Friday Harbor Laboratories
Revised: 8-11-16

Blinks - NSF REU - BEACON Internship Program

Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Integrative Biology and Ecology of Marine Organisms

Application deadline: February 15, 2017

Program dates: June 12 to August 5, 2017 (8 weeks)

Program Description

Friday Harbor Laboratories' Blinks - NSF REU - BEACON Summer Internship Program seeks to link undergraduate students with scientist-mentors as collaborators in marine science research projects. The program takes advantage of the pristine environment, remarkable biodiversity, and the scientific and technical resources at University of Washington's marine science research facility. We have combined the NSF REU program with the Blinks Research Fellowship program, which targets groups who are historically underrepresented in the marine sciences, with the NSF-funded BEACON Program. In cooperation with the the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Science Foundation and the Anne Hof Blinks Memorial Fellowship, the Blinks-REU-BEACON Program offers a full immersion research experience for motivated undergraduates, post-baccalaureates and graduate students. In keeping with the University of Washington's policy of encouraging diversity in its student body including underrepresented groups, the program seeks 10-15 students of diverse backgrounds and interests to participate in a eight week summer research project in the marine sciences. By linking fellows with marine scientists in a 1:1 research experience, fellows learn both the process and the substance of scientific research. As the research progresses, fellows will be encouraged to become semi-independent collaborators. The experience will expose fellows to the life and work of a marine science research laboratory. The program will incorporate workshops, seminars and training sessions in addition to hands-on research.

The mentors and projects vary from year to year according to the developing research interests of faculty and students. Research projects are designed by the scientists to be achievable projects which dovetail with their research plans. Project descriptions are posted below. Fellows will work semi-independently with mentor supervision for approximately 40 hours per week.

As participants in the FHL community, students will participate actively in FHL community activities, e.g. attend the weekly seminars, eat in the Dining Hall and live in the student dormitory. Early in the summer session, there will be a meeting of student participants with graduate students and mentors to share perspectives on graduate programs and participation in academic life, with a brief description of ongoing projects, and a question/answer session. At the end of their internship, fellows will present their research in a short powerpoint talk. Fellows will also write a scientific paper describing their work, and revise it based upon feedback from the mentor.

The Setting

Friday Harbor Labs is University of Washington's marine science field research station. Located north of Puget Sound in the San Juan Islands, FHL takes advantage of a remarkable diversity of marine habitats and organisms. FHL hosts 15-20 courses per year and approximately 100 independent researchers during the year. The 484 acre campus is the site for thirteen lab buildings, a dining hall, 3 dorms and other housing units.

Research at FHL emphasizes marine invertebrate zoology, phycology, fisheries science, conservation biology, cell and molecular biology, biomedical sciences, oceanography and other scientific disciplines. Investigators and students use diversified field resources as well as modern analytical technologies such as a CT scanner, nucleotide sequencer, scanning laser confocal microscopes, centrifuges, HPLC, TEM, SEM and other equipment. Friday Harbor Labs is equipped with a 58' research vessel, numerous smaller boats, cold rooms, and an extensive seawater system serving numerous lab buildings. The facility includes a computer lab, networked research labs, wi-fi connectivity, a well equipped stockroom, a 17,000 volume library, and SCUBA facilities.

Financial Support

Participants will be provided with financial support to meet costs of room, board and round trip travel, plus a stipend (amount to be determined).


The NSF REU Site grant supports U.S. citizens or permanent residents during their undergraduate careers. The Blinks Endowment supports students who bring diversity to the FHL student body in any phase of their undergraduate or graduate career.

To Apply

1. Fill out the FHL REU Application form to apply for participation in a specific research projects. We recommend applying for up to three projects given the stiff competition for admission to the program. In the ethnicity field, please be sure to indicate if you're from an underrepresented group.

2. Apply to work with a specific mentor by writing a one-page application statement which describes your background, your interest in this project, and how this specific research project will help you achieve your career goals. Please submit up to three application statements, one for each project to which you'd like to apply, and send them to The statements should be sent as separate files in .doc, .docx or .pdf format.

