Island home: part 3

I rounded the bend, drove cautiously down the steep driveway, and parked next to a stone wall. I didn't see Maikani's car yet, so I must have arrived first. Stepping out of my rented SUV, I noticed a man and a woman on the balcony above me. Tentatively, I called to them, "Are you Maikani's family?" They were obviously expecting me. The woman, Maikani's mom, welcomed me inside, while her dad organized the other children to get my bags out of the car. One of Maikani's sisters showed me to my room. "Are you hungry?" came a call from the kitchen. This is a very different type of welcome for me in Palau. Usually, I arrive late at night, crash in a dorm at the research station, and see nobody but my own team until the next business day. This trip, the research station was overwhelmed with visiting scientists, so many of us are having to live off site. Maikani offered me the spare room in her family's home, and it seemed like a much better option th


Some of the specimens I received from Canada.  They may look like frozen mush now, but in life,  they are beautiful and flower-like.  A few weeks ago, I got an email from a PhD student in Canada. She had some specimens of a species that I had written a paper on - Bouillonia cornucopia . She was pretty sure of the species identification, but before proceeding with her analysis, she wanted to be 100% sure. Using a combination of morphology and genetics is usually the best plan for taxonomy, so I offered to help with the molecular part.  When the specimens arrived in my lab, I recognized them immediately. Yep, they certainly looked like the Bouillonia cornucopia individuals I had worked on previously. With morphological support for the hypothesized identification, the next step was genetics.  My lab has recently been honing our molecular biology skills and had some real success . I took advantage of all that recent progress and applied the same methods that had worked so well for corals

Below the Tide

Friends, I want to introduce you to a podcast called Below the Tide . I was contacted by the host and producer, Liz, a few weeks ago. At her invitation, I hopped on a video call for a long and wandering conversation about my research on seafloor communities. Below the Tide is a platform for sharing science in accessible language and filling in the stories behind the research. It was so much fun talking to Liz and sharing some of the stories behind my work! She edited our conversation into a few series of 20-minute episodes, and the first one is out today.  If you're interested in learning more about benthic communities, give the podcast a listen!  Check out Below the Tide at

Packing party

Kharis and Maikani in the lab with their mountain of packed boxes - 10 in all. There's a sense of finality when you add zip ties to an Action Packer. We use the large plastic boxes to ship our equipment and samples across the globe for field work, and we secure the lids with zip ties. Once the zip ties go on, there's no more getting into the box - at least not without breaking them. At that point, sealing the box back up would mean starting over. You never put the zip ties on until you're really, truly finished.  Today was a day of zip ties. They sealed box after box for shipment, and the sense of finality brought with it a feeling of accomplishment. Kharis and Maikani have each been spearheading the packing of gear for an upcoming field trip - yes, my lab has multiple field trips in the next few months. For whatever reason, they both finished today. It was great to see the lab transform from a chaos of boxes, gear, and clothing to an organized stack of packages.  I'm s

Cheerleader in chief

Have you ever left work with the feeling that you worked very hard, but you couldn't name a single thing you got done that day? Recently, it feels like every day is like that for me. If I think hard about it, I can definitely name some accomplishments - a paper got accepted, an analysis went well - but they're not actually my accomplishments; they belong to my lab members. It's official, friends, I am a real PI. The acronym PI stands for Principal Investigator, and it's used to refer to the head of a research lab. For years, my "lab" was just me. Calvin was around when we had money for projects, and there was a volunteer or intern here or there, but most days, I sat alone in my office. Not so any more. Calvin still works primarily remotely, but he's had a 3/4 time position for the last 6 months and will have it for at least 6 months more. Kharis , Maikani , and our new postdoc, Johanna, share the other office in my lab. We have some volunteers working on

Biology megablaster: part 2

We sent Maikani's PCR products away for sequencing and anxiously awaited the results. The sequencing company we send our samples to is in Massachusetts, so it only takes a few days to get data back. Given how clean Maikani's PCRs were, I had high hopes for the sequences. An adorable coral spat on a tile. Thanks to genetics, I now  know this is a  Pocillopora recruit . And oh, were my dreams fulfilled! Her sequences came back super clean - and easy to interpret, too. One by one, I compared Maikani's sequences to the online database GenBank. One by one, the search results came back with logical, reasonable answers. Some sequences even had a 100% match to a species in the database. I was overjoyed.  Given how well Maikani's sequences BLASTed (yes, the acronym for a simple database-matching algorithm is BLAST ), I decided to revisit my 2018 coral spat sequences, some of which had given me rather confusing results. My molecular biology skills have significantly improved in

Pump it up!

Seal! Photo by Maikani Andres. "Is that a seal?" Kharis pointed past a container on the dock to a spot in the bay. Maikani and I followed the line of her hand, and all three of us automatically migrated to the edge of the dock. It certainly was a seal. Out in the middle of the water was a small gray head - a harbor seal, if I had to guess. Seeing that cutie was exactly the boost we needed in our day.  Altogether, we spent about an hour on the dock, just counting time and watching the water. More specifically, we were watching a pump we had deployed in the water to determine if it was working. You see, I'm sending Kharis and Maikani on a research trip this spring, and they'll be using a specialized pump to collect larvae from the Arctic deep sea. Just like I had to get trained on the pump before our 2021 expedition, now it was my students' turn to become technological experts.  Deploying the pump in the  dive well. Photo by Maikani Andres. I started the day by dem