CSULB: Graduate Research Project

My time in Long Beach has come and is now fleeting with a speed that terrifies me. Does time speed up in the months before your defense? How cruel. I still have so much to do! A short, but very sweet, adventure has produced some fun posts. This will be my last Spring Break post and since I’m graduating soon, I don’t know when I’ll even have another Spring Break! Oh, Real World, you are trying to get a hold of me and I won’t let you!

We’ve talk about lab and field work in the previous posts and today I’ll wrap up the series with one more spotlight on research. My friend, Rachel, was kind enough to take time from her insect identifications to answer a few questions about her research. 
Rachel displaying proper bird handling.

Rachel’s Master’s Thesis research studies the impacts of an invasive weed species, Lepidium latifolium, on marsh food webs. For her, ‘the field’ is a brackish marsh on Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve, a component of San Francisco Delta Estuary. She measures environmental parameters of the vegetation, in addition to sampling birds (via blood and feathers), invertebrates (bird food), and plants (invertebrate food) for stable isotope analysis.      
                                                                                            More fancy science talk. Stable isotope analysis. This technique follows the notion that you are what you eat. Isotopes of certain elements (Carbon and Nitrogen, in Rachel’s research) get passed along when organisms are consumed and become incorporated into the predator’s tissue. Rachel can compare the plant, bug, and bird isotopes to figure out the food web.

Marsh at Rush Ranch Open Space Preserve. White 
plants are the invasive weed species she studies.
 Photo Credit: Christine Whitcraft

Rachel’s field component in the marsh requires a seven hour drive into northern California. With drives that long, she has to concentrate her efforts for the weekends. A typical outing includes measuring environmental parameters of vegetation, and the aforementioned sampling for isotope data. She has modified a leaf blower so now it serves as a ‘bug vacuum’ for collections. Her lab work consists of lots and lots of processing. According to Rachel, “It’s just the right amount of mix between the two, by the time I’m tired of being up at 4 am, it’s time to be in the lab for a while. When I’m sick of being indoors it’s time to go out to the field again.” In addition, she must also devote several hours per week with other graduate students in her lab working on the restoration efforts mentioned yesterday.

Questions of the Day: 
Do you know of any invasive species in your area?
Have they caused problems for the natural flora and fauna? 

CSULB: In the Field

Deploying the seine via kayak. 

Today’s late post is delightfully due to my day of field work for a project underway in the CSULB Wetlands Lab. That’s right, I love biology so much that I spend my spring break away from my lab…working with another lab. However, today was a special treat for me as I was able to go out and work in one of the wetland areas that is currently being monitored after restoration. When I go ‘into the field’ for my research, it usually means a quick drive to the greenhouse to check on algae cultures. While my situation is incredibly convenient, it still doesn’t compare to a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway to spend the morning and afternoon seining fish.

Seine is pretty much fancy ichthyologist talk for corralling fish into a net and bringing them up to identify, measure, and count. Ichthyologist is pretty much fancy biologist talk for weird (yet, awesome) people who are really into studying fish all the time.

Gathering up the net very carefully. Don’t want any fish to escape!

Today’s site, Magnolia Marsh, is owned and managed by the Huntington Beach Wetlands Conservancy as part of an attempt to acquire and restore the remaining coastal wetlands in Huntington Beach. Between 1970 and 1989, 90% of California’s naturally occurring tidal wetlands have been destroyed by human influences (Dahl, 1990).  Restoration of this marsh began in April 2009, and restoration of the historical marsh channels and full tidal influence were completed in March 2010.

Monitoring of different species (birds, plants, fish, infauna), in addition to exploring food web structure dynamics is an important part of the restoration project on marsh wetlands. Previous restoration projects can provide insight into the changes you should be able to observe while the effects of the newly restored channels and full tidal influence are occurring. It’s a good way to identify what you’ve done right, and what might need to be done differently in the future.

An adorable sea slug that has flattened out.

Other projects by CSULB graduate students in the Huntington Beach Wetlands include:

  • examining microbial diversity 
  • a project exploring the impacts of  climate change on restoration
  • utilizing a marsh organ to simulate the effects of sea level rise
  • fish translocation between restored marshes
  • planting strategies in the marshlands
    Biologist’s First Sea Slug
            Dahl TE. 1990. Wetland losses in the United States 1780s to 1980s. US Fish and Wildlife Services Technical Report 21p.

Questions of the Day:
What is your favorite marine species?
What sort of field work do you thing astronauts on Mars would do?

Lab Visit: CSU Long Beach Wetlands Ecology Lab

Blog post ideas come to me in a variety of different ways. On the more frustrating days, I sit and ponder and worry and formulate and brainstorm until I have something. On pleasant days, such as today, the post  practically writes itself. My Long Beach friend, Rachel, let me tag along with her to work this week and I feel more like her annoying little sister, instead of a fellow graduate student friend.

“What does this do? Do you work with this thing? Can I touch every single thing in here? Oh, look at this cool thing! What kind of bug is this? And this one? What about this one?”

This is exactly the sort of passion and interest I want to share with my readers. Science involves some cool cool stuff. So I’d like to start a new tradition of exploring new labs that I visit and sharing with ye ol’ readers via a photo post!
California State University at Long Beach – Wetlands Ecology Lab
Researching within the Biological Sciences, you are going to be exposed to many types of working environments. Many projects require you to venture out ‘into the field’ for experiments, sample collections, or recording observations. But often, a lot of processing, identifying, and analyzing takes place back in the lab. Most labs are unique and reflect the diversity of research conducted by their members. 
A brief bio of the lab’s Principle Investigator and their research. 

Questions of the Day:
What is your favorite part of the CSULB Wetlands Ecology Lab? 
What items would you like to know more about?
What would your lab’s mascot be?

Click the link below to see the rest of the photos!

Some labs have mascots to represent the research conducted. Icky the Isopod keeps moral up during late nights in the lab.
Rachel (left) and a fellow lab mate (right) use their creativity to design decorations for the lab.

It is often very important to keep track of lab utensils. Some samples in this lab are preserved with certain chemicals, and would contaminate samples used for stable isotope analysis. This spoon is marked ‘Dead’ to denote that it should only be used on preserved samples. 
You never know what supplies you might need during your research. It’s also difficult to keep track of instruments and tools in busy labs if lots of students are in and out. An organized lab with a sign out sheet will run smoothly.
Macrofauna can be difficult to identify. Microscope time is vital, yet sometime straining. The ability to take pictures of samples help the identification process. Photos can be saved as references or sent to colleagues for confirmation. Shown is a polycheate. 
Infauna vouchers. (Invertebrates kept to use as a comparison for later identifications.)
Meticulous record keeping is a good trait to master. Write everything down! You never know when you might need to look back over your notes. Trust me, you’ll forget things.
What marine focus lab would NOT have a calendar with tide charts?
You don’t realize all of the different tools you’ll need during your research. I am sure I’ve used everything in this photo in some form back at my own lab.

Cool toys are another perk of the science life. This unit takes light saturation points for leaves. The map shown above is of Huntington Beach Wetland Complex. This lab is monitoring restoration of this area. Tidal influences have been reintroduced to this area.