3. Request unofficial copies of your transcript to be sent to Transcripts can be either official or unofficial, and either electronic or on paper. Electronic transcripts are preferred. If your school prepares only paper transcripts, please send them to Mark Tetrick at the address below.

4. Request two letters of recommendation from faculty members who are familiar with your work. Letters should be emailed from faculty directly to

Questions may be directed to

Students who are selected will be notified in late March.

FAQs about FHL

REU Research Projects for 2017 to be selected soon.

REU Research Projects for 2016

Quantifying the abundance of marine cyanobacteria and marine viruses in ocean samples

Dr. Lisa Crummett
Soka University of America, Aliso Viejo, California

In this project, the student will investigate marine bacteriophage (aka "phage"), which are viruses that infect bacteria. The phage that I study infects the common ocean cyanobacterium Synechococcus, which contribute significantly to primary production in the ocean. Phage play a significant role in ocean nutrient dynamics by lysing host cells (50% of the ocean microbial biomass is lysed every day by viruses), altering host cell metabolism during infection, and finally, they themselves acting as a reservoir of dissolved organic phosphorus in the oceans.

The student will examine phage life history characteristics such as latency period (time spent inside the host cell prior to lysis) and burst size (number of phage progeny produced per infectious phage). Little is known about these traits in marine bacteriophage and even less is known about how these traits vary among different phage strains and across environmental gradients.

In order to measure these traits, I would need one or more students to perform time-intensive growth curves of various phage isolates that I have in cold storage. This involves taking hourly counts of free phage in a host cell solution over the course of ~18 hours using a sophisticated instrument called a flow cytometer, which I have recently purchased. The Novocyte flow cytometer has the ability to count both bacteria and viruses in a liquid medium using either autofluorescence (cyanobacteria produce their own fluorescence) or a SYBR gold stain for heterotrophic bacteria and/or viruses.

A potential alternate project would involve quantifying the abundance of autotrophic bacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, and viruses in natural ocean environments around San Juan Island that vary in environmental features such as depth, distance from shore, salinity, current features, trophic status, chlorophyll concentration, etc. We may discover some interesting patterns in the distribution of particular marine microbes with respect to various environmental gradients and this would be important because these marine microbes form the foundation of the food web in any marine system. This project would require collecting water samples from various locations around the island, filtering the samples through a relatively large pore-size filter (~ 5μm), and then viewing the samples on the Novocyte flow cytometer and using autofluorescence, side scatter, and SYBR-staining to differentiate between general categories of marine microbes and getting absolute counts for each group. We could then use our environmental data in association with our microbial count data to perform a regression and determine if there are any environmental factors that are influencing the abundance of autotrophic bacteria, heterotrophic bacteria, and viruses around San Juan Island.


Biotic and abiotic determinants of bull kelp distribution and abundance in the Salish Sea

Dr. Megan Dethier, Katie Dobkowski
University of Washington - Friday Harbor Laboratories,

Nereocystis luetkeana is an annual kelp species that provides the bulk of the complex three-dimensional habitat space in rocky subtidal habitats of the San Juan Islands and elsewhere in Washington State. Better understanding of the dynamics of N. luetkeana beds in the Salish Sea is crucial not only because they create valuable habitat for economically and ecologically important species, but also to inform management decisions and restoration efforts.

Previous field experiments have shown that competition is important in determining where juvenile bull kelp begin to grow. This project will seek to address up to three important questions:

  • Does turnover (appearance of new individuals) or persistence of an initial cohort of individuals maintain bull kelp bed density over the course of the summer growing season?
  • Does juvenile bull kelp (stipe length <30 cm) mortality differ among kelp bed locations around the San Juan Islands?
  • Do material properties of juvenile bull kelp stipes and blades differ from those of mature bull kelp?
  • This project will use a combination of subtidal field work (involving scuba diving) and laboratory experiments. To be able to participate in subtidal experiments and data collection, applicants must be able to provide all of their own dive gear suitable for cold-water diving. Since the University of Washington is a member of the American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS), applicants must also be AAUS certified divers able to provide a Letter of Reciprocity/Verification of Training OR have 20 logged dives and be willing to start the medical clearance process to become a scientific diver upon acceptance to the Friday Harbor Labs REU program.


