halfway through our summer internship; research is fully underway by this point. All of my crabs have now molted, which means that I can begin tracking the molt intervals for each treatment. Like many other crustaceans, Dungeness crabs experience growth in a sort of step-wise pattern, rather than linearly. This is due to the presence of their shells, which are calcified tissues; between molts, these animals build mass within their shells, becoming more "packed" inside because their exoskeleton is mostly inflexible. When they are ready to molt, they expand their bodies, opening their old carapace and sliding out of it like a pair of coveralls. When they emerge, they are larger than their previous exoskeleton (some of my crabs increased more than 40% in width!), but are also soft and vulnerable until their new shells harden. However, molting frequently is still advantageous for juveniles, as size can be an important factor in determining whether an individual will be preyed upon by members of its own cohort (age group). Bigger individuals in later instar stages (stages between molts) are more likely to prey on smaller individuals from previous instar stages, even among the same cohort. Because crabs settle in such high densities, avoiding larger members of ones cohort can be difficult, so the ability to forage for food opportunistically to promote growth may be advantageous for juvenile crabs, which is why the question that I'm asking (whether different diets influence growth and molt rates) is so interesting to me. However, collecting data on growth (because crabs do not grow linearly) depends on whether they molt again in the next five weeks. As a contingency plan, there are other related questions that can be investigated, such as: will these crabs, which are generally aggressive, still attack and cannibalize each other if there is an ample supply of food that isn't what they are normally accustomed to consuming, such as algae or urchin pellets? This could explain some preference behaviors of crabs of this age. Or: how does organic composition- protein, fat, and carbohydrate concentration- differ between the crabs from each dietary treatment? This could be used in the future as an index for identifying components of the diets of other crabs.
Our seminar this week focused on the phylogeny of a few types of algae- meaning their relative position on the “Tree of Life.” The speaker, Rick Zeckman, is a professor at Humboldt University, and has been studying various types of algae for a majority of his career. This talk focused on several deep-sea algae (>60ft depths) and their position on the Tree, including giving them a potential new order of their own, called Palmophyllales.
We drove to Eugene on Friday and visited the Museum of Natural and Cultural History and biology department laboratories on the University of Oregon campus. We toured the labs in the Institute of Ecology and Evolution, and learned about some of the interesting research that goes on there. The museum contained a variety of fossils from Oregon's history, including an ancient Ammonite shell, a casting of a giant sloth skeleton (shown above), and a jawbone of a mastodon found in Salem (my hometown!) that dates back to the end of the last Ice Age. Speaking of which, it was also nice to get back into the Willamette valley where it was a little sunnier and warmer than out here at the coast.
As always, thanks for reading!
Hello again, readers! Happy post-Independence Day (and Canada Day, for our friends to the north)! Monday marked the beginning of my trial looking at the effects of diets on growth and molt intervals in juvenile Dungeness crabs; setup seemed straightforward, as it included finishing labeling the sixty-five containers to hold the crabs, moving the crabs into them, taking pictures of each crab, and then feeding them. However, this turned out to be a more grueling task than anticipated; after putting in 14+ hours of work in the lab and going to bed around midnight on Monday, I was extremely grateful to have most of the day off on Tuesday. OIMB hosted a large picnic and barbecue at Sunset Bay, which included delicious food and a surprising amount of volleyball. In the evening, we went to Coos Bay to watch fireworks on the boardwalk. For those of you who have not experienced fireworks in a coastal city, it is definitely worth checking out. It was a fantastic show.
This week also included a half-day dredging trip on the R.V. Pluteus, OIMB's research vessel. Though several of us experienced some sea-sickness, the trip was a great experience, and we found a wide variety of marine organisms on the ocean floor at depths between 80 and 200 feet, including several sea cucumbers, large basket stars, a leather star, numerous live sand dollars, sponges, and a small octopus! It is interesting to see how the diversity at the bottom differs based not only on depth, but also on substrate type (sandy as opposed to rocky). Not surprisingly, the rocky bottom at greater depths supported a much wider variety of life, whereas the sandy substrate contained mostly sand dollars.
