Research Experiences for Undergraduates in Integrative Marine Biology Summer 2018 Faculty

Faculty Mentors and Potential Student Projects

Diego Bernal, PhD Physiological adaptations of high performance fishes and capture-induced stress responses

This lab utilizes molecular tools to measure the presence of irreversible cell damage in highly-stressed fishes and study how stress may relate to post-release survival and physiological recovery. We test the hypothesis that critical physiological disruptions caused by angling-related stress may cause irreversible cell damage, potentially resulting in fish death up to 30 days post-release. Our research correlates details of the capture method (e.g., fight time, tackle, size of fish) with specific levels of molecular-physiological indicators of capture stress to determine how changes in capture techniques may minimize such physiological disruptions. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: Are blood plasma electrolyte and metabolite levels in capture-stressed sharks species-specific? Does an increase in capture stress induce stress-protein expression? Is the stress response similar in whole animal and in vitro blood incubations?


Steven X. Cadrin, PhD Marine fisheries, focusing on population dynamics and fishery management

The Cadrin lab focuses on marine biological research on reproductive biology, age validation, and stock identification of a wide range of invertebrate and finfish species to advance stock assessment methods and develop harvest strategies for regional, national and international fishery resources. The lab also evaluates geographic stock structure and models spatially complex populations. Potential research projects for undergraduate students will involve population modeling, stock identification, fisheries management, and application of advanced technologies for fishery science, using computer analysis, fish maintenance and dissection, and some microscopy.


Robert E. Drew, PhD Fish genomics and quantitative genetics, and the evolution of fish adaptations

This lab is currently focused on close symbioses between fish and sea anemones, which have independently evolved in multiple fish clades, such as clownfish and cardinalfish. We are applying a combination of functional analyses and multiple “-omics” approaches to 1) identify candidate mechanisms protecting symbiotic fish from attack from hosts, 2) investigate how these mechanisms independently evolved in multiple lineages, and 3) determine how the mechanisms may be regulated. Projects in my lab will include experience and training in both molecular genetics and marine ornamental aquaculture. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: Is host nematocyst discharge inhibited by mucus isolated from

symbiotic fish species? Does mucus composition differ between symbiotic fish species and closely related non-symbiotic species? Do symbiotic fish regulate the expression of candidate genes to suit different sea anemone species?


Whitney Hable, PhD Molecular, cellular and developmental biology

Research in this lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms of cell polarization during growth and development of the intertidal marine rockweeds, Silvetia compressa and Fucus vesiculosus. We are particularly interested in understanding how chronic exposure to environmental contaminants affects these developmental processes. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: What are the germination and growth rates of zygotes cultured in environmentally relevant concentrations of contaminants like heavy metals, crude oil, fertilizers or pesticides? Do zygotes and embryos inhabiting contaminated sites acquire resistance, or become more sensitive to additional contaminant exposure, as compared to those who inhabit unpolluted areas? Research projects are mainly lab-based, involving algal culture, but may have a field component as well.


Pingguo He, PhD Fish physiology and behavior, focusing on the behavior of fish near fishing gear and its application in sustainable capture fisheries

Dr. He’s lab investigates the behavior of fishes as it relates to environmental and physical stimuli and anthropogenic activities such as fishing operations. The lab applies the knowledge of fish behavior to the design and operation of commercial and scientific survey gear to promote sustainable harvesting strategies and to assist in accurate and reliable stock assessment.


Kathryn D. Kavanagh, PhD Embryology, morphological development and evolution of vertebrates

The Kavanagh lab focuses on early life stages of vertebrates with special interest in musculoskeletal and sensory development and evolution. An aquarium facility with breeding reef fishes is available. Projects for undergraduates will be lab-based and tend to in two general areas 1) adaptation of coral reef fish larvae to climate change, and 2) evolution of skeletal development in tetrapod vertebrates. Potential undergraduate projects could focus on wing, foot tendon, or rib development in birds, and fin development in damselfishes.



Pia H. Moisander, PhD Marine microbial ecology

Research in the Moisander lab investigates distributions and activities of marine bacteria and archaea, specifically focusing on organisms contributing to important biogeochemical transformations in the marine nitrogen cycle. Our current research focuses on marine nitrogen fixation, characterization of microbes that form the marine zooplankton microbiome, and structure and function of marine biofilms. These studies have involved sampling in open ocean North Atlantic waters, Buzzards Bay, Narragansett Bay, and Nantucket Island. Undergraduate projects are available in these projects. Microbiological, molecular, and biogeochemical approaches are used in our field and laboratory based studies.


Nancy J. O’Connor, PhD Marine invertebrate ecology, focusing on the biology of crabs

Research in this lab focuses on the ecological impacts of the invasion of the Asian shore crab Hemigrapsus sanguineus, especially the potential effects of the Asian shore crab on resident crab species and the incorporation of H. sanguineus into coastal food webs as both predator and prey. In addition, we investigate the importance of various chemical and physical habitat cues in triggering molting of planktonic crab larvae (megalopae) to the benthic crab stage. Potential research questions for undergraduate students include: What are settlement rates of crab megalopae in different potential habitats? How do chemical cues from bivalve molluscs affect behavior and development of crab megalopae? What are natural predation rates of juvenile Asian shore crabs? What is the effect of 3-dimensional habitat space on crab density and size?


Kenneth Oliveira, PhD Ecology and biology of fishes

Research in this lab focuses on age and growth and energetics of marine prey species. Potential research projects include establishing energy content of prey species important for commercial fish species and age and growth of commercial fish species in collaboration with the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service.



Mark W. Silby, PhD Microbial genetics, focusing on microbial interactions and adaptation

Research in Silby’s laboratory is focused on developing an understanding of how bacteria interact with their environments and with each other. We are investigating the mechanisms by which bacteria respond in situ to abiotic stress, asking how various soil bacteria interact resulting in novel emergent traits, and exploring marine systems for bacteria capable of interfering with bacteria chemical communications. The latter project is focused on expanding knowledge of microbial communities in marine environments and identifying metabolites from marine bacteria with potential to inhibit communication-mediated virulence of bacterial pathogens. Potential research projects for undergraduate students include: What anti-communication bacteria are present in marine environments? What genomic patterns are associated with interference with bacterial communication in marine bacteria? How do microbial communities vary across marine environments such as seaweed surfaces? What are the chemical mechanisms of anti-communication activity?