Happy Spring, From Professor Billie J. Swalla, Acting Director of FHL!

I love the seasons, as they mark the passage of time. Winter is a quiet time on the FHL campus for visitors. However, ask any staff member and they will tell you that they are working hard, preparing for the busy research and teaching that will go on at FHL in the spring, summer and fall of 2013. It has been my privilege for the past two months to work with such a dedicated group of people as the FHL staff, FHL Advancement Board and the College of the Environment at the University of Washington. It’s been a challenging and unique learning experience, but I am happy to report that Friday Harbor Laboratories is continuing its stated mission of carrying out diverse, cutting edge, marine teaching and research.

Early last December, I was asked by Dean Lisa Graumlich of the College of the Environment to become the Acting Director of Friday Harbor Laboratories from December 15, 2012 through April 30, 2013 and I agreed. This was not a decision taken lightly, I called several of my smart and accomplished academic mentors and after they pledged their support, then I felt willing to take on this challenge. This is a time of change for FHL and it is important to me that FHL come through these difficult times in a proud and strong position at the University of Washington.

First, I want to thank Director Ken Sebens, currently on sabbatical in Italy, former Associate Director Adam Summers, Associate Dean Stephanie Harrington, from the College of the Environment, and Trish Morse, Chair of the FHL Advancement Board for all of their help, advice, creativity and passion for FHL in the past couple of months. Now, here is all of the exciting news of research and goings on at the lab in the winter of 2013. There is much to appreciate and enjoy, but we are always looking to even greater research endeavors.

Several FHL resident and associated researchers, including myself, Claudia Mills, Gustav Paulay and Gretchen Lambert were part of a massive effort to describe the number of marine invertebrate species in a paper published in December in Current Biology (Ward Appeltans et al. 2012. The Magnitude of Global Marine Species Diversity). We are all editors of a web site to describe and number marine species, called WoRMS (World Register of Marine Species). This paper was a huge collaboration of editors and sets a baseline for marine biodiversity. This kind of research is always based on models, but it appears that there may be from 750,000 to 1,000,000 marine species, which are being continually described and characterized by marine scientist. Click here to view the abstract.

Ocean Acidification is in the news and continues to be a thrust of research at FHL and on the UW campus. We had two Ocean Acidification lectures on campus in January and February. The first Lecture was given on January 31, 2013 by Dr. Jan Newton, Senior Principal Oceanographer with Applied Physics Lab of UW. Jan works with colleagues at UW, FHL and NOAA to assess the status of ocean acidification of local waters. Her lecture was part of the San Juan Nature Institute Arthur Whiteley Lecture series. Then, on February 27, 2013, there was an Ocean Acidification Seminar co-sponsored by the San Juan County MRC, Northwest Straits Commission, and Sustainable Fisheries Partnership. This seminar featured Dr. Shallin Busch, member of the state's Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification, journalist Eric Scigliano, and Eric Swenson of Sustainable Fisheries partnership. Dr. Emily Carrington, also was in the news for her ocean acidification research that shows that mussel byssal threads are affected by climate change. She presented her research at the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) meetings in Boston, MA on February 16, 2013. Emily’s research was highlighted in UW News and also in the Seattle Times.

We are excited about a new Postdoctoral Associate coming to Friday Harbor Laboratories, Nicholas Gidmark. Nick works on the biomechanics of fish jaw muscle and is finishing his PhD at Brown University, working with Dr. Elizabeth Brainerd. Dr. Adam Summers will be Nick’s mentor and both are looking forward to their research collaborations. Nick will also be teaching a couple of courses during his two years here and organizing the seminar series. He is planning on moving to FHL in late August or early September of 2013.

Billie Swalla at Cattle Point, collecting invertebrates with two students from the 2010 FHL Genomics Apprenticeship - Kellen Andrilenas and Alana Byrne. Kellen is currently in graduate school at Boston University and Alana is in graduate school in Buenos Aires. Photo by Mat Citarella.

Finally, if you haven't stopped reading by now, then perhaps you would like to know a little bit about me. I’ve been a member of the UW Department of Biology since 1999, when I moved from Pennsylvania State University to the University of Washington. My goal then was to move to an academic position that had a vibrant marine lab and I chose the University of Washington over the University of Chicago because then Director Dennis Willows promised me that I could have space at FHL as long as I worked here every summer. I remember telling my lab at PSU “This is my dream job, and I must take it.” I helped them finish their degrees, move to UW, or whatever they needed to do to finish up their time in my lab. One of my undergraduates at PSU ended up becoming an Environmental Lawyer, another went off to become a Medical Doctor, and I moved to the Pacific Northwest. As a marine biologist, interested in diversity and body plans, I have been a leader in Marine Genomics and Evolution and Development. My main research interests are the Diversity and Genomics of Marine Invertebrates and how that information can inform Stem Cell Biology and Regeneration. I’ve been teaching summer courses and spring apprenticeships at FHL since 2000, when I first taught “Comparative Invertebrate Embryology.” FHL is a unique, vibrant marine lab and I am committed to making it an even better place to work, for everyone.