    The effects of phytoplankton patches and fluctuating salinity on protein expression and the behavior of echinoderm larvae in haloclines

    Dr. Sophie George
    Georgia Southern University

    A regular occurring event in the coastal waters of the Pacific Northwest is a decrease in salinity to less than 15‰ in some areas, as a result of increased precipitation and ice melts during the spring and summer months. George and Walker (2007) and Pia, Johnson, and George (2012) observed salinity-induced morphological changes for Dendraster excentricus (top right) and Pisaster ochraceus larvae (bottom left). For example, Pisaster larvae reared at 20‰ were shorter and wider while those reared at 32‰ were longer and slender. The development to metamorphosis and the production of juveniles by larvae exposed to 20‰ (bottom right, juvenile P. ochraceus) in of itself is intriguing given that these species cannot regulate the osmolarity and ion content of their internal fluids. These studies indicate that the timing, magnitude and duration of ice melts and rainfall in the Pacific Northwest could alter larval morphology, larval feeding and swimming, and possibly the quality of new P. ochraceus recruits into the intertidal zone in the Puget Sound. During the summer of 2016, research will continue looking at larval behavior of P. ochraceus in haloclines with and without food. Students will also investigate the effect of multiple low salinity events on protein expression in P. ocraceus larvae. Knowledge on larval behavior in haloclines would enhance our understanding of how echinoderm larvae will respond to changes in surface salinity as a result of climate change.


    The participating student would learn to prepare algal cultures; rear larvae to metamorphic competency, observe larvae in haloclines, prepare samples for protein determination and gel electrophoresis, and photograph larvae from the various treatments.

    Past students have presented their research at regional (GAS) and international meetings (SICB), and are coauthors on 3 recent articles from research at FHL with one submitted to Marine Ecology Progress Series with minor revision. Past students have presented their research at regional (GAS) and international meetings (SICB), and are coauthors on 3 recent articles from research at FHL with two in preparation:

      George, Sophie B. & Walker, Devoc. 2007 Short-term fluctuation in salinity promotes rapid development and metamorphosis of Dendraster excentricus larvae Journal of experimental marine Biology and Ecology. 348:113-130.

      George, Sophie B., Fox, Colleen & Wakeham, Stuart 2008. Fatty acid composition of larvae of the sand dollar Dendraster excentricus (Echinodermata) might reflect FA composition of the diets Aquaculture 285: 167-173.

      Tanya Pia; Johnson, Tiffany and George, Sophie 2012. Single and multiple fluctuations in salinity affect growth,
      development and metamorphosis of the sea star Pisaster ochraceus. Journal of plankton research 34:590-601.

      Sam Bashevkin, Daniel Lee, Paul Driver and Sophie George. Vertical distribution of brachiolariae larvae in haloclines is influenced by prior exposure to low salinity. In prep. (past Blinks-BEACON-REU scholars or grad students in bold).

    Amylase genetics and biochemistry underlie a digestive specialization in prickleback fishes (Family Stichaeidae).

