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Archive for Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar

Latino Conservation Week

Posted by: | July 19, 2018 | 3 Comments |

June 14 through the 22 is Latino Conservation Week. In the spirit of this week I will be participating in a twitter version of ask us anything. Learn about all the amazing for Latinos around the country are doing in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and in ocean conservation. Details: https://go.usa.gov/xUXgE 

To ask questions on twitter us the hashtag #LCWChat and #LCW2018

 

Here is a previous of some of the types of questions I have been answering:

 

What does the National Marine Sanctuary System mean to you?

Imagine if we had no Yellowstone or its iconic Old Faithful geyser and American bison, no Statue of Liberty or its history, no Grand Canyon that was carved into the red rock by the Colorado River. The national parks have helped ensure these special places will still be there for future generations to enjoy. That is what national marine sanctuaries do for special places that are underwater.

 

Sanctuaries help preserve and protect iconic coral reefs, protect nursery habitat essential for many fish and other marine life, preserve historic and culturally-important sites that are part of this nation’s history, and more. National marine sanctuaries help ensure that we will be able to enjoy these special places for generations to come and that we can continue to use these resources in a sustainable manner.

 

How do you help protect the ocean?

 

Here are a few of the way I try to help out the most:

I make sure to make sustainable seafood decisions. When buying any seafood, I make sure they were caught sustainably by either buying locally and asking the fishermen how they caught it (this of course requires a bit of research on what are sustainable fishing practices), or you can check through Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list or look for certified sustainable seafood by the Marine Stewardship Council.

I also make sure to try and recycle everything, and use least amount of plastics possible. For example I never buy disposable single-use plastic water bottles and always carry my refillable, reusable stainless steel water bottle. In my family we also use small mason jars and re-fill them with juice instead of buying juice boxes that also create a lot of waste, and have a few stainless steel straws at home which we use instead of plastic ones. We always use paper bags or reusable bags when going to the grocery store. It has been well documented that many marine life die because of ingesting plastic materials, such as plastic straws or plastic bags.

Beach clean-ups and dive clean-ups are also a great way I like to help out ocean. Every piece of plastic or other marine debris removed from our beaches and ocean make a huge difference. We are now learning about the effects of microplastics on our ocean, and just picking up one single-use plastic water bottle (which eventually breaks into thousands of microplastic pieces) can make a huge difference! Anyone can help pick up a few pieces of trash anytime they visit the beach.

 

How does your heritage inform your experience in the outdoors?

 

I grew up in Ecuador surrounded by amazing marine and aquatic ecosystems. Since I was quite young, I was drawn to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon region. Being part of this vast and unique biodiversity gave me an unbounded curiosity and enthusiasm for nature, for animals, and for our water resources. I saw their inherent beauty, and early on recognized what an important resource our waterways were to all living things and how much we owed them in return.

 

At a young age, I also realized that there were issues troubling our ocean, and it was then that I made it my goal to dedicate my life to finding ways to protect them. When I was little, my mom would take me to the beach in Ecuador, and I remember always going to the fishermen’s boats as they would come in early in the morning after spending all night fishing and looking at all the fish they caught and being fascinated by all the unique life that lived just beneath the surface.

 

My whole life since I was little I always thought of myself as a mermaid, mean to live life in the ocean, beneath the waves. The first time I dived into the deep blue I could not see the bottom. I was in a very special marine protected area off the coast of Ecuador called Machalilla, Isla de la Plata. My heart started racing with a mixture of excitement, curiosity, and a slight fear of the unknown. As I slowly started to descend I began to see the wondrous life that surrounded me; I could hear the fish pecking at algae on the reef, I saw a wall of fish dance and change forms as other fish swam around them. A baby sea lion playfully came close to me, blew bubbles in my face, and ran off to bring back its toy piece of algae. I felt like my heart skipped a beat, that moment I knew that is where I was meant to be, I have to come back as often as possible to visit the most beautiful places on Earth.

