Happy Holidays! If you are reading this congratulations- you’ve almost made it through 2020! (knock on wood! keep on going, be healthy and try to be happy… you got 29 days left!). After this zoommester-I feel like myself and all of my students should win an award at this point, and looks like a lot of people feel that way based on this plaque I just found on Etsy:
In addition to surviving the 2020 zoommester- I recently blogged about how the last paper from my Delta Science Postdoctoral Research Fellowship was accepted to the Journal of Biological Control. Now it is hot off the press (Hopper et al. 2021) in all of its glory! You can access this free link and download the free scientific article for about 45 more days.. so have at it (and share it if you like it). I also want to thank California Sea Grant and the Delta Science Program for helping to fund this project and give a shout out to all of my coauthors from USDA and UC Davis. This includes my long-time undergraduate mentee (Somanette Rivas) who worked for me both when I was a grad student and when I was a postdoc, and is now at the USDA as a Research Technician! (I’m a proud mama bear… what can I say..)
Thus- it is critical that we all take steps to prevent more damage to our oceans and at the same time help the oceans recover. The first step is reducing our waste, which I will cover in a future blog, but another step that we can all do is to cleanup our parks, streets and beaches to prevent more plastic waste from entering our oceans. We can even do this during Covid19- while socially distanced outdoors and wearing our masks and gloves!
So this ‘Zoomester’ I decided to organize a Plastic Cleanup- with an in-person beach cleanup event at Playa Del Rey Beach in Los Angeles and a remote option for those individuals that were living afar. This took place last Saturday (10/17/20) and all in all it was a tremendous success with about 15 people that participated! This included faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduates, including four undergraduates from my Environmental Studies class that I had never met in person prior to this day (I get so excited to meet people in real life now.. ha). In the below photo are two students (and roommates) from USC posing behind some of the trash that they and several others collected. Unfortunately I forgot to ask everyone to stack their trash, so I wasn’t able to document all of it.
The fabulously talented photographer: Maurice Roper (USC) also came and documented the whole event! Below I have included a gallery showcasing some of the photos he took!
In addition to Maurice Roper documenting the event, I was very fortunate to have the wonderful support of USC’s Environmental Studies Program and the Wrigley Institute. I want to give a special shoutout to Dr. Jill Sohm (Director of the Environmental Studies Program) and Dr. Ann Close (Wrigley Institute, Associate Director) for their help. Lastly, I was able to use hands-free online waiver forms with the help of Kate Tucker at Resmark Systems with “WaiverSign” (I highly recommend them for your hands-free events!).
I truly felt like this event was impactful. Aside from all of the trash that we cleaned off the beach (the majority of which was plastic), there were many people that watched us and thanked us, and even some that joined us! So I have hope that this event spread awareness as to the little things that WE CAN ALL DO to help our oceans and environment!
Wow has 2020 been an insane year globally and in the USA..
But has it? In my opinion things have always been insanely messed up in this country and finally now the majority of Americans paying attention and trying to do something about it.
We have seen protests all over the country and world, which is a promising sign. However, we have also seen anti-protestors, white supremacists and fascists trying to stop these protests and trying to cause harm to the protestors and African Americans.
In fact, my cousin-in-law Daniel Gregory, whom is African American, was recently shot while trying to stop an anti-protestor that had driven his car through a crowd of protestors in Seattle, WA on June 7th, 2020. You can read the article here. I am relieved Dan is in stable condition now, but he is ridden with medical expenses, so please donate to the gofundme page hereif you are reading this and want to help Dan the Hero (or you can bypass the fees and send Dan funds directly through cashapp: $Dthunderg).
Perhaps protests like these, and those all around the world, as well as long overdue-attention have finally arrived due to the imperfect storm of COVID, Environmental injustice and civil injustice including the recent murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other African Americans in the image below.
I’m not African-American, so Im not going to act like I know everything, or try to tell their narratives. I also have not gone into sufficient detail describing the atrocities against people of color in this nation or the concept of structural racism. Instead I’ll link to resources below this post that have been distributed from graduate students in the Earth and Sciences Department and have been circulating around at USC. Many of the resources (listed and linked below this blog) have been produced by African Americans, the very voices that deserve to be heard louder than any white narrative.
However, one subject that I am more knowledgeable in that relates intensely to the Black Lives Matter Movement is the intersections between Environmental Health and Social Justice – aka Environmental Justice.
To clarify Environmental Justice, let’s use the definition from the EPA:
“Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. This goal will be achieved when everyone enjoys: the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards, and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work”.