    Dr. Donovan German
    Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Irvine

    Rationale and significance: As the supply organ of nutrients to an animal, the digestive tract is a dynamic physiological system that is the focus of the growing field of nutritional physiology. Yet, in comparison to terrestrial vertebrates, the nutritional physiology of fishes is understudied. Key to our understanding of fish nutritional physiology is digestive specialization, and beyond a few disparate groups of herbivorous fishes that appear to be reliant on microbial endosymbiont fermentation, other specializations have remained elusive. One emergent theme in fish digestive physiology is elevated biochemical activity of amylase, a carbohydrate-degrading digestive enzyme, in the guts of herbivorous and omnivorous fishes (but not carnivores), which has now been observed in at least four different fish families. Thus, elevated amylase activity may represent a potential digestive specialization for diet in fishes. In support of this, amylase activity and gene expression have been observed to remain elevated in herbivores and omnivores (but not carnivores) in fishes in the family Stichaeidae (pricklebacks), despite little starch present in experimental diets. However, we do not understand the molecular and biochemical underpinnings of this potential specialization, or the potential fitness consequences.

    Research Projects: The goals of this integrative project are to do the following in closely related herbivorous, omnivorous, and carnivorous prickleback fishes: 1) using traditional and high-throughput molecular technologies, identify the number of amylase genes in the genome and being expressed at a given time; 2) characterize different amylase protein isoforms to identify whether there are among-species, and among-isoform variations in structure and function that may explain digestive specialization, and 3) conduct feeding trials with pricklebacks to determine whether growth rate and fitness can be affected by differential digestibility of diverse diets due to differences in amylase machinery. Preliminary data already suggest that herbivores and omnivores express more amylase genes than do carnivores, and that convergently-evolved herbivores express different suites of amylases, showing different routes (i.e., expression of multiple genes vs. high expression of fewer genes) to achieve elevated amylase activity. 

    Significance: Few examples of digestive specializations are known in fishes, and closely related species with similar gut morphologies and other ecological and physiological variables provide the best systems in which to test for specializations. The clear pattern of elevated amylase activities in herbivores and omnivores has been observed in the Stichaeidae, Atherinopsidae, Cyprinidae, and Hemiramphidae, four disparate fish families distributed globally, as well as in birds and canids in terrestrial systems, showing the ubiquity of this phenomenon in vertebrates. The studies described here will answer fundamental questions about the mechanisms underlying patterns in enzymatic activity, as well as potential metabolic and fitness consequences. By comprehending the mechanisms and consequences of specialization, we will be better equipped to understand the nutritional physiology of prickleback fishes, their roles in their biotic communities, and potential contributions to ecosystem fluxes, all of which represent important information that can be used in making informed management decisions about their conservation.


    Impacts of ocean acidification on the orange cup coral, Balanophyllia elegans

    Dr. Anne Gothmann
    University of Washington School of Oceanography

    Since the late 18th century, the uptake of anthropogenic pCO2 by the ocean has been accompanied by a ~0.1 unit decrease in mean surface ocean pH (IPCC, 2014). This process, termed ocean acidification (OA), is particularly deleterious for calcifying organisms such as corals because it makes it more difficult for those organisms to build their calcium carbonate skeletons. An example of the effect of OA on coral can be seen in the experimental results of Cohen et al. (2009) (see figure in lower right). There are visible differences in the amount of calcium carbonate precipitated by newly developing skeletons of the coral, Favia frugrum, between conditions of (A, top image) high pH and (D, bottom image) lower pH.

    In the summer of 2016, we will examine the effects of OA on the calcification and physiology of the orange cup coral, Balanophyllia elegans - a species native to the Pacific Northwest (see photo on upper right).


    B. elegans differs from more widely known reef-building corals for two main reasons: (1) it exists without the help of symbiotic algae, and (2) it is adapted to the naturally low pH, acidic waters of the Pacific Northwest.

    For these reasons, it is also an especially interesting species to study in the context of OA. An understanding of how B. elegans responds to changes in seawater pH and other complementary changes in seawater carbonate chemistry (e.g., carbonate ion, saturation state, dissolved inorganic carbon) would help us better understand how corals will respond in general to ongoing anthropogenic OA, and may help us better understand the mechanisms by which corals build their skeletons.

    Via comparison with a similar experiment conducted with the reef-building, symbiotic coral A. eurystoma (Schneider and Erez, 2006), we may also gain insight into why B. elegans is able to thrive in naturally low-pH conditions.