Although I began scuba diving later in life, I was able then to observe our impact on coral reefs and other marine habitats, and how we have decimated so much of our marine life. As I have grown, I have learned that marine ecosystems and the fisheries they support are some of our most priceless legacies, but if not handled properly they may soon be irreparably damaged. I cannot remember ever having a different life goal than to dedicate myself to preserving these special places.

 

As an optimist, I believe that change is possible and this is my motivation. It is a common misconception that conservationists, scientists, and fishermen must forever be embattled over “to fish or not to fish.” Rather I believe that we have a common goal: to ensure best practices so that this source of livelihood and cultural heritage does not decline over time, and that our descendants may enjoy and benefit from it too. It is possible to have both a healthy ecosystem and a prosperous economy.

 

What is your favorite way to enjoy the ocean and Great Lakes?

 

When I was little I loved to go tide-pooling and see all the cool little critters that make the rocky shoreline their home. I also love bodyboarding and hope to learn how to surf. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to experience the joy of diving. Diving has given me the opportunity to become a mermaid and to interact with the most amazing marine life. I have had the opportunity to go diving with sea lions and sharks in the Galapagos, dolphins and manta rays in Hawai‘i, and I hope to be able to go diving in kelp forests off the Oregon and Washington coastlines and see the rockfish that I am studying first-hand in their natural environment.

 

under: avilalex
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Doing research is an essential part of the scientific process. In the scientific community, the epitome of valid research is having it published in a peer-review journal. Unfortunately, this is as far as many scientists go.  But what about sharing your research with local communities, i.e., non-scientific audiences, that might be impacted by this research? What about connecting your research to a bigger picture?  For the public to be able to make intelligent decisions in many areas–how to allocate the communities’ budget, what fish to eat, personal choices on use of plastic and other trash—they must be able to understand what is at stake.

Me presenting a poster at Land Sea Symposium in Yachats OR, sharing my research with other scientist and coastal community members. Photo: Cyndy Leoro

However, many in the scientific community have spent decades seemingly separating themselves from the non-scientific community. Scientists use a whole different vocabulary than the average person in an attempt to explain natural phenomena. They use complex statistical analyses to prove their theories, and some may even pride themselves in knowing what is best for the disadvantaged communities that are in need of a scientist’s help. But this is where we have gone wrong. As scientists, we have at times alienated ourselves into a bubble, stopped listening to others without fancy degrees, or have acted arrogantly towards those outside of the scientific community. Furthermore, many scientists find themselves embattled in the publish or perish dilemma, and may not see it as part of their job or even understand the importance of sharing their research outside of the scientific community.

Before I started my PhD at Oregon State, I was unaware of the importance of outreach and good science communication. It was at a NOAA internship at the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in the Education, Outreach and New Media Division, where I learned what outreach was and its importance. Outreach gave me an opportunity to share my love and passion for the ocean and tell audiences why sea critters are so cool and why ocean resources are worth protecting and why I was so much in love with the work I was doing. In this manner, I also learned to love outreach.

NOAA’s yearly community outreach event. I got to help out and tell the communities about Marine Protected Areas, like National Marine Sanctuaries, and why they are important for Ocean conservation.

