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Natural Sciences Student Projects

Recently Funded Projects

Student Investigator

The Salinity Threshold of Market Squid Embryos in Southeast Alaska

Student Investigator: Vasily Sekerak

My initial project focused on the way market squid embryo morphology can possibly be effected by ocean salinity levels during development. This was to be accomplished by testing two sets of embryos with three replicates each. These two sets would comprise a salinity level that matched the ocean conditions of Sitka sound, and a comparative salinity which would represent the low salinity levels of the inner passages of Southeast Alaska. Once the embryos hatched they would be transferred into tanks especially designed to safely contain soft tissue organisms. After several weeks of paralarval development, the squid would then be euthanized in accordance with regulations and their statoliths would be removed and analyzed for and morphological differences. As it currently stands my project has achieved a working prototype of the circulatory current aquarium that I had originally proposed in the beginning. This aquarium system exists on larger scales, however I was able to draft, develop and test my own small scale version. This scaled down aquarium allows for larval stage vertebrates and invertebrates on a focused level that’s optimized for smaller labs.

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Student Investigator

Investigation of Water Quality and Heavy Metals Concentrations in Streambed Sediments in the Vicinity of a Proposed Mining Project

Student Investigator: Breanna Walker

This project will collect samples of streambed sediments in Glacier Creek, which is part of the Chilkat River Watershed, to obtain baseline heavy metal concentrations. A mining exploration project is underway in Glacier Creek Watershed, exploring a sulfide deposit, which if developed, would likely generate acid rock drainage (ARD). The nearby towns, Klukwan, a Tlingit Village, and Haines, Alaska, rely on the Chilkat River for the salmon fishery it supports, both commercial and subsistence. ARD and trace metals pose a high risk to salmon and water quality. It is critical to assess heavy metals before further mining activities occur. The data collected in this project will be used to assess the concentration of heavy metals in streambed sediments in Glacier Creek, it will also serve as a benchmark indicator for future water quality assessments.

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Student Investigator

Pilot investigation into the age structure of market squid, Doryteuthis opalescens, in the Gulf of Alaska

Student Investigator: Dawn Wehde

The objective of my URECA funded project was to conduct a pilot investigation that aimed to provide a data set of the age, size, and maturity of market squid, Doryteuthis opalescens, collected in the Gulf of Alaska. The information I collected was used to infer the establishment of a residential or transient population of market squid in the sampled area. I hypothesized that squid collected offshore (> 100m from the shoreline) would be less sexually mature and younger than squid collected inshore which supports the establishment of a residential population. In comparison, no significant differences between size, maturity, and age between squid collected offshore and inshore supports that the squid are from a transient population.

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Anatomy and Physiology Based Meditations

Student Investigator: Kit Burroughs

Body scan meditations designed for health science students may provide a unique approach to enhancing retention of anatomical and physiological concepts while embracing the benefits of mindfulness meditation.

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Previously Funded Projects

Taku Glacier Dynamics

Student Investigator: Carrie Amott

My goal is to aid Dr. Jason Amundson in combining geomorphic concepts and glaciology through a study of the overdeepened bed features in the Taku Glacier system. We will obtain data that can be applied toward the purpose of gaining more comprehensive knowledge about glacial advance. With this new information, we hope to invoke a better understanding of the feedback between erosion, landscape formation, and the fundamentals of ice in motion.

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Investigation of Physiological Similarities Between Pandalus platycerus and Pandalus danae

Student Investigator: Esther Bower

The original project objective was to determine a suitable model organism to study Pandalus platyceros. I proposed to use the local dock shrimp Pandalus danae to do this research. This project allowed me to further my research on the study of Pandalid shrimps. I have been working with a very large species of shrimp for 3 years and getting experience working with a small shrimp species has greatly influenced my strengths in dissection methods. I feel confident I could isolate almost any tissue in any shrimp species given the correct tools, something I was skeptical about before this project. This project will give my mentor and I the opportunity to publish another gene sequence and further the knowledge of the genus Pandalus. In the future I could use this knowledge to sequence androgenic gland genes in other Pandalus species, potentially becoming part of a master’s project.