    Students will help maintain a set of ongoing culture experiments in which B. elegans grows under varying seawater carbonate chemistries. They will not only investigate how calcification rate varies across the experimental culture conditions, but also how respiration and crystal structure vary. Through this work the student will learn the fundamentals of carbonate chemistry, the basics of how to keep sophisticated aquaria, to perform analyses of carbonate system parameters (pH, total alkalinity, dissolved inorganic carbon), to prepare specimens for optical analysis, and to image prepared specimens with different optical techniques. The eventual goal of this summer’s research will be the presentation of results at the annual American Geophysical Union meeting, and scientific publication.

    A. L. Cohen, D. C. McCorkle, S. de Putron, G. A. Gaetani, K. A. Rose, Morphological and compositional change in the skeletons of new coral recruits reared in acidified seawater: Insights into the biomineralization response to ocean acidification. Geochemistry Geophysics Geosystems 10, Q07005 (2009).

    IPCC, “Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. ” (IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 2014).
    K. Schnieder, J. Erez, The effect of carbonate chemistry on calcification and photosynthesis in the hermatypic coral Acropora eurystoma. Limnology and Oceanography 51, 1284 (2006).















    Sexual selection on the seashore: Mating systems of marine arthropods

    Dr. Vik Iyengar
    Biology Department, Villanova University

    Arthropods are the most abundant and diverse group in the animal kingdom – they occupy nearly every ecological niche in marine, freshwater and terrestrial habitats.  Their extraordinary evolutionary success can be partly attributed to the remarkable diversity of mating systems found in arthropods.  I am primarily interested in sexual selection, particularly within species that are sexually dimorphic – that is, where strong competition for mates has ultimately lead to divergence in the appearance of males and females.  Exaggerated male traits can be the result of female choice, where females mate preferentially based on the male's expression of these traits, male competition, where males use armaments in intrasexual battles for access to females, or a combination of both.  In such mating systems, males usually compete with each other for females in contests usually determined by differences in body size or weaponry which dictate fighting ability. Males may compete directly for access to females or may instead control resources essential for female survival and reproduction.

    Earwigs are a model system for studying competition and reproductive behavior because they are distinguished by their possession of weapons (“forceps”), their high degree of maternal care (females aggressively guarding eggs and juveniles), and high densities that promote frequent interaction. 

    In most earwigs, both sexes use their forceps to capture prey, and female earwigs are usually larger than males, presumably due to a fecundity advantage seen in many arthropods.  The maritime earwig Anisolabis maritima is unusual among the order Dermaptera, and this insect is particularly well-suited for studies of sexual selection because males differ markedly from females in both body size (males are more variable in size, and often substantially larger, than females) and weaponry (males possess asymmetrical, curved forceps whereas females have straight forceps; see photo). Furthermore, while females often kill conspecifics by using their forceps like scissors, males usually resolve their disputes non-lethally by squeezing each other’s abdomens, perhaps a means to assess strength and fighting ability (see diagram from Muñoz & Zink 2012).  This summer we will continue lab and field investigations of the mating system of A. maritima by determining the roles of sex, size and weaponry on intrasexual competition and intersexual mating preferences, and by examining how same-sex and mixed-sex interactions (“social networks”) affect distribution patterns observed in the field. 




    Interaction of ocean acidification and nutrition in the life history of a gastropod

    Dr. Tony Pires
    Dickinson College


    Rising atmospheric levels of CO2 are expected to lead to substantial lowering of ocean pH within the next century.  Impacts of ocean acidification (OA) are being intensively studied at FHL and at other laboratories around the world, particularly with respect to organisms that make calcareous skeletons that become more difficult to grow and maintain in acidified conditions.  Many studies have focused on veliger larvae of molluscs, because of the ecological and economic importance of these animals.  Although many studies have documented OA effects on larval growth and survival, few have focused attention on the critical life history transition of metamorphosis, when pelagic larvae become benthic juveniles.  This is a pressing area for research, in two respects.  First, it is clear that larval experience may have profound latent effects on juveniles (1).  Second, developmental effects of OA occur in the context of other influences such as nutrition and temperature, so it is necessary to study such interactions  (2).  