Once at Oregon State, I took my first science communication class with COMPASS. After addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with a call for a “New Social Contract with Science”, Dr. Jane Lubchenco and other like-minded scientists founded COMPASS on the “premise that ocean scientists, in particular, had a wealth of knowledge that was not reflected in public understanding or policy and management practices.” (Lubchenco 1998; Smith et al. 2013). In this class, students are encouraged to use a tool they developed called a message box to hone in on their main message, get rid of the jargon and tell their story (develop story-telling skills). I learned that while I may find my research to be absolutely fascinating, other people might find it more interesting if I tell them my story. In telling my story, I can also tell them about my research. Developing these story-telling skills is crucial for humanizing scientists and making our research more relatable.  If you have ever been to a lecture in college or school, in which the professor drones on and on in a monotone voice on some obscure topic using vocabulary and examples that no one else but him seems to understand, then you have witnessed bad science communication. The difference with a teacher or professor with good science communication skills, is that you fell connected to the topic being discussed and want to learn more. The scientist or professor does not bog you down with jargon or all the nitty gritty details of the research. Rather the scientist or professor may tell you a story related to their research, or take you on a journey that gets the class intrigued on the subject. This skill is the hardest one to develop. Letting go of this jargon and the nitty gritty details of our research may at first seem impossible. As scientists, we are trained to be very cautious in the conclusion we read and specific in the language we use. However, when we communicate our science to general audiences we must learn to forgo that and get the main point across.

Having good science communication skills does not only mean being able to express yourself and explain your research eloquently, but having good listening skills as well. Too many times, scientists have alienated the communities which they wish to help or work with, by not listening to them. Going into a community with open ears and hearing what their concerns and research needs are and how you can help has been shown to result in much more successful collaboration, than going into a community with a mindset that I, the outsider scientist, know what is in the best research interest for you, the lay people.  Local knowledge and wisdom have too often been ignored by many scientists, when they should be complimentary/collaborative to our research.

Kids area always super exited when they get to see and touch marine critters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Combining outreach with good science communication skills can help scientists connect their research with communities that may be affected differently, get public support for their work, inform policy to make the best science-based decisions, increase collaboration opportunities, inspire a next generation of scientists, make a difference, and possibly even get more funding for this research.

I had the great opportunity to teach kids about Marine Protected Areas with a game I created for them

I got to explain to kids what Marine Protected Areas are and why they help fisheries

Personally, I particularly love going to schools and telling kids about the ocean, seeing their face light up with fascination as I show them pictures of odd and beautiful sea creatures and answering their questions about the sea. I love answering questions from my friends about how to make smart choices when it comes to sustainable fisheries and about the health of our oceans’ marine resources. I love it when a stranger on a plane asks me what I do, and I get to tell them about all about some of the cool things I get to do for my research, like going fishing. My goal in life is to make a difference in conservation of ocean resources and ensure sustainable fishing practices so that we can continue to fish for generations to come. I hope that through the outreach work I do and the improved science communication skills I have acquired, I can inspire others to take care of our oceans whether by taking small steps such as helping in local cleanups or using less plastic, or by one day becoming scientists in this fascinating field.

Best part of doing outreach is that I get to have fun, work with amazing people that also love the ocean, share my knowledge, and its a great opportunity to be silly once and a while

 

Lubchenco, J. 1998. Entering the Century of the Environment: A New Social Contract for Science. Science 279(5350):491–497. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Smith, B., N. Baron, C. English, H. Galindo, E. Goldman, K. McLeod, M. Miner, and E. Neeley. 2013. COMPASS: Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement. PLoS Biology 11(4):e1001552. Public Library of Science.

under: avilalex
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Every day I get to go out on the Ocean I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

I was in Portland OR, attending the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting, when I first heard the good news that I had gotten the Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship! I could not believe it, and was so exited. I ran all over the Oregon Convention Center, trying to find my adviser to tell him the good news! I finally had the funding to start doing field work and begin my PhD research.

During September I had my first chance to go out with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves Team, and learn how their Hook and Line survey methods works. A method I plan to use as part of my research.  I learned so much those few days I was out there with ODFW’s David Wagman (also known as Wolfe, bottom left). He is a really good mentor and gave me great suggestions on how to improve my proposed research.

Photos: Alex Avila, Participating in ODFW’s Hook and Line Surveys

Photo: Alex Avila. Wolfe measuring fish

Unfortunately that was the last outing of the season. I need to finish writing all my permit application in the winter in order to be ready to hit the ground running next year.