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Transgenerational transfer of PBDEs in Staghorn Sculpin and its effects on bioaccumulation

Student Investigator: Honalee Elkan

In my project I have postulated that organic halogen contamination, as modeled by polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants, would be distributed differently between the flesh, organs and eggs of a female fish.  It is the partitioning capacity of halogenated organics that makes them of such interest and concern to us as they bioaccumulate unevenly in the body, particularly in the lipids and fats, such as egg yolks.  Because PBDEs are known to persist for a very long time, it has lead me to speculate that levels are higher than current calculations for the body burdens that the following generations of fish start out with, leading to a lower viability/survival rate of those fry.

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Ecdysteroid Circulation in Chionoecetes bairdi and How Laboratory Holdings Affect Hormone Expression

Student Investigator: Cole Deal

Laboratory studies have been very important in understanding the physiology of commercially important crustaceans although removing crabs from their natural habitat can remove the crab from natural biological cues such as photoperiod, tidal cycles, and habitat. By assaying for circulating ecdysteroids in hemolymph of Dungeness crab, we can better understand how artificial settings are affecting the physiology of these crustaceans, in turn how they determine the outcome of laboratory studies by monitoring these differences between environments. The main goal of this project will be to determine whether there is a clear and present difference in ecdysteroid concentration between Tanner crab that have been exposed to lunar cycles; meaning they have tidal, temperature, depth and photoperiod influences, compared to lab setting Tanner crab, which will not have these external influences acting upon them.

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Effects of isostatic rebound on post glacier landscapes along the Herbert Glacier Trail

Student Investigator: Kirk Elmore

  • Faculty Mentor: Brian Buma, Ph.D.
  • Funding Source: URECA

This study will examine the possible effects on the forest ecology along the Herbert Glacier Trail, caused by glacier retreat as well as Isostatic uplifting. The data will be collected by taking tree core samples along the trail and analyzing the rings to determine their approximate age. The information collected in this study will also be advantageous for ecosystem services by producing imagery to correlate with GPS markings of each sample.

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Soundscape Ecology of the Auke Lake Ecosystem

Student Investigator: Axel Gillam

My proposed project, "Soundscape Ecology of the Auke Lake Ecosystem", focuses on how the soundscape of Auke Lake changes from winter to spring. Soundscape ecology is a new field in the study ecology and links the acoustic elements of an ecosystem to its processes and health. I propose to set up two different recording sites around Auke Lake. One will be near the university, which has anthropogenic sound inputs, and the other will be in an isolated area of the lake.  By having two sites, I can compare the soundscapes and determine if anthropogenic sounds have an impact on the changing soundscape.

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Shore Pine cone and seed dispersal

Student Investigator: Heather Evoy

  • Faculty Mentor: Brian Buma, Ph.D.
  • Funding Source: URECA

With the mentorship of Professor Dr. Brian Buma I have started a research project testing the hypothesis of shore pine cone and seed dispersal via ocean currents to prove areas of coastal refugia are how the species survived periods of glaciation and been migrated northward since. This is a theory that has not been experimented so there is possibility of publication opportunities for my work. I went out and collected pine cones from areas around Juneau close to shorelines where they could possibly have been transported via the ocean. I will be running experiments with floating and submerging seeds and cones in salt water bins then placing in petri dishes to germinate in order to test for viability after salt water exposure. I will carefully monitor results and analyze against known ocean currents and distances between islands to theorize the dispersal and migration post glaciations of shore pine in southeast Alaska.

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Situk River, Chinook Spawn Map

Student Investigator: Clayton Hamilton

  • Faculty Mentor: Reid Brewer, Ph.D.
  • Funding Source: URECA

I will be surveying the Situk River to map the range and distribution of Chinook redds. This information will provide a basis for potential in-river management practices and will serve as a spring board for future work with the interactions of salmon species in the freshwater environment. these survey efforts will result in a publicly available map of the drainage.