    In the summer of 2016 we will study interactions of OA and nutrition in larvae and juveniles of the gastropod, Crepidula fornicata.  How do these factors affect the acquisition of competence for metamorphosis, the neurobehavioral responses to environmental cues that induce settlement and metamorphosis, and post-metamorphic juvenile performance? C. fornicata is an ideal animal for this research. Much baseline information is already known about its development, metamorphosis, and life history.  The veligers are large (up to 1.5 mm), easily cultured, and amenable to ecologically-relevant behavioral and neurophysiological experiments (3).  Furthermore, C. fornicata is native to the eastern U.S. but has become established as a non-native species in many parts of the world (including Washington), and is of great interest as an invasive species in changing ecosystems (4). In this project students will learn elements of experimental design, as well as methods of larval culture, carbonate chemistry, metamorphosis assays, and techniques for analysis of larval behavior.

    (1) Pechenik JA (2006) Integr Comp Biol 46: 323-333.
    (2) Byrne M, Przeslawski R (2013) Integr Comp Biol 53: 582-596.
    (3) Penniman JA et al. (2013) Invertebr Biol 132: 14-26.
    (4) Bohn K, Richardson C (2012) Mar Biol 159: 2091-2103.






    Effects of ocean acidification on embryo development: does encapsulation matter?

    Dr. Bob Podolsky
    College of Charleston, Grice Marine Lab

    Ocean acidification (OA), the "other CO2 problem," poses a worldwide threat to marine organisms.  With about 1/4 of anthropogenic CO2 absorbed by the world's oceans, the resulting production of carbonic acid has reduced the pH of seawater in coastal areas by 30% or more relative to pre-industrial conditions.  Lower pH induces a change in the chemical equilibrium that favors the dissolution (rather than accretion) of calcium carbonate (CaCO3), the major material used by marine invertebrates to build skeletons, feeding structures, and protective structures.

    Top row: balloon-shaped egg mass of Melanochlamys diomedea; embryos inside M. diomedea egg mass; egg ribbon of Haminoea vesicula; egg curtain of Melibe leonina.

    Bottom row: egg donut of Lacuna sp.; egg strings of Tritonia diomedea; egg capsules of Nassarius obsoleta; hatched and measured larvae of N. obsoleta.


    Studies have been accumulating information about the effect of OA on early developmental stages of invertebrate taxa that have free-swimming larvae; however, we know relatively little about species that encapsulate early stages inside protective structures.  These structures—egg masses, ribbons, strings, and bare capsules—are known to play a role in protecting embryos from stresses involving salinity fluctuation, UV exposure, dehydration and water motion, but their effectiveness in protection against OA is unexplored.  This project will address the sensitivity to OA of the embryos of gastropods, the largest taxonomic class of marine invertebrates, which typically encapsulate their embryos in one of a variety of protective structures.  Effects of OA on early development can be measured by differences in shell size, body size, and the deposition of CaCO3.

    By rearing embryos of diverse species inside and outside of protective structures and under past, present, and future CO2 conditions, we will address two main questions: (1) to what degree does encapsulation buffer against the effects of past and anticipated changes in pH, and (2) do different kinds of encapsulating structures offer different degrees of protection?  This project will take advantage of the unique OA facility at FHL and the rich diversity of gastropods offered by the waters around the San Juan Islands.

    BEACON Program Internship.

    Dr. Billie Swalla
    University of Washington

    The BEACON Program will fund up to four students. Students will work under the supervision of Dr. Billie Swalla.

    Prone to Clone: When do mothers influence larval cloning?

    Figure: A sand dollar larva in the process of cloning itself through budding.