NOAA scholarships have given me the opportunities I would have never even dream possible. Just like Oregon Sea Grant is part of NOAA Sea Grant College program , so is another scholarship that has greatly impacted my life, the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. I’m currently serving aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of a program collaboration opportunity that was given to me as a Dr. Nancy Foster scholar. I’m here to serve as in data logging and samples processing. At the end of the expedition I will be writing a report that will help prioritize data for researchers, ensuring that the data can be efficiently used.

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

The  NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expedition is running from November 29 through December 21 2017, and is investigating deep-sea habitats and the associated marine communities in the Gulf of Mexico basin. Through the Okeanos expedition,  other researchers and I, are exploring and discovering vulnerable marine habitats and investigating areas relevant to resource managers, submerged cultural heritage sites,  and marine protected areas. Okeanos is equipped with telepresence, meaning people on shore – whether scientists or the general public – and anyone can watch the remotely operated vehicle (ROVs) dives live in real time (click here to stream video).  In fact, next week, we will be conducting a Facebook Live event from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in the Gulf of Mexico this Tuesday, December 12th 2017 at 11:00 am PST  (2:00 pm EST). Science Co-lead Dr. Diva Amon, Expedition Coordinator Brian Kennedy, and I will be there to answer everyone questions! Check out Diva’s, NOAA’s OER and my twitter profiles for daily updates from the Okeanos!

Left to right: Diva Amon, Brian Kennedy, Alex Avila. Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

 

 

under: avilalex
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Do you have a moment?

Posted by: | July 7, 2015 | No Comment |

Would you help us improve our customer service by completing a short survey?

How many times have you been asked this question? How many times have you been the one asking it? The number of times I have asked someone to complete a survey has increased considerably in the last three months.

In May I asked all participants in the science-stakeholder engagement portion of the Willamette Water 2100 (WW2100) research at OSU to complete an online questionnaire about their participation in, expectations of, experiences with, and outcomes from WW2100. After inviting all 238 members of the WW2100 listserv to participate in my survey, reminding them, and then reminding them again, 137 WW2100 participants took the time (approximately 30 minutes) to thoughtfully respond to my questions. 137 respondents out of 238 invited is a respectable response rate of 48%. The questionnaire was about 30 questions long and looked something like this:

Qualtrics

In my last post I shared about conducting interviews of select participants in WW2100. Using more than one method to gather data is called a ‘mixed methods approach’ and can deliver more robust results because they were found by more than one way. That is what I intend to do with my qualitative interview data and now my quantitative survey data.

Qualitative data analysis can be done in several ways but I have chosen to use a ‘fancy highlighting program’ called MaxQDA (description credit to Sarah Calhoun, MRM, OSU). This program allows a researcher to identify relevant text and organize it according to codes, or repeating ideas, which can then be displayed together on request. I have just completed my second pass of coding (identifying repeating ideas and organizing them into themes) so that now when I open MaxQDA on my computer, it looks something like this:

Concepts that emerged in the qualitative data can be assessed quantitatively using the survey data. I would like to share some (very) preliminary results from my analyses with you. One challenge that consistently emerged in the interviews was that participants held different expectations for the roles that stakeholders and research team members would play throughout the process. However, although the survey results indicate that stakeholders and research team members were expected to fulfill different roles, stakeholders and research team members did not differ in their expectations for each other. That is, albeit preliminarily, there was not a quantitative difference in expectations for the role of stakeholders and research team members. I’ll have to explore this challenge more.

Another aspect of stakeholder engagement that my survey can really illuminate involves the outcomes of having participated in such a process. My survey measured participant concepts of model utility (the scientific results), process utility (was it worth the time?), feeling heard, and understanding. I then correlated these concepts with a participant’s participation in the project. All four concepts were significantly positively correlated with participation. This means that individuals who reported greater participation also reported greater perception of model utility, process utility, feeling heard, and understanding. How neat is that?!