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Cryptic Coloration

Student Investigator: Tyler Linderoth

For the past 1.5 years I have conducted research relating to the adaptive potential of background matching in coastrange sculpin, Cottus aleuticus. My current focused project within the framework of this larger sculpin research scheme is to examine the population genetic structure and phylogenetics of coastrange sculpin at a nuclear color gene and two mitochondrial DNA regions for populations ranging from Oregon to Alaska. I am inquiring into genetic structure at a fine and large geographic scale, while also determining the evolutionary and colonization history of coastrange sculpin along the west coast of North America. This work provides insights into the role of phenotypic plasticity and genetic assimilation in persistence in a heterogeneous environment. This information will, ultimately, be extremely valuable in understanding how organisms may respond to novel environments created by climate change. All of the aforementioned implications of this research are discussed in a manuscript that will be submitted for publication once the project is complete.

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Depiction of fractals through art

Student Investigator: Nicole Jacobs

The intention of this project is to generate an appreciation for mathematics, and its applications in disciplines outside of science, at UAS. The project will develop and demonstrate cross-disciplinary applications of mathematics in graphic design and printmaking. Through a presentation of the beauty of fractals and the process behind their generation, the value and results of collaboration between art and mathematics will be exhibited. In addition, the project is expected to enrich the academic experience of both participants and fellow students by gaining and sharing a better understanding of fractal composition, fractal generating software, and the process of silk screening.

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Killer Whale Ecotypes in the Juneau Area

Student Investigator: Emma Luck

The goal of this project was to identify the most common killer whale ecotype in the Juneau area. Over 400 photographs of killer whales taken from the years 2012-2015 were collected from Juneau photographers and marine naturalists on various whale watching boats. The photos were analyzed and the killer whales were identified as either resident, transient, or offshore based on morphological characteristics. Additionally, the individual whales were compared to published killer whale identification catalogs and identified when possible.

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Investigations of Dust and Black Carbon Content in Snow from the Juneau Region

Student Investigator: Abigail Nathlich

The role of snow impurities in contributing to reductions in albedo (reflectivity) has been examined for the first time in the Juneau area this past summer, although there are other ongoing studies related to loss of glacier ice.  My proposed project is twofold: 1) to quantify the dust concentrations in the snow samples collected by UAS faculty this summer; 2) to collect a new set of snow samples in late winter/early spring for black carbon and dust along a transect of densely vs lightly populated areas of the city.

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Investigating the Relationship Between pH and Dissolved Iron in Berner's Bay, Alaska

Student Investigator: Melissa Rhodes-Reese

The continuing acidification of the world’s oceans has many implications, including altering phytoplankton’s ability to uptake iron, which in turn could have a detrimental effect on the organisms dependence on phytoplankton as a food source. From sampling events planned during the summer of 2014, I will establish baseline pH and dissolved iron levels for Berners Bay, and determine if a relationship exists between the two.  

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Ethnoichthyology of Southeast Alaska

Student Investigator: Andrew Thomason

During 2014, Andrew Thomason will conduct ethnographic work in Southeast Alaska with regards to local ethnoichthyology, a relatively unexplored sub-discipline of ethnobiology. Andrew will explore cultural phenomenon regarding fish by means of conducting ethnographic interviews to illicit knowledge, perspectives, utility, values, and superstitions held by fisherpersons of their fish. As part of this process, Andrew will conduct ethnographies in Sitka, Kodiak and Juneau, Alaska- three locations of major state economic contributions via fishing. Andrew will be photographing his experiences during his ethnographic work and travels, the photographic work of which is intended to be displayed at the UAS Juneau campus.

