Showing posts from May, 2023

The CATAIN paper: part 2

Well, in a case of serendipitous timing, the second CATAIN paper came out just a day after the first! My PhD student, Kharis, used CATAIN data collected over a year in Woods Hole to study the settlement and post-settlement mortality of four common species. Her results actually showed some cool and surprising patterns. Settlement was highest in the afternoon for all of her species and highest on a rising tide for two out of the four. That level of detail is super informative and was only possible because we used CATAIN. In addition, mortality was lower in Kharis' study than previous studies, possibly because CATAIN was deployed deeper. Overall, the study shows what is possible with CATAIN and reveals high-resolution patterns in fouling communities. This paper constitutes the first chapter of Kharis' dissertation, and I'm incredibly proud of her for publishing it!  You can find the paper in Marine Ecology Progress Series :

The CATAIN paper

Settlers captured on CATAIN in September 2021. Friends, it's been a long time coming, but I am proud to announce that my paper about CATAIN has finally been published in Limnology and Oceanography: Methods ! CATAIN is the camera system I designed in collaboration with WHOI engineers to capture data on settlement and post-settlement mortality. Without CATAIN, these processes could only be studied in easily-accessible environments and were very labor-intensive to capture. Thanks to our invention, researchers can measure settlement, growth, and mortality of young juvenile organisms in remote environments. We've most recently used CATAIN in an Arctic fjord ! This paper describes the prototype - why we wanted it, how we built it, what it can do, and some potential caveats. I am so excited for our research tool to finally be made known to the world!  You can read the full paper here: If you have questions about CATA

A journey of a thousand years

Every field trip is a journey of a thousand years. Man, if I think back to the beginning of this trip, it feels like a lifetime ago. Did I really spend Easter in Palau?  I said goodbye to Maikani in Koror, Cas in Guam, and Matthew in Honolulu. I'm glad it worked out that way, because I could not have handled all those farewells at once. I am so proud of my team, and I will miss working so closely with them every day. Each of us has our strengths. Cas excels at experimental design and is really good at executing crazy ideas that might just change the way we see the world. Matthew has an astounding level of knowledge about coral reproduction and always makes sure we aren't claiming more than the data can actually show. Maikani knows coral species inside and out and is really good at documenting natural history - the baseline observations we need for solid science. The combination of our perspectives and skills makes for really compelling research. I can honestly say that working

Top ten things I will miss about Palau

This puppy hangs out at our favorite food truck. Every time I move across the world, I make a list of the top ten things I will miss about the place I've lived . While it is not proper to say that I've ever  lived in Palau , I have certainly spent a lot of time here in the last few years. As my longest trip yet wraps up, this seems as good a time as any to review the top ten things I will miss about Palau.  10. Dogs in public.  Palauan pets roam much more than in the U.S. Honestly, the line between a pet and a stray dog is pretty blurry - but all the dogs are incredibly friendly. I will miss seeing cute dogs almost everywhere I go.  9. Finding animals in random places.  There is a strong sense in Palau that humans live amongst and between the local biodiversity. I've gotten used to finding geckos indoors, birds in parking lots, and barnacles on tree branches (that one surprised me). There's always something new to find. 8. The sound of a torrential afternoon rain.  It

The ocean was wrong: part 2

Back in grad school, I told my advisor that the ocean was like a mob boss. We started having equipment failures at sea after a few successful rounds of data collection, so my theory was that we were getting too close. The ocean did not want to give up her secrets, so she messed with our equipment behind our backs. We were too good; we had to be stopped. My advisor's response was simple: the ocean was wrong .  I don't think coral reefs are like a mob boss. They don't sneak in the dark of night and tamper with your equipment when it's kilometers away from you. That's the deep-sea's MO. Coral reefs are much more blatant, open, dramatic. They fight you in the light of day, with exceptional flair. Like a professional wrestler. You know, one in colorful tights with a comedic stage name. Hear me out: waves toss you around like a balloon in the wind. Sharp rocks and shells pose dangers at every turn. One wrong move, and you get stung, scraped, or poisoned. Honestly, in

May I spawn?

Porites lobata sperm -  check out that tail! Photo by Matthew-James Bennett. Friends, this trip to Palau was so long (over a month and a half) for exactly one reason: spawning. We wanted to be in Palau for both the April spawn and the May spawn to give ourselves the best possible chance of answering our questions. We got a lot of spawning in April - 16 individuals. That gave us plenty of opportunity to cross gametes , test which parents are compatible with each other, and produce larvae that we could use in experiments . But as you know, friends, I am never satisfied . The voice in my head was kind of like Kylo Ren in The Last Jedi : "MORE!"  And more we got. Oh my goodness, seriously. We got so much spawning in May - so many individuals, in fact, that I lost a bet to Maikani over it. We had 14 individuals in a single night, 11 in another (and one night with just one individual ...). We have so many observations of who spawned when and who was able to cross-fertilize whom t

Quirks of life in Palau: part 3

This little frog friend spent the whole night catching insects near a light at PICRC. Maikani really knows how to enjoy field work! There was a double rainbow right outside PICRC! There are the most gorgeous sunsets off the PICRC dock. Views like this announced the commencement of spawn watch each evening.  Maikani's family got a puppy! I'll admit, it was pretty awesome to come home to this cute guy after a long day at the lab. 