There is still a lot of work to be done but the data are in and now all that is left is to make sense of them. I split my time between the words of my interviewees and the numbers from my survey. Together they will tell a complete story of the WW2100 science-stakeholder engagement process which can then be read as an example for future engagement projects. Stay tuned for the final results and presentation!

under: Laura Ferguson, Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar, Uncategorized

Hello Sea Grant community! This is a blog update from the Center for Microbial Oceanographic Research and Education (C-MORE) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where I’ve been participating in a summer training program for the last five weeks. The course, “Microbial Oceanography: Genomes to Biomes,” is offered to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars with interests in marine microbiology and biological oceanography. As an Oregon-based zooplankton ecologist, I felt like a bit of an odd duck in a microbial oceanography training program in the oligotrophic North Pacific subtropical gyre. But, since I study predator-prey interactions, and my study organisms (appendicularians) feed on microbes, I decided I would benefit from a more comprehensive perspective of the prey. The C-MORE summer program provided the idyllic introduction to microbes, including a weeklong research cruise aboard the R/V Kilo Moana, during which we measured processes such as bacterial production using tritium-labeled leucine incorporation, primary production using 14C, cell types and abundances using flow cytometry, and particulate carbon and nitrogen flux using sediment traps.

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Preparing to deploy sediment traps aboard the R/V Kilo Moana at Station ALOHA in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii.

I’m excited that my work with microbes will continue in Oregon through the support of a Julie and Rocky Dixon Graduate Innovation Award, a fellowship designed to support Oregon doctoral students who are interested in pursuing innovative, “nontraditional” career development experiences. I received the fellowship to extend my collaboration with Oregon Sea Grant to develop an educational exhibit on marine microbes. Through my research, I plan to produce a collection of microscopy images of the ocean’s more abundant microbes (e.g. Synechococcus, Prochlorococcus, Pelagibacter, Ostreococcus), which can then be an educational tool, promoting public understanding of the critical role of bacteria in marine food webs.

One of the microscopes I plan to use to produce such images is an Atomic Force Microscope. I just began training on our instrument at the University of Oregon.

AFM

The Atomic Force Microscope at the University of Oregon

The microscope is rather finicky, and I’m still working on the best technique for immobilizing cells, but if you squint hard enough at my first image, you can detect the spherical outline of a microalga cell.

First AFM image

My first Atomic Force Microscopy image of microalgae cells (less squinting required in future iterations)

under: Keats Conley, Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar, Uncategorized

Prozac project changes

Posted by: | June 16, 2015 | No Comment |

When I last checked in, I had just begun a pilot study that would assess how shell thickness in mussels may be affected by exposure to Prozac. Unfortunately, the experiment was a bust, mostly owing to the impractical housing conditions which stressed the animals and led to high mortality. I quickly scrapped this project, with the intention of returning to it as a side project sometime later next year. My new focus will still assess the affects of prozac on marine life, but from a completely different angle: animal behavior.

I’d like to introduce this new project by telling you how I came up with the idea. While visiting Netarts, Nehalem, and Yaquina Bay, I noticed the abundance of shore crabs living in the estuary and that they reside primarily in soft sediments, mud, and beneath rocks, never too far from the water margin. This struck me as another creature that may be at risk from contaminants as they are transported from waters upstream and adsorb onto the sediments. I wondered if these crabs were in contaminated estuaries, how would their behavior change and how would this influence food web dynamics. To my knowledge, this is a somewhat unexplored connection linking contaminants as an agent to potentially influence shifts in food webs. We often hear about bioaccumulation of contaminants up the food web, but what if contaminants also affect the behavior of animals and cause them to be more or less susceptible to predation because of abnormal behavior?