To explore how communities of color are exposed to more pollution and hazardous waste- check out this environmental justice mapping tool, and enter in your address to see what types of pollution or environmental hazards are near you. https://www.epa.gov/ejscreen
Go ahead, and explore this for yourself, by using the COVID mapper: https://covid19.jvion.com/#! and then again go back to the environmental justice map I showcased previously: https://ejscreen.epa.gov/mapper/ and you will see for yourself how environmental health and social justice intersect (again this is called Environmental Justice).
Below, I have also included list of what you can do to become more educated about anti-racism and being a better ally to the black community. Because remember Environmental Health and Social Justice are linked, and you need to be informed about both to make a difference! You can do it.. now go out there and be the bad ass activist that you are!
Justice in June – a syllabus for folks new to anti-racism (or wanting to learn more) to spend some time each day in June learning how to be a better ally to the black community (this contains several of the resources listed below)
So, I have some exciting changes and news! Starting Monday I will be teaching two undergraduate classes at USC this Fall! I recently changed positions at USC as a postdoctoral researcher (studying parasite-host interactions in the marine phytoplankton community) to a new postdoctoral teaching fellow position. As much as I love research, I really missed teaching and mentoring and wanted to dive deep into teaching to gain more experience as an instructor of record.
I will be teaching an upper division Ecology course with a lab (BISC 315), and a lower division Environmental Studies course (ENST100). I’ll also be participating in USC’s CET New Faculty Institute , a faculty development program. I’m super stoked, and have been hustling for the past month to modify and design the curriculum and get all of the materials ready for the Ecology lab course. I thought most of my time would be modifying and designing new lectures and labs…. and I’ve definitely had some surprises along the way regarding where all of my time goes:
It takes a lot of time to prep a lab room/facility if by chance you are ‘lucky’ enough to have a lab that does’t have a lab manager…. The benefits are that I don’t need to share the lab w/ too many other classes.. so I can leave things set up from time to time. Plus my TA can use the lab as her office hours! Cons- it is up to me to fix everything and get everything ready for the semester! So I definitely spent some time on tasks like getting rid of that old whiteboard that doesn’t erase anymore and fixing the new one that somehow arrived broken (thanks to the hubby for the latter!). On the same note- all of that old hazardous waste in the fume hood.. yup- need to condense it and call EH&S to whisk it away. ….Those old dead snails that have been rotting in the back of the room for over 6 months.. .yea I put those in the dumpster. That cart with some strange devices that look like broken microscopes.. turns out nobody knows who it belongs to.. but it can’t be thrown away. I think that one will just get put in storage…. Oh and then the broken Monitor that we need to use for presentations…thank goodness for IT support…
Then there is the ordering and organizing of all of the supplies for each lab. Which means you have to modify or design labs and fully prep all of the lab instructions and hand outs before the semester starts (which is a good thing anyhow). I did this… and I even made sure we had phase-contrast microscopes before I designed a lab. However I learned a big lesson- always physically check out the equipment before you spend all of the time designing a lab and handouts! Turns out – the phase-contrast microscopes that we have available for our teaching labs don’t have 20X objectives. Later I learned it is standard for most microscopes to only have 4X 10X 40X and 100X.. and I guess 20X is rare.. who knew!?! Unfortunately, one of the labs I spent a couple days designing (including all the handouts, instructions and reading materials)- requires 20X objectives lens… oops! So had to scrap that one and cut my losses. In the end it worked out and I extended a lab on insect diversity instead which I think will be better anyhow. On this note- I am super grateful to the Entomology Curator, Brian Brown, at the Natural History Museum for donating some of their no-data insects for my class insect collection. Im planning on putting them on a backdrop of the phylogeny and evolution of insects (Misof et al. 2014, Science) so students can see the different adaptations that have evolved through time in the Class Insecta.
Lastly there are the little things- like moving into a new office and setting up the space so that it is beneficial for office hours; learning how to use the departmental printer/copier; going to all of the classrooms and making sure my computer connects properly (and organizing those chairs in the classroom since it looks like a rave recently happened!); and meeting with teachers and TAs that taught the classes in previous years so that I can get the run-down on what worked and what didn’t work.
testing the room out!
Everything works! Yay!
Getting the office space ready
Printing the syllabi out for the smaller class!
Then when I do actually have time to work on my lectures.. I find myself going down rabbit holes of finding cool documentaries for my Environmental Studies lectures, such as my new one on the interactions of society, culture and the environment- (Check out this cool documentary series on Native Americans and their stewardship of the land and waters); or going through all of the scientific literature on interesting topics that I am incorporating into my lectures such as sex-changing fish for my ecology lecture on mating behavior and sexual selection (which by the way is how I got interested in ecology in the first place over 20 years ago!.. oh geez Im getting old!)