On Wednesday, we had lunch with the manager of South Slough Estuarine Reserve and grilling her with questions on everything from work experience to deciding on a major and applying to grad school. We also listened to a talk on the use of professional media (including Twitter, believe it or not) in networking with peers and other researchers in a variety of scientific settings. To end the day, we attended a seminar on “mating choices in promiscuous fish,” which informed us about the reasons behind the preferences of various fish species in choosing their mates. As it turns out, fish can be very choosy; this may be genetically determined, or may have more to do with coloration and size of potential mates, and may be influenced by social cues. In species such as salmon, which essentially engage in “spawning frenzies,” preferential mating can be difficult to document, which is where the use of genetic tools comes in extremely useful.
The rest of the week primarily consisted of monitoring my experiment, and adjusting the diets or tank conditions based on observations. All seemed to be going well until I came into the lab Friday morning to discover that twenty of my crabs were immobile on their backs. The exact cause was unknown, but may be due to a problem in one of the meat diet treatments. I’ve changed their food and started using filtered water with more aeration. Hopefully nothing like this will happen again. It’s frustrating and discouraging to have major die-offs, but it is an inherent part of the experimental process. Here’s to discovering flaws early, and to better experimental design!
Thanks for reading. Cheers!
Experimental Design: It can be a Crabshoot
Hello again, readers! June is over, and summer is starting in earnest! This marks the end of the second week in the REU program here at OIMB. This week was filled primarily with deciding on and designing our projects for the rest of the term. There are so many ways to approach the subject of trophic ecology; essentially the “who-eats-who” of an ecosystem. One of the common questions is: how do energy and nutrients get from the place where they enter the ecosystem all the way up to the higher levels of the food web? In terrestrial ecosystems, the trend can be a bit more straightforward; plants capture sunlight, and use carbon dioxide gas and water to produce sugars and other molecules which they use to build their bodies. Primary consumers (herbivores) such as bugs, deer, birds, or other herbivorous animals eat those plants, and are then eaten by secondary consumers, and so on up the food web.
In marine ecosystems, this pattern tends to vary somewhat, though follows the same general pattern. In coastal ecosystems, energy enters as sunlight and is captured primarily by algae and photosynthetic plankton. How this energy gets distributed may follow a similar pattern as mentioned before, though can become a bit more convoluted. Many types of marine animals eat algae, but also eat each other; there tend to be a lot of opportunistic behaviors, especially when the presence of algae or other primary production is low. Some animals, such as the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, consume algae but tend to be “messy eaters” meaning they shred the food particles into small pieces, which are much more accessible to small animals such as snails or developing crabs. Their waste might also be enriched in nutrients such as nitrogen or phosphorous. Thus, the waste from urchins (primarily their poop), and perhaps even the algae itself, might be an important food source for young crabs, providing some of the essentials needed for growth in their juvenile stages until they are large enough to eat other things. I plan to study how different diets- such as different types of meat, algae, and sea urchin waste- affect growth rates in juvenile Dungeness crabs (Cancer magister).
This week we also attended a seminar on the synthesis of art and science, exploring topics such as science communication, biological illustration, and the ways that science inspires art, and vice versa. The week also included a LOT of tidepools; searching for and collecting some specimens for projects, learning about the ways that the structure and location of tidepools influence what is there, and just exploring the beautiful places the Oregon coast has to offer, such as the Cape Arago Lighthouse (below), Sunset Bay, and Bastendorff Beach. Several students were able to find an octopus, though I wasn’t there for that (sad day).
Now, at the end of the week, I’m preparing to begin the six-week experiment collecting data on Dungeness crab growth. The question has become: how do I fit 75 crabs in containers in a small water table while making sure they all have adequate water flow, oxygen, and space, without any cross-contamination? More on that to come.
Thanks for reading!
Hey, readers! My name is Zade Clark-Henry. I'm from Salem, Oregon, and I'm an undergraduate student majoring in Natural Resources at Oregon State University, with an emphasis ecological studies, specifically forest ecosystems and ecological restoration. I'm interested in all types of science, but especially life sciences, and within that I'm most interested in ecological interactions between organisms. My non-academic interests include playing music, hiking, camping, exploring, kayaking, reading, and drinking tasty espresso.