The shore crab Hemigrapsus oregonensis, has been extensively studied and their behaviors have been well documented. My aim was to assess whether crabs exposed to Prozac at  3 and 30ng/L (i.e. documented concentrations in estuaries) would be more at risk of predation when compared to unexposed crabs. Because Prozac is a psychoactive drug, it is likely that their behavior will be altered at even low levels with persistent exposure. I am conducting this experiment by creating simulated estuary habitats in 30 tanks (10 replicates for each treatment) with rocky substrate and hideouts to allow for normal predator escape/evasion behavior. We will be dosing the shore crabs every 10 days with Prozac to simulate pulse events (e.g. increased rainfall) into the estuary. The meat of the study will be the addition of the predator, the Red rock crab, to the shore crab tanks and assessing the response to the predator during the behavioral trials, which will last ~1hr. We will run these behavioral trials during the day and at night to see observe their reactions. This project will run from June 1-August 15.

We have already had the animals living in our estuary mesocosms since June 1 and we will be conducting the first set of  behavioral trials next week. More developments to follow. I’m very excited about this study and I believe it is important to explore how contaminants might affect wildlife in Oregon’s estuaries should we

under: Joey Peters
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Where’s Waldo

Posted by: | April 16, 2015 | 1 Comment |

Sorting plankton is a bit like a game of Where’s Waldo, except that Waldo is moving and translucent, and the entire background scenery is moving along with him.

In my case, the Waldos I am looking for are appendicularians. I separate them from the commotion of the background plankton by their distinctive shape and motion. They are easily confused with the transparent rod-shaped body of chaetognaths (“arrow worms”)—but have a more pronounced, football-shaped head—and the sinusoidal wriggling of a nematode—yet less fitful. Their motion can be hard to detect amidst the darts and jolts of the ever-abundant calanoid copepods.

Some days my sample (collected from the net in the figure below) is filled with so many Waldos I cannot possibly pipette them all. Some days I can sort for hours and never find a single one. Usually it is one extreme or the other: no goldilocks plankton here.

IMG_0867

Conducting plankton tows in the Charleston Marina with my salty dog, Zephyr.

 

My task for this term is establishing cultures of appendicularians at our lab on the main campus of the University of Oregon in Eugene—60 miles from the ocean and 120 miles from the collection site. It is rather daunting, particularly since my appendicularians are smaller than copepods—barely visible even when backlit and examined by the squinting, trained eye. Their life cycle is about six days, depending on temperature. Scientifically speaking, they progresses from external fertilization of the egg to embryogenesis to organogenesis to metamorphosis to somatic growth to maturation and reproduction. Less scientifically, they grow from an egg to a little tadpole to a bigger tadpole to a tadpole with a disproportionally large head (yellow for females, blue for males) and then, once her and his heads fills with eggs and sperm, their gamete-brains explode and a new generation begins.

I have yet to raise appendicularians through their full life cycle. For the time being, my efforts are focused on keeping adults alive inland for a few days at a time, which necessitates to a lot of driving back and forth between Eugene and the coast. On the days when hours of scanning yields only Waldo-less samples, I wonder: is it too late to study copepods?

under: Keats Conley, Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar

Can I get a witness?

Posted by: | April 13, 2015 | 1 Comment |

Talk to 25 people about the same event and you will get 25 different observations of the experience. This is intuitive especially if you watch any of the multiple crime dramas on TV. Many eyewitnesses can witness something different despite watching the same scene. Add the element of time and the possible observations grows. Add that the witnesses are a diverse grouping of people with different values and worldviews and the possible number of observations becomes overwhelming.

Over the last three months, I have sat down to chat with 25 people who have been involved in a large-scale research project to anticipate water scarcity in the Willamette Valley over the next 85 years. This subset of participants in Willamette Water 2100 (as the research project is called) is meant to be representative of the multiple viewpoints engaged in this project and includes university principle investigators of natural and social sciences, county commissioners, farmers, and representatives from state and federal agencies like the Oregon Water Resource Department (OWRD), the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA), the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and the Forest Service (USFS), among others. The idea is that by talking to multiple witnesses of this project, I can fully characterize the participants and their resulting outcomes after participating. Did each person have a unique experience or did all participants experience the same things? My interviews and analyses will speak to this question and more.