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Bait Types for Dungeness Crab

Student Investigator: Trevor Fritz

The goal of this project is to conduct a study aimed at understanding and comparing the effectiveness of bait types used for catching Dungeness crabs. This project was initiated in September of 2010 as part of a University of Alaska Southeast Biology Program's Field Research in Behavior and Ecology course. I compared three bait types (salmon carcasses, herring and dog food) in their relative effectiveness at catching Dungeness crab (Cancer magister) in Echo Cove, Alaska. My objective is to investigate two hypotheses in the spring/summer of 2010 in Echo Cove: 1) bait herring catches have a greater composition of retainable crabs than salmon carcass catches and bait clam catches, and 2) increasing ring soak-time produces a greater composition of retainable crabs in a catch. The study will culminate with the contribution of novel research to the scientific community in the form of a scientific paper suitable to submit for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Additionally, a poster will be prepared for display on campus.

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Depiction of Fractals Through Art

Student Investigator: Kaylie Simpson

The intention of this project is to generate an appreciation for mathematics, and its applications in disciplines outside of science, at UAS. The project will develop and demonstrate cross-disciplinary applications of mathematics in graphic design and printmaking. Through a presentation of the beauty of fractals and the process behind their generation, the value and results of collaboration between art and mathematics will be exhibited. In addition, the project is expected to enrich the academic experience of both participants and fellow students by gaining and sharing a better understanding of fractal composition, fractal generating software, and the process of silk screening.

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Microalgae in Aquatic Ecosystems of Southeast Alaska

Student Investigator: Melissa Williams

  • Faculty Mentor: Christopher Donar, Ph.D.
  • Funding Source: URECA

The area around Southeast Alaska has numerous complex freshwater and marine ecosystems.  The biodiversity of many of these ecosystems have yet to be examined in great detail. We are focusing on microalgae because these organisms are very informative about the waters quality conditions. The goal of this project is to produce a digital image database and a taxonomic reference collection of diatoms and other microalgae collected from lakes and aquatic ecosystems in the vicinity of Ketchikan Alaska.  Through this project we hope to develop a useful reference tool that can be used by many agencies in order to improve biomonitoring efforts and improve our understanding of these ecosystems.

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Humpback Whale Photographic Data

Student Investigator: Carrie Comstock

  • Faculty Mentor: Andy Szabo, M.Sc.
  • Funding Source: URECA

I propose to increase the amount of validated photographic data available on humpback whales in Southeast Alaska through a significant outreach effort to educate Alaska residents, tourists, and companies involved in the tourism industry (specifically fishing, sightseeing, and whale watching charters). To demonstrate clear “thought leadership” by developing innovative ways to collect scientific data that will significantly enhance the ability of scientists in Juneau and around the world to learn about whale behavior in Southeast Alaska and elsewhere.

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Metabolic Rates of Starry Flounder

Student Investigator: Julienne Pacheco

I would like to conduct a study on the metabolic rates of the two different morphotypes of Platichthys stellatus, more commonly known as the starry flounder. Polymorphism, or the presence of more than one morphotype, is rarely seen in flatfishes. Typically, species of this order exhibit only a single phenotype, being either the dextral (‘right-sided’) type or the sinistral (‘left-sided’) type. The objective of my study is to quantify the metabolic rates of both morphotypes of P. stellatus before and after exercise to determine if there is a difference in swimming effort and hydrodynamic efficiency. Evidence of this would provide a very rare example of significant physiological consequences to the expression of a marine polymorphism. The University of Alaska Southeast campus lacks some of the equipment necessary, such as the respirometry chamber for juvenile flatfish. Any awarded sum would be applied towards purchase of necessary equipment, lab gear, equipment maintenance, and field collection expenses.

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Southeast Alaska Spot Prawn Sex Ratio Distribution and Habitat Preferences

Student Investigator: Esther Bower

Spot prawns (Pandalus platyceros) are a commercial commodity in Southeast Alaska. They are an important industry and essential to marine ecosystems. There has been a significant decline in the numbers of wild shrimp found around the Juneau area, leading to concerns from fisherman and scientists. This project will determine a frequency distribution for spot shrimp size in different depth and substrate conditions in Chatham straight and Lynn Canal. This project aims to gain information about the benthic preferences between the different sexes of spot shrimp. This study will use technology and netted pots to observe and sample bottom fauna and gain a better understanding of the role spot shrimp have in the marine environment. Information gained from this study may help explain the patterns of decline we are noticing in the Southeast Alaska spot prawn populations.

