Christofer wrote a very pun-ny (pun intentional!) blog about the zombie crab system we have been researching in my lab and also the research he specifically did for his honors thesis. It is both entertaining and informative. See link here: https://theethogram.com/2019/10/01/creature-feature-loxo-and-mud-crabs/
Congratulations to Emily Edmonds for an ECU story related to her research in our lab! (October 2019)
Emily was recently interviewed by ECU about her experiences doing undergraduate research at ECU and in our lab, particularly following her Undergraduate research award! Congratulations, Emily! The story is copied and pasted below, and the link is here:
Student Profile: Emily Edmonds
PUBLISHED OCT 01, 2019 BY MATTHEW SMITH
Undergraduate researcher Emily Edmonds is researching biodiversity along shorelines to better understand coastal ecosystems.
Mentor: Dr. April Blakeslee
Project Title: “Parasites as indicators of biodiversity in coastal shoreline habitats”
My research will show how hardened shorelines, like bulkheads, influence the biodiversity in a habitat by studying parasitized mudsnails collected from both “natural” sites and “bulkhead” sites. There is a strong correlation between parasites and their hosts, so if the parasites are found, then their specific downstream hosts are present. It can be challenging and time-consuming to survey for overall biodiversity, but measuring parasite diversity provides an efficient way to gain an understanding of what other hosts are present in the area.
How did you get involved in undergraduate research?
I attended the ECU EXCELS program my freshman year and met Dr. April Blakeslee. She told me all about her lab and encouraged me to pursue undergraduate research. I quickly became part of the lab family and they have been helping me achieve my goals ever since.
Why did you choose your research topic?A lot of the projects in Dr. Blakeslee’s lab use the parasites in mudsnails to answer broad questions about ecosystems because they are a common first host for trematodes (parasitic flatworms). Dr. Blakeslee, Christopher Moore and myself put together this idea partly because we had already been working on a project in Beaufort, N.C. It was a convenient location where we had already collected some data on parasites.
What’s been your favorite part of conducting undergraduate research?
My favorite part has definitely been going sampling. We have the best time going out in the field and collecting the mudsnails to bring back to the lab. Everyone in our lab is amazing, so it’s always a fun day (even that time I fell backwards straight into the muck – thank goodness for waders).
What challenges have you faced while conducting undergraduate research?
It is a true time commitment because I’ve simply got to spend hours in the lab in order to dissect all the snails that are collected. It is extremely rewarding when the data starts to come together, but until that point, it mainly consists of sitting at the microscope and recording what I find, which can also be exciting at times!
Why is your research important for the average, everyday person?
My research will show us what shoreline hardening is doing to the biodiversity in that area. Everyone who lives or has been around the coast has seen bulkheads, and I think it should be important to everyone to see what exactly this “hardening” is doing to the organisms that live there compared to a natural shoreline.
What’s your ultimate goal or accomplishment that you hope your research will help you achieve?
Receiving an URCA award and presenting at a conference, both of which I was able to do thanks to the support from my lab members, were accomplishments that I will be forever proud of. Eventually, I’m hoping that everything I have learned through sampling, dissecting, and analyzing data will help me achieve my ultimate goal of getting into vet school.
How do you feel that participating in undergraduate research has helped prepare you for life after college?
Being an undergraduate researcher has helped me become more comfortable in professional settings, as well as more inclined to do things that I’ve never even thought of doing. Dr. Blakeslee has been extremely helpful by encouraging me to step out of my comfort zone, and by doing so I have achieved things I never believed to be possible in my undergraduate years at ECU. I started in her lab as a freshman, and as a senior I can confidently say that I will always be grateful for the experiences and the knowledge I will be taking away from my undergraduate research opportunity.
Do you have any advice for other students interested in conducting undergraduate research?
Reach out to your professors, or even faculty members who aren’t your professors! There are so many opportunities for undergraduates to get experience in research, but you have to reach out in order to take advantage of those opportunities.
Our lab participates in "What's Up Bio?" A way for freshmen and transfer students to see all the cool research happening in the Biology department. (September 2019)
With thanks to all the members of the lab who helped out at the event: Tim Lee, Chris Moore, Kyle Swanson, Laura Lukas, Zack Schlegel, and Emily Edmonds. A few pictures below.
Lab members Tim Lee and Kyle Swanson participate in "BugFest" at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences (Raleigh) (September 2019)
Trip to San Francisco Bay: 10 year return to investigate Littorina saxatilis (rough periwinkle snail) there, along with sampling for the white-fingered mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii), both non-native in the bay. (September 2019)
In 2008 while I was a postdoc, I took part in a bay-wide sampling with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center for the non-native snail, Littorina saxatilis. I have been back a couple times since (2010 and 2011) but haven't since then. So it was time to return! I am very interested in the parasite diversity and prevalence of snails in the Bay (non-native species often escape many of their parasites when they invade new locations). We also take demographic measures: population density, size and sex distributions, and brood counts in females. It was a fun trip, and lots of help from Dr. Amy Fowler and my student Chris Moore. We were also sampling for the non-native white-fingered mud crab (Rhithropanopeus harrisii), and very conveniently, one of the field sites was in Napa Valley. So even though we were a little dirty from sampling in the mud, we had to stop and do a short little wine tasting. ;) It was a fun adventure but pretty intense... lots of early morning and late afternoon tides with lab work in between! Oh and we even got to see former undergrad in our lab, Christofer Brothers who is just starting a PhD at UC-Davis. See pics below!
Sharing a few images of trematode parasites from host snails. That's all. I think they're very cute. :)
Emily Edmonds (undergraduate student in our lab) was selected as a summer intern at the Pine Knoll Aquarium (nearby Atlantic Beach, NC). My family and I had a chance to go visit and get a behind the scenes tour from Emily. It was really fun and informative! Congrats to Emily!
On July 19, we completed three years of sampling sites along the Pamlico and Neuse every ~8 weeks along a salinity gradient to examine the impact of salinity on parasite prevalence in native mud crab species. At this point, we have concluded our sampling of the Neuse estuary but will continue sampling the Pamlico estuary into the foreseeable future. It's been a lot of work, but we have a ton of data now over those 3 years; now onto some initial analyses!! Special thanks to all the students in my lab over the years and the citizen scientists that have contributed to this effort!
It was once again a truly amazing experience to co-teach a Marine Parasitology & Disease course at Shoals Marine Lab this past June. It's such a beautiful place, and a great location to look for parasites. We once again have a Parasite Ecology intern (Anna Van Dreser) doing really fun work on parasites -- this time in snails and fish! I think the pictures below speak for themselves...