These “chats” followed a semi-structured interview format. This means that I had a list of questions or themes that I wanted to talk about but that I allowed the conversation to go any direction so I could follow up on any interesting points that might deviate from my list of questions. The interviews lasted anywhere from 25 minutes to an hour and a half but most were around an hour long. I asked my interviewees how they had gotten involved in Willamette Water 2100 and why. I asked what they had expected coming in to the project and if their expectations had been met. The interviewees also named challenges and successes that the project had faced and identified ways that the project is useful while suggesting methods to present the results to a wider audience.

After talking to each person, I took the audio-recording and transcribed our conversation to a text file. These text files are my data. Now, how do I analyze files of words? I have been trained to handle data of numbers and categories entered into Excel to generate graphs and summary statistics. That is not the way to handle qualitative data like my conversation documents.

I am just beginning to analyze my words in a process called “coding” which organizes repeating ideas into themes and concepts. For instance, one concept that practically every interviewee mentioned was that participating in this research benefitted them through learning. What was learned may differ among individuals or between groups of individuals, but they are all unified under that concept of learning. Reading and re-reading, and grouping and re-grouping are the next steps for me with this data so that I can accurately characterize the long-term participant experience in this research project.

But! That is not the only data with which I will be working. I am also about to launch an online survey to all participants of the process. Where my interviews were targeted based on expertise and experience with the project, my survey will be sent to every person on this project’s list serve. I will ask similar but more specific questions seeking to identify the degree of participation of each individual, their motivations for participating, and their perceptions of the project’s outcomes. The survey will provide me with some numbers to strengthen the conclusions I am making with the words of the interviews. Using multiple measures is a good way to confirm my conclusions.

I am feeling pretty accomplished having completed the interview data collection and transcription by the end of winter term. However, as we are beginning the spring term, I realize that there is still so much more work to do. And, while I would rather continue reflecting on my research process with you, I had better return to organizing the reflections of my subjects on the research process they went through. Unlike the police, however, I am not trying to recreate a crime to identify what happened, so I am going to change metaphors now at the end of this post (and let you see a picture of me when I was four years old). Consider the following picture of a party.

20150413_203158(Photo credit: Pam Ferguson)

Everyone is at the same party, but you might imagine, that different attendees will have different comments to make about the success of the party or how they felt leaving it. I want to know what the common and uncommon perceptions of the party were so that I can throw a better party in the future. While it may be weird to interview and survey your guests after a party, coordinators of scientific engagement processes definitely can do this. And then we hope to develop and invite people to better scientific engagement processes in the future.

under: Laura Ferguson, Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar

On the absence of spines

Posted by: | October 29, 2014 | 2 Comments |

Hello Oregon Sea Grant Community– I’m Keats Conley, a 2014-2015 Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar. The blog below shares some recent reflections on my work with appendicularians.

 

April 2014: Here, in a small tourist town on the south coast of France, I am hunched over a dissecting microscope, wire-tipped dissecting probe in hand. The wire is finer than dental floss. I am using it to break my ancestors’ spines.

 I use the term “spine” loosely.

Appendicularians are a “Urochordate”, one of the three subphyla of the phylum Chordata, along with Vertebrata and Cephalochordata. Cephalochordata is a rather obscure group of small, soft, fish-like creatures called lancelets. Vertebrata includes true fish, hagfish, humans and Labradoodles alike. Urochordates are therefore a sister group to us vertebrates. We are much more closely related to appendicularians than we are to, say, the bivalve oysters we so enjoy shucking and shooting. A great deal of research has compared mammalian and Urochordata genomes to provide information on, among other things, the evolutionary origin of the vertebrate immune system, the eye lens, and the central nervous system.