Anyhow… Monday is right around the corner.. so with that Im going to start uploading everything onto our online BlackBoard system… here we go!
Ps- if any of my students are reading this— don’t worry- I got this! You are in good hands… ha ha ha.
One of the reasons I haven’t posted for a bit besides the normal-busy routine is that it is Spring Time! What’s that got to do with anything you ask?
BLOOMS! BLOOMS OF EVERYTHING!
Besides blooms of flowers in the desert (such as those in the Anza-Borrego Desert), we also get blooms of phytoplankton along the coast in Southern California.
Here, in the spring we get very high winds that can result in upwelling events in the coastal ocean, pushing waters offshore and bringing up cold, nutrient rich water from the bottom ocean layers to the top layers.
This increase in nutrients (such as nitrogen, phosphorous, iron, etc.) can result in massive ‘blooms’ or increases in specific phytoplankton species (diatoms, dinoflagellates, etc.), since typically their densities are limited by nutrient availability. During these blooms, whoever wins the space and resource competition will dominate… until they get run down by grazers, parasites or viruses.. or run out of their limiting nutrient. Once these species decline this then provides space/resources for the next dominating species.
These upwelling events also offer AWESOME opportunities for scientists to examine the species dynamics, and the mechanisms that result in some species or functional groups of phytoplankton to dominate over others.
This year, our laboratory (the Caron Laboratory at USC) decided to start our sampling period after we noticed strong winds on April 9th.. and I mean Strong! I was biking to my circus class that evening, and a branch literally flew and hit me.. luckily I was wearing a helmet 🙂 During lab meeting that week, we were all telling each other the horror stories of the strong wind, and realized.. ‘woah!’… we should start our spring sampling asap! So we quickly contacted the amazing Santa Monica Pier Aquarium (Heal The Bay) and received permission to use some of the space there to do our sample processing for three weeks. Then we finalized our schedules, rotating each daily to sample and process the water off of the Santa Monica Pier. Each day at 8:30am, we get to the aquarium, load up our cart with the RBR (an oceanographic instrument that measures temperature, salinity, chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen), a bucket and container for loading up sea water, and a 20 micron plankton net to collect a concentrated water sample. Then by 9am, we are loading up water into our collection container, and then rolling the water back to the aquarium to filter some of it down as fast as possible onto filters that we flash freeze for DNA/RNA extractions. We also preserve some of the whole sea water for relative abundance counts of the different organisms via microscopy, and we sample the water for extraction of chlorophyll and domoic acid (toxin produced by some diatoms). Once we get back to the lab, we inspect the concentrated samples from the plankton net to get a quick overview of who is in the water, and who is the dominating species.
Me on the Santa Monica Pier sampling water
Look how brown the filter is! So much biomass from all the phytoplankton!
Our filter rig to filter the water from the pier
Our set up in the back of the aquarium
This year the sampling has been super interesting! It started off with a diatom and dinoflagellate bloom, and it looks like the diatoms have been CRUSHED by a parasitoid, Cryothecomonas spp.! Once the diatoms crashed, the dinoflagellates increased more, in particular two species are currently dominating: Akashiwo sanguinea and Cochlodinium spp. (species will be determined after we get our molecular sequences back). I also found some tintinnid ciliates parasitized by Eudoboscquella parasitoids.. so beautiful.
Guinardia sp. with Cryothecomonas sp. parasitoid
Dead Guinardia sp with Cryothecomonas sp. parasitoids
Tintinnid (Eutintinnus sp.) with parasitoids (Euduboscquella sp.)
Cochlodinium sp. (dinoflagellate)
Akashiwo sanguinea (Dinoflagellate photo by Jennifer Beatty)
In addition to using molecular sequences for identification of the different taxa, our laboratory also analyzes the RNA sequences (using bioinformatics) to examine gene expression of the different taxa that are increasing and decreasing during the bloom. These methods can help us determine when species are taking up specific nutrients, when they are multiplying, when they are stressed, and even if they are being attacked by parasites. Lastly, my work in particular during this spring bloom will examine the dynamics of these species and their parasites through time using qPCR (quantifies the relative number of the hosts and parasites by comparing samples to standard curves).
We have five more days left of daily sampling, and I will be sure to follow up with another blog on the results of this spring bloom sampling period. I will also post soon about the exciting results from a massive laboratory experiment that I just finished. Stay tuned!