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Undergraduate Research Projects for 2024 Selected

This year the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program (LSG) is funding six Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) projects. Established in 1992 to provide talented undergraduate students with hands-on research experience, LSG has funded more than 200 UROP projects.

Each UROP student will gain first-hand knowledge regarding the whole research process from design, implementation, analysis to conclusion. The hope is for students to present at relevant conferences and publish in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Projects receive funding up to $3,000. UROP applications are accepted each fall for projects starting the following March. Full-time undergraduate students at all Louisiana colleges and universities are eligible.

This year’s students and projects are:

Photo: Madeline BrownPhoto: Cameron BondsCameron Bonds and Madeline Brown, Louisiana State University (LSU)
Faculty Advisor: Terrence Tiersch and Jack Koch
An Open-hardware Artificial Insemination Shrimp Rack (AISR) to Improve Shrimp Breeding

Interest in shrimp breeding is growing in Louisiana and around the world, allowing for genetic improvements that could increase shrimp production as a food source. This project intends to develop a low-cost, open-hardware device to assist shrimp breeders with artificial insemination (AI) of their broodstock.

AI is currently prone to failure due to the stress it can cause on the shrimp. The research team plans to design a device to address this. This shrimp-holding device will allow for proper aeration of the breeding pair. The Artificial Insemination Shrimp Rack (AISR) will hold the male shrimp with his gonopore exposed to release spermatophore and hold the female for spermatophore deposit.

The researchers will test various water-resistant materials and designs to determine which works best for AI while causing the least amount of stress to the shrimp. Once a sufficient model for the AISR is determined, researchers will monitor the retention rates for spermatophore and the survival of the shrimp used.

Marco Milton, University of New Orleans
Faculty Advisor: Kevin Du Clos
Tracking Oyster Larval Abundance and Settlement to Enhance Oyster Restoration in Coastal Louisiana

Oyster production is a multimillion-dollar industry in Louisiana. Additionally, oyster reefs offer important ecosystem support by reducing water turbidity, providing habitat and nurseries for other aquatic life, as well as protecting shorelines and marsh vegetation from erosion. Unfortunately, oyster populations in the Gulf of Mexico are declining due to climate change, freshwater diversions, ocean acidification and pollution.

Oyster larvae naturally experience a high mortality rate, yet larvae survival, transport rates and settlement are important factors in reef growth and survival. Statewide, considerable effort is put into assessing adult oyster populations, but less attention is given to larvae.

The goals of this project are to develop an imaging-based method for assessing oyster larval abundance during spawning season; and correlate larval abundances with sediment and adult oyster population data to assess reef health, the viability of existing artificial reef projects and the successful creation of new artificial reefs in coastal Louisiana.

Photo: Annika NelsonAnnika Nelson, Tulane University
Faculty Advisor: Tiong Gim Aw
Spatiotemporal Dynamics and Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment of Pathogenic Vibrios in Estuarine Recreational Waters of Southeast Louisiana

Bacteria from the Vibrio species (Vibrio cholerae, Vibrio vulnificus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus) naturally occur in coastal waters and can be extremely harmful to human health through seafood-borne illness as well as waterborne exposure. Currently, only limited information is available on the prevalence and distribution of Vibrios in the brackish estuarine system of Lake Pontchartrain.

The research team will assess temporal and environmental variables – temperature, salinity and nutrients – on concentrations of potentially pathogenic strains of Vibrio in the lake’s waters and oyster reefs, and whether the abundance of phytoplankton and harmful algae could be associated with increases in Vibrio. They will also examine the impact of storm-associated rainfall and increased freshwater river discharges on the prevalence of clinically important Vibrio species.

Results from the research should improve the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science’s Vibrio predictive models, which provides early warning of potential pathogen hazards and helps inform shellfish industry harvesting decisions.

Photo: Jonathan RussellJonathan Russell, LSU
Faculty Advisor: Aly Mousaad Aly
Resilient Coastal Ecosystems: Understanding Tree