Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program
Funded Projects: 2014
Lily Armstrong Davies, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major, Tulane University
Faculty Advisor: Jordan Karubian, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Use of GPS telemetry to examine pelican-menhaden interactions in the Gulf coast
This project will use GPS-based radio-telemetry to examine brown pelican (Pelacanus occidentalis) foraging behavior as it relates to the distribution and abundance of its primary prey, the Gulf menhaden (Brevoortia patronus). The results will utilize cutting-edge technology to provide novel information on the foraging ecology of the iconic bird species and will contribute to understanding the behavioral strategies that organisms use when coping with unstable environments and how this may scale-up to population-level productivity and survival. The project also has the potential to inform the management of one of the largest fisheries in North America, as well as aiding in prioritization for restoration of regions of the northern Gulf of Mexico to maximize benefits to the region’s diverse waterbird and fish communities.
Evan Geerts, Civil Engineering major, McNeese State University
Faculty Advisor: Dimitrios Dermisis; Department of Chemical, Civil & Mechanical Engineering
Testing levee structures with alternative substrate material in southwest Louisiana to mitigate storm surges and protect the shoreline
This project will test levee structures in southwest Louisiana to mitigate storm surges and prevent loss of shoreline. Targeted levee sections in Cameron Parish have been permitted by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) for the evaluation of alternative substrate material having high strength and relatively low cost. The outcomes of the research related to the performance of the levees can be of interest to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the construction of levees within other regions in Louisiana to minimize flood damage, as well as the DOTD for protecting coastal highways. The project will set the foundations for enhancing collaboration with other faculty members and students within the state for performing other related projects concerning ecosystem restoration in coastal lagoons and marshlands, as well as hurricane protection.
Tyler Harris, Biology major, Louisiana State University
Faculty Advisor: Aixin Hou, Department of Environmental Sciences, School of Coast and Environment
Quantifying the expression of oil-degrading functional genes in Louisiana saltmarsh sediments
This study will quantify the expression of various oil-degrading genes in Louisiana saltmarsh sediments impacted by the Macondo 252 spill, using an RT-PCR protocol. The research will be coupled with a funded-GRI project and take advantage of the sediment samples collected by the project during the past years. The proposed research will provide a better scientific understanding of in situ oil decontamination my microorganisms in the saltmarsh sediments, as well as practical information concerning strategies for accelerating ecosystem recovery in oil-impacted coastal wetlands.
Jonathan Lambert, Coastal Environmental Science major, LSU
Faculty Advisor: Kam-Bui Liu, Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, School of Coast and Environment
Characterization of Historical Sedimentation and Coupled Natural-Human Dynamics in a Vulnerable Region of Louisiana Coast
This study seeks to characterize flood deposits in sediment cores taken from Carthage Bluff marsh near the mouth of the Amite River at Lake Maurepas. It is part of a larger project focusing on spatial and temporal variability of sediment supply in the context of the coupled natural-human system in South Louisiana. Through analysis of the Carthage Bluff site, researchers will gain an insight into the sedimentary and flood history of this particular region, with a goal of detecting changes in deposition rate and sedimentary dynamics due to natural and/or anthropogenic factors. Detecting these changes and pinpointing their cause is vital to understanding the sustainability of the Louisiana coast and the ability of different regions to adapt and to mitigate past, current and future problems associated with flooding and land loss. The project will be used as Lambert’s senior thesis in conjunction with the School of Coast and Environment and Honors College.
Shawn Marcell, Pre-Medicine major, Nicholls State University
Faculty Advisor: Rajkumar Nathaniel, Department of Biological Science
Characterization of Blue Crab Immune Responses
This project seeks to provide a better understanding of crab immune responses. It will examine blue crab (Callinectus sapidus) hemolymph (a fluid of the crab’s open-circulatory system) extracts for antimicrobial activity as an initial step in characterizing the immune system of this organism. The fact that invertebrate immunology is still a pioneering field provides the potential for discoveries of novel mechanisms of host-pathogen interactions. Results from this study are expected to renew interest in studying the immune systems of invertebrates and provide understanding of how these animals combat disease. Researchers expect the study will provide new methodologies and assays in molecular immunology that can be used in other animal systems.
Corey Melancon, Pre-Medicine major, Nicholls State University
Faculty Advisor: Angela Corbin, Department of Biological Science
Bacteriophage therapy for the control of Vibriosis in shrimp aquaculture
Vibriosis in shrimp aquaculture has resulted in a substantial decline in profit for the industry. Biofilms and biofloc used in hatchery and outgrow ponds serve as a food source to increase productivity. However, Vibrio pathogens may incorporate into these substrates and increase the potential for disease. Bacterial parasites called bacteriophage show bacterial host-specificity. Lytic bacteriophage with specificity to Vibrio parahaemolyticus will cause lysis (breakdown) of these bacterial pathogens and may prevent the incorporation of these pathogens into biofilm and biofloc. Biocontrol of Vibrio parahaemolyticus with host-specific bacteriophage offers a new alternative for aquaculture disease management.
