Today, Alycia defended her Master's thesis to a packed room! Her research examined the effects of estuarine discharge and thermal stress on symbiont communities of the coral Montastraea cavernosa. As part of her project, she designed and constructed an ex situ aquarium system to expose corals to St. Lucie Estuary water containing discharges from Lake Okeechobee. In addition to submitting her thesis research for publication in a peer-reviewed journal in the near future, Alycia is continuing her work in the Voss Lab to examine the gene expression responses of the corals using RNA-Seq.
This week, Voss Lab graduate students Danielle Dodge and Michael Studivan are in Washington, DC to attend the inaugural Global Biodiversity Genomics conference. This conference is hosted by the Smithsonian Institute and serves as a unique opportunity for molecular biologists to present and discuss the latest genetic techniques used to uncover the diversity of global ecosystems. Both Danielle and Michael will be presenting posters of their research on Wednesday (P-20 and P-70, respectively).
Additionally, they will be live-tweeting the conference using #BioGenomics2017.
Graduate student Danielle Dodge and Jeff Beal from Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducted a sampling event at St. Lucie Reef this week to complete tissue collections for an ongoing population genetic study. As part of her Master’s thesis work and the lab’s ongoing investigation of SE Florida reefs, Dani has collected over 100 Montastraea cavernosa tissue samples from nearshore reefs along Florida’s “Treasure Coast” including locations off the Palm Beaches, Jupiter, and Stuart. By identifying specific genetic markers within the DNA, she is determining how these corals are related to one another and how their populations may be influenced by environmental factors such as the nearby Florida current. Learn more about the broader objectives of the St. Lucie Reef project here.
The team also tested a coral tissue biopsy technique using 60 mL syringes to minimize damage to the coral colonies. Graduate student Ryan Eckert has successfully extracted DNA from these samples and will compare nucleic acid quality between this new technique and our previous sampling methods. If successful, we plan to employ this syringe-based method during an upcoming research expedition to the Smithsonian research station on Carrie Bow Cay, Belize.
Stay tuned for project results, including our lab’s presentations at the upcoming Benthic Ecology Meeting in South Carolina.
During the past year, both Danielle Dodge and Michael Studivan received multiple awards and grants benefitting their individual research projects. Michael received the 2017 Dissertation Year Award sponsored by the FAU Research Enhancement Program, and the Graduate Fellowship for Academic Excellence from the FAU Graduate College. Danielle was recently awarded the 2017 Women Divers Hall of Fame Marine Conservation Scholarship, and the Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance Biogenomics 2017 Student Award. Earlier this year, she also was selected for the Indian River Lagoon Graduate Research Fellowship and PADI Foundation Grant contributing towards her Master’s thesis research.
Learn more about the two research projects the graduate students are conducting here!
FAU Research Enhancement Program Dissertation Year Award
FAU Graduate College Awards
PADI Foundation Grant
Women Divers Hall of Fame Marine Conservation Scholarship
Global Invertebrate Genomics Alliance Biogenomics 2017 Student Award
Welcome to Ryan Eckert, who joined the lab as a Masters student in January 2017. He comes to FAU Harbor Branch from NOAA’s Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, a frequent and ongoing research site for the Voss Lab. As a participant on several previous Voss Lab cruises to the Flower Gardens, Ryan brings years of diving and field experience and is excited to start a thesis involving coral molecular ecology.
This week, Masters Candidates Danielle Dodge and Alycia Shatters presented at a marine science lecture series sponsored by COSEE Florida at the Smithsonian Exhibit of the St. Lucie County Aquarium. As the first seminar in the series, the two described the monitoring tools and techniques used to investigate impacts of estuarine discharge within the St. Lucie watershed on nearby coral reef ecosystems at St. Lucie Reef.
To learn more about the ongoing seminar series and to check the event calendar, visit the Smithsonian's website here.
Florida Atlantic University recently hosted its inaugural Three Minute Thesis competition with over 100 FAU graduate students participating. Originally developed by the University of Queensland, the 3MT competition challenges graduate students to effectively communicate their research goals and importance in under three minutes. With the aid of only one static Powerpoint slide, students are judged on their story-telling ability and presentation skills.
Due to an overwhelming interest by graduate students to participate in the 3MT competition at FAU, eight preliminary heats were conducted to select the top student presentations that would advance to the championship. Drs. Joshua Voss and Peter McCarthy organized a heat at the FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute campus on November 3. Five graduate students from FAU Harbor Branch competed, including Voss lab students Danielle Dodge and Michael Studivan. Michael was awarded Second Runner-Up, and HBOI grad student Carlie Perricone was awarded both First Prize and People's Choice.
The championship round will be held November 18 on the FAU main campus in Boca Raton and is open to everyone. More details and free tickets can be obtained here. The winners of the FAU 3MT championship will advance to the regional 3MT competition in Annapolis, MD. This is a great opportunity to learn about the exciting research being conducted at FAU and supports graduate student research!