    Dr. Dawn Vaughn
    California State University, Northridge

    Larval cloning in echinoderms (sea urchins, sea stars, sand dollars) is an unusual process by which one larva divides or buds to form a second individual. First reported in 1921(1), and subsequently dismissed as an aberration of normal development, cloning in echinoderm larvae occurs frequently in nature and is known from all but one class of echinoderms (2). More recent observations from laboratory studies provide an ecological context for cloning as well as insight into the circumstances favoring cloning during early development.

    Echinoderm larvae clone under varied conditions of abundant food (3–4) and with changes in predation risk (5), however cloning is a highly variable response. Not all larvae subjected to these known stimuli for cloning will produce clones. This variability has been linked to maternity (6); larvae from some mothers clone, while those from other mothers do not. However, the specific aspects of maternity that influence larval cloning are unknown. One possibility is that larval cloning may be a mechanism by which mothers bolster fitness when constraints or trade-offs otherwise divert resources away from reproduction.


    Figure: A small cloned larval sand dollar lying next to a conspecific egg.

    The proposed REU project will focus on maternal effects on larval cloning in two echinoid species, the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus and the western sand dollar Dendraster excentricus. Planktonic larvae of these species show a propensity for cloning and are easily cultured in the lab.The research will center on determining how a mother’s demography, condition and experience affects the cloning ability of her larval offspring. Additional goals could include documenting growth rates and metamorphic success of larval clones. Specific skills that a REU student will learn are experimental design, culturing and rearing of planktonic larvae and their algal food, video microscopy and imaging, and the use of software packages for graphical and statistical analysis.

    Literature cited:
    (1) Mortensen TH (1921) Studies on the Development and Larval Forms of Echinoderms. G. E. C. Gad, Copenhagen.
    (2) Eaves A, Palmer AR (2003) Nature 425, 146
    (3) Vickery MS, McClintock JB (2000) The Biological Bulletin199(3), 298-304
    (4) McDonald KA, Vaughn D (2010) The Biological Bulletin, 219(1), 38-49
    (5) Vaughn D, Strathmann RR (2008) Science, 319(5869), 1503
    (6) Vaughn D (2009) The Biological Bulletin217(2), 103-114


    High and dry: how do embryos survive desiccation in the intertidal?

    Yasmin von Dassow, Dr. Mickey von Dassow
    Duke University Marine Lab, Beaufort, NC

    When thinking about effects of climate change on marine organisms, it is important to consider the range of variation they regularly experience in the wild. Intertidal animals are frequently susceptible to desiccation at low tide, so they have evolved a variety of behavioral and physiological adaptations to prevent desiccation. However, these adaptations may not be present at all life stages, as in the case of animals whose embryos remain in the intertidal throughout development. Many intertidal embryos are encased in gelatinous egg masses attached to a substratum. If an egg mass detaches, it can float away and become stranded out of the water at low tide. Surprisingly, this does not necessarily mean the embryos are doomed, even though they are protected only by a slimy outer coating.

    Figure: Yasmin von Dassow. H. vesicula.


    We have preliminary data showing that embryos in thin, flat egg masses produced by the sea slug Haminoea vesicula can survive stranding and substantial water loss at low tide. Now we want to investigate the secrets of their remarkable survival. Specifically, we will ask: 1.) How does desiccation affect internal salinity of egg masses? 2.) How does interaction with the substratum affect desiccation? 3.) How does water loss affect cell size in the embryos? 4.) How does water loss affect embryonic development?

    H. vesicula is a great model system because adults are highly abundant, easy to collect, and amenable to reproduction in the lab. We will be working with adult slugs and their egg masses in both field and laboratory settings. Our primary field site is False Bay, San Juan Island, a beautiful sandflat with an amazing diversity of organisms and habitats. General knowledge of biology and microscopy, ability to both think independently and follow directions, good organizational skills, and willingness to try new things are the prerequisites for this research opportunity. In your application, please explain why you are attracted to this particular project.