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Stream and Lake Environmental Effects on Morphology in an Introduced Population of Brook Trout (Salvelinas fontinalis)

Student Investigator: Henry Masters

Biodiversity of wild populations contributes to the stable functioning of an ecosystem, yet we still do not fully understand how environmental variation affects the origins of biodiversity via natural selection. Recently introduced populations into novel but pristine environments provide an ideal case study to investigate how rapid evolution in variable habitats occurs. This project will study the brook trout (Salvelinas fontinalis) population that was planted within the Salmon Creek Reservoir in Juneau, Alaska in the early 19th century. The purpose of this project is to achieve an understanding of how environment and morphology of brook trout interact, and whether this new habitat is leading to new phenotypes within this previously unstudied population of brook trout. Studies of other native fish species show that divergence in body shape between stream and lake populations can occur over long periods of time, typically resulting in more streamlined body shapes in stream populations.

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Do sculpin (Cottus sp.) exhibit torpor to offset low food periods?

Student Investigator: Annaliese Moll

  • Faculty Mentor: Keith Cox, Ph.D.
  • Funding Source: URECA

Many organisms struggle during periods of low food availability. In order to survive they down regulate their metabolic rate and go into a hibernation state. However, for non-mammals this state is referred to as torpor. The objective of this project is to conduct record of the metabolic rate of sculpin (Cottus sp.) experiencing torpor within a lab setting. This project is important as little work has been done in this field and may provide clues into over winter survival, compensatory growth, and pulsed feeding regimes.

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Integrating alpine meteorological data to run physically based computer model SNOWPACK for operational snow and avalanche forecasting

Student Investigator: Jamie Pierce

The goal of my research is to develop a framework for monitoring snowpack stability around Juneau in real-time. To do this, I will integrate and correlate three sources of data. The physically based open source model developed through the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF SNOWPACK will be used for the purpose of tracking weak layer development in the snowpack around Juneau. The model will run using high alpine meteorological data (real-time) from stations that I have installed. The data from the SNOWPACK model will be correlated with both manual snowpack observations and a data set from the newly developed automated pressure-sensing electronic probe (AVATECH snow pen), for evaluating how well the model is predicting the development of weak layers in the snowpack. 

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Glacier Fed: Investigating marine iron within Berners Bay

Student Investigator: Melissa Rhodes-Reese

Marine iron is generally considered a limiting nutrient, especially within the Gulf of Alaska. While it is known that glaciers in Southeast Alaska contribute essential nutrients to the marine environment, there is little information regarding fluxes and bioavailability of iron transported from glacial rivers to coastal waters in the region. Berners Bay, north of Juneau, is a tidal estuary that is substantially influenced by three converging glacial rivers. The goal of this research is to gain an understanding of total dissolved iron within Berners Bay and ascertain a potential gradient in iron concentrations from the estuary into Lynn Canal while evaluating other oceanographic parameters such as chlorophyll-α. Water samples will be collected during the summer of 2015 at eight stations along two separate transects throughout Berners Bay. Iron concentrations will be determined at the University of Alaska Southeast using Chelex-100 resin and graphite furnace atomic absorption spectrometry. This study has the potential to determine baseline marine nutrient values and support future nutrient work within these dynamic glacial systems. 

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Sea Otter Skeleton

Student Investigator: Diana Thompson

  • Faculty Mentor: Andy Szabo, Ph.D.
  • Funding Source: URECA

I plan to dissect a sea otter carcass, photograph organs and skeletal structure, and re-construct the bones into a full-body skeleton. Additionally, the photographs will be compiled into a sea otter anatomy identification book, which also will be given to the UAS Biology Department.

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