From September 25-30, members of the Voss Lab at FAU Harbor Branch returned once again to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary for a third technical diving cruise. As part of the Mesophotic Coral Reef Project funded through the NOAA Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research, and Technology, the objectives of this cruise were to assess responses in the coral transplant experiment at its one-year time point, further explore and characterize the mesophotic coral communities at McGrail and Bright Banks, and to survey shallow and mesophotic Montastraea cavernosa corals for the prevalence of different colony morphotypes identified by our 2016 summer intern, Gillian O'Neal.
Earlier this summer, a massive mortality event occurred among multiple species at the East Flower Garden Bank. While cause remains unknown, the epicenter of the event was approximately 100m away from our shallow transplant site at East Bank. Understandable, we were eager to learn if the corals had survived. To learn more about this event and the work the Flower Gardens NMS is doing to unravel this mystery, please visit these report links: Initial Report, Response Update, and Investigation Continues. In addition, by the last week of September higher than average summer temperatures had caused a sustained increase in water temperatures above the bleaching threshold for most coral species. The sanctuary has conducted several survey cruises and estimate that bleaching is up to 50% of all corals on the shallow cap.
Unfortunately, at our shallow sites both the tagged control colonies and the transplanted colonies were not immune to the effects of above average water temperatures. All colonies in the study were observed with paling or bleaching, and the colonies that had been transplanted from mesophotic depths demonstrated greater bleaching severity than the shallow water controls. We observed coral tissue remaining on most of the study colonies, which provides some hope for recovery and survival. Sampling was conducted to assess bleaching responses, and should be useful in comparison to the samples of the same colonies during a relatively healthy period in May 2016. Our mesophotic transplant source sites appeared unaffected by this bleaching event, perhaps due to reduced thermal stress as indicated by the presence of strong thermoclines around 130ft. The next time these sites will be revisited is September 2017, and we hope to see recovery of our experimental and other reef corals. As cold fronts began to sweep across Texas and the Gulf of Mexico in October, we are hopeful that the bleached corals will be able to recover.
As a continued investigation of possible "depth-generalist" morphotypes identified in shallow and mesophotic M. cavernosa, we conducted four 25m transects at both shallow and mesophotic depths at East and West Banks. By video and macro photography of all M. cavernosa colonies found in the transects, we will be able to quantify the relative proportion of each morphotype in the populations. Additionally, at McGrail Bank, we conducted two 100m transects to complement previous ROV surveys. Finally at Bright Bank, the technical dive team collected nine additional coral samples to complete the sampling for population genetics analyses.
As always, we owe a special thank you to the crew of the R/V Manta, our volunteers and collaborators, and to Emma Hickerson, GP Schmahl, et al. for the outstanding support we receive from the FGBNMS. This year we were fortunate to have additional assistance from Dr. Matt Ajemian and Mike McCallister (FAU HBOI), Mike Dickson (UF), Jeff Beal (FWC), and Rachel Susen (Moody Gardens). Joshua Voss, Michael Studivan, and Patrick Gardner comprised the technical diving team, while Danielle Dodge and recent Voss lab alumna Jennifer Polinski took on primary responsibilities at the shallow sites. Thank you and well done to all involved.
Check out our Flickr album for more photos from this cruise!
MSS and JDV
Graduate student Danielle Dodge recently travelled to Catalina Island, CA to attend a 2bRAD Genotyping Workshop at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center. 2bRAD is a newly developed genetic technique used to genotype thousands of genetic loci simultaneously on the type IIB restriction endonuclease site and can be used without a reference genome. This method isolates tags on which single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) can be identified and used for various applications in population dynamics and connectivity. The workshop was taught by the co-developer of the method, Eli Meyer from Oregon State University, and took place over 10 days.
Danielle brought 10 Montastraea cavernosa coral samples from the St. Lucie Reef project with her to the workshop where she successfully completed 2bRAD library preparation for later sequencing. This preliminary data will generate the SNP frequency for M. cavernosa and allow for initial comparison between the 2bRAD data and the microsatellite analysis for these same samples. She also prepared 10 oyster samples from the Meyer Lab to be sequenced and used for a group paper in collaboration with the other twelve workshop participants. After spending the first four days in the lab, the workshop participates moved into bioinformatics mode and had a crash course in command line interface, coding, and analysis of next-generation sequencing data for the remainder of the week. All participants successfully generated SNP loci for oyster samples previously sequenced and discussed further applications of 2bRAD data. Despite the long days in the molecular lab and coding, everyone was able to enjoy the beauty of the mountains and marine sanctuary on Catalina Island!
Jennifer Polinski graduated this week from FAU with her Master's of Science degree in Biology. Her thesis research focused on characterizing algal symbionts (Symbiodinium spp.) in Montastraea cavernosa found on mesophotic coral reefs (>30 m) in the Gulf of Mexico, and comparing these assemblages to those in neighboring shallow corals.
She also recently accepted a position as a research assistant at the Josephine Bay Paul Center for Comparative Molecular Biology and Evolution at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA.
Congratulations Jennifer and good luck in your future endeavors!