Appendicularians look like a millimeter-sized translucent tadpole. Under the microscope, they appear equal parts alien and human embryo. They have a football-shaped head (the “trunk”) and a tail, which writhes wildly. I break their spines so that they will hold still long enough for me to take a photograph, which I can later use to measure their size.

The term “appendicularian” refers to the appendices of the animal, their houses. As described in a scientific paper: “The house is secreted as a rudiment by the oikoplastic epithelium, a specialized single-layered organ that covers the trunk of the animal.” In other words, they grow their house from their head. The “house” is a spherical or ellipsoidal structure made of mucus. It is secreted, and then the animal bangs its head up and down to inflate the house with water. The animal then swims inside and sits in the house, with the house roof tucked under its appendicularian “chin.” The house is made of rectangular mucus filaments that function like a spider web.[1] Structurally, its architecture is kaleidoscopically intricate, but its function is straightforward: to capture and concentrate prey particles, such as bacteria and small algae, from the surrounding seawater. The house concentrates prey up to a thousand times that of the surrounding seawater, and then the appendicularian sucks up its thick prey soup as if through a straw.

As I alternate between spine- and camera-snapping, I don’t need to follow any particular protocol. (I do try and move swiftly). In my home lab back in Oregon, a fellow Ph.D. student one building distant works with two-inch zebrafish (Danio rerio) and must adhere to procedures outlined by the University of Oregon’s Animal Care Services, the organization “responsible for administering all activities related to the care and use of animals.” An animal, in this case, is implicitly considered equivalent to a vertebrate. And as we know, although appendicularians coexist with zebrafish in the kingdom Animalia, the two occupy separate subphyla within the phylum Chordata. When I called Animal Care Services to inquire whether any particular care procedure must be followed for research on appendicularians, I was reassured that, no, Animal Care Services oversees supervision of only live vertebrates, as well as some charismatic, seemingly intelligent invertebrate mollusks, such as octopuses. But, I protested, appendicularians are a sister-group to vertebrates. A sister-group. Just the same, I am free to do what I wish with my small, sister house-builders.

The summer after my spring of spine-breaking, I served as a teaching assistant for a marine invertebrate zoology class at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. In a lecture on the difference between “anadromous” and “catadromous”, the professor showed a photo of the rainbow trout Oncorhynchus mykiss. In small font, the caption read: “Vertebrates are just invertebrates that happen to have backbones.”

Appendicularians don’t have a spine. They have a notochord. A notochord is a flexible, thin-walled tube, found in the embryos of all chordates. Notochords were advantageous to primitive fish-ancestors because they provided a rigid structure for muscle attachment, yet were flexible enough to allow more movement than, for example, a hard chitinous exoskeleton. In humans, the notochord of the developing embryo is a precursor that will eventually become the central nervous system, including the spinal cord and vertebrae. But in appendicularians, the notochord just stays as a notochord. They have a simple, spineless tail. And a head that builds houses.

 

References:

Spada, F., Steen, H., Troedsson, C., Kallesøe, T., Spriet, E., Mann, M., & Thompson, E. M. (2001). Molecular patterning of the oikoplastic epithelium of the larvacean tunicate Oikopleura dioica. Journal of Biological Chemistry,276(23), 20624-20632.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The next time you look at a spider web, notice that it is made up entirely of rectangles. This is because a rectangle is the shape that catches the most bugs with the minimum amount of web material. After all, spider silk is energetically costly to produce. Appendicularians employ this same strategy of catching prey using rectangular-mesh nets, except their thread is mucus rather than silk.

under: Keats Conley, Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholar

Thesis Defense!

Posted by: | September 14, 2014 | No Comment |

Hello Sea Grant readers!

I wanted to let you all know that I will be defending my master’s on September 18th at 10 am in Burt Hall, Room 193.  If you’d like to hear about the impacts of Wave Energy Converter arrays on the nearshore wave climate, come listen!

under: Annika O'Dea

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