Katherine Parenteau, Chemistry major, Southeastern Louisiana University
Faculty Advisor: Phillip Voegel, Department of Chemistry and Physics
Removal of Hydrocarbons from Natural Waterways by Rangia Clams
Hydrocarbon pollution is an ongoing problem, not only for the coast, but for fragile lakes and wetlands. Many methods have been researched and used to remediate these environments after a spill, but they often pose risks for the plants and animals in the environments. There also has been a large volume of research concerning the bio-concentration of hydrocarbons by various clam species. Most of this research has focused on the food safety issues posed by this bio-concentration. This project proposes to use the bio-concentration ability of the Rangia clam to help remediate open water sources in the wake of oil spills. Rangia clams are ideal for this task since they are native to the basin and are not used as a food source in the United States. This cleanup method would pose fewer risks than others, since it does not introduce foreign chemicals or species into the already fragile environments.
Alexandra Pasch, Environmental Science major, University of Louisiana at Lafayette
Faculty Advisor: Jenneke M. Visser, School of Geosciences
Do salinity and fertilization affect Sagittaria lancifolia growth?
Saggitaria lancifolia is a native Louisiana plant that grows in fresh and oligohaline marshes that provides protection against storm surges and erosion and provides food and shelter for wildlife. It is known to re-grow rapidly after disturbances such as hurricanes and marsh fires. The plant survives in low ranges of salinity, but relatively little is known about how the species responds to fertilization. This project seeks to establish the relationships of salinity in response to added fertilization on Saggitaria lancifolia above-ground biomass, below-ground biomass and relative growth rate. The plants will be exposed to different combinations of two variables – salinity and fertilizer. Salinity, total leaf length and width will be measured weekly, and after 12 weeks of treatment, the above- and below-ground biomass will be measured. The experiment seeks to provide a mathematical relationship of S. lancifolia response to salinity and fertilizing levels to expand the ability to predict the effect of diversions on this native coastal plant.
Madison Stark, Biology/Pre-medicine major, Loyola University
Faculty Advisor: Don Hauber, Department of Biological Sciences
Investigating Rapidly Colonizing Typha in the Mississippi River “Balize” Delta
Typha, commonly known as the cattail, is rapidly becoming one of the dominant emergent plant species in the otherwise diverse, interior marshes in the Mississippi River Birdfoot delta. New colonization is spreading aggressively and displacing other wetland species. There are four types usually found across the United States – some are native, some are considered invasive and one is a hybrid of uncertain origin. Cattails are an important wetland plant, and an invasion of non-native Typha could be devastating to the delta ecosystem. Therefore, it is important to classify the species of cattail currently living in the delta. This project seeks to determine what is causing this pattern of colonization by genetically surveying these populations to determine what taxon, or hybrid, that they represent. Researchers will compare these unknown Typha populations with previously identified species and hybrids to potentially provide a better understanding of the Typha that are colonizing in the delta. This research also may lead to better wetland management strategies, particularly for controlling invasive species.
Jacob Thompson, Environmental and Sustainable Resources major, ULL
Faculty Advisor: Jenneke M. Visser, School of Geosciences
The Effects of Increased Nutrient Loads and Nutria Herbivory on Panicum hemitomon Biomass
This project will study the effects of wastewater effluent and grazing by nutria on the above and below-ground biomass of the grass Panicum hemitomon, commonly known as maidencane. The study area is the Hammond Assimilated Wetlands, which was created in 2006 when the City of Hammond began discharging secondarily treated wastewater effluent into an area in the Joyce wetlands. Nutria are assumed to preferentially feed on the most robust and healthy vegetation, such as those exposed to waste water effluent, river reintroductions and agricultural fertilizers. Intensive grazing from nutria in marsh environments has been shown to lead to marsh deterioration and even conversion from marsh to open water. Less understood is the resilience of coastal wetlands that receive increased nutrient load. If an abundance of nutrients is present in the soil, plant roots will not have to grow as much in search of nutrients. Because roots bind soil particles together, the amount of below-ground biomass is related to soil strength. Panicum hemitomon in the study will receive one or a combination of treatments – with and without effluent and with and without nutria exclosures. By assessing above and below-ground biomass, this project aims to provide a better understanding of how nutrient-rich water and nutria grazing affect the productivity and resilience of freshwater wetlands.