The Taj

There's a restaurant in Palau - one of my favorites, actually - that turns into a night club after dinner. I've never been there late enough to see the transition, but the large bar, colored bathroom lighting, and dance area in the restaurant give it away. During the May spawn this year, I started personifying some of our corals - we've observed their spawning behaviors and responses to heat stress enough that some of them start to seem like they have personalities. With that in mind, let's do a little thought experiment. Let's pretend that each of our corals is a person showing up to The Taj for a night of dancing, and they're all looking to spawn. Which ones will be compatible? The story begins.  A hush descends on Koror as the sun slips below the horizon. The Taj empties of diners, and the staff begin resetting for the night. The large, well-stocked bar stands ready for customers, and green strobe lights set a festive mood. Number 218 barges in the door, prac

Million dollar babies

"It's the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you."  - the movie Million Dollar Baby Matt and Cas searching for survivors. Photo by Maikani Andres. I was in my dive gear, floating on the surface of the sea. The teal blue water was completely still. The boat's engines were turned off. Birdsong wafted in from the surrounding jungle, but all the humans were silent. A few feet away from me, Maikani drifted wordlessly in the water. Cas sat on the boat, almost as still as a statue with a tube of ethanol in his hand. Matthew hunched over a microscope and only moved to adjust the focus. You could feel the tension in the thick, humid air.  "Oh, hello," Matthew broke the silence with a friendly greeting, as if he were addressing a child. "There you are," he continued. With one hand, he unwrapped a razor blade while keeping his focus down the tube of the microscope. He brought the razor blade near the limestone tile he was looking at,

Bone cutters

Way back when we were preparing for the trip last spring, Cas started a list of items he thought we should bring. At the top of the list - literally the first item - was bone cutters. I didn't know Cas very well at the time, and to be perfectly honest, I got a bit concerned about why this new postdoc thought he was going to have to cut bones in Palau. Turns out, since bones and corals are both made of calcium carbonate, bone cutters are actually pretty common in the aquarium trade. They're a really handy tool to sample corals.  Cas's bone cutters got put to good use this week. We set out to sample a few other species in the same genus as our target species, Porites lobata : P. rus and P. cylindrica . Since P. lobata has genetic lineages with different levels of heat tolerance, what about the other Porites ? In 2021, I collected little tissue chips of both P. rus and P. cylindrica with Kharis . I told Cas about the project, and he had an idea: let's see if P. rus an

Like a diamond

Maikani chopping nubbins using a diamond-bladed band saw. Photo by Carsten Grupstra.  "Find light in the beautiful sea, I choose to be happy You and I, we're like diamonds in the sky" - "Diamonds" by Rihanna It was 4 pm, and I could feel the late afternoon sun on my skin. The rays shone at an angle, penetrating just below the overhead canopy of the tank room. My entire right side was bathed in yellow warmth. In front of me on the table were strips of plastic - a kitchen cutting board that we had chopped up. A bottle of super glue rested to my right. To my left. Maikani sat in front of a whirring diamond-bladed band saw. Her sunglasses held back her hair while she focused on her fingertips. Slowly, confidently, she pressed a coral " nubbin " against the blade.  The calcium carbonate gave way to the diamond saw, and Maikani separated the top layer of living tissue from the column of limestone. She discarded the column and turned the disc of tissue sidewa

Maritime Heritage Ecology: part 2

Friends, as you know, I've collaborated with an archaeologist, Calvin Mires, for 4 years now. We came up with a framework and common vocabulary for biology-archaeology studies that we call Maritime Heritage Ecology . Well, today, the first study in Maritime Heritage Ecology was published. Calvin and I looked at how structural changes to the Portland shipwreck impacted the biological community over 20 years. This is the heart of Maritime Heritage Ecology: understanding how archaeological processes (i.e., degradation of a shipwreck) interact with and influence biological processes (i.e., succession and community structure). I am very proud of our work.  You can check out the new paper for yourself in the Journal of Maritime Archaeology :  

Berius el Chais

Every time I've come to Palau, I've heard about this radio program called "Berius el Chais," which translates to "Ecological Hour." It's PICRC's talk show, and it takes place every two weeks on Tuesday mornings. This trip, Maikani and I were invited on the show to explain our research.  The conversation was mostly in Palauan, and in fact, everything I said was translated by our host, Asap. We actually ended up talking for over an hour and covering a range of topics from coral bleaching to species identification to cryo-preservation. It was a lot of fun! If you are interested, check out the episode here:

Ngermalk (Long Island)

The start of the trail. I parked by a limestone wall. Just a few steps away over the grass was an archway labeled "entrance." A large sign showed a map of the island with the hiking trail outlined in red. Peering through the arch, I was faced with an intimidating, steep limestone staircase. I had my sunscreen; I had my water; I was dressed to sweat and wore my thickest-soled shoes. Bring it on.  As soon as I made it to the top of the stairs, I was in a different world. The sun was blocked by a canopy of trees. The air was incredibly still, cool, and humid. Sounds of buzzing insects and chirping birds filled my ears. I recognized the coo of a bird I had heard at our study sites before, and the deep-throated bark of the Micronesian pigeon . This jungle was their world, and I was only a guest.  My little skink friend. I walked on and eventually came to a clearing with benches and another sign. I was overlooking a marine lake, the sign informed me. From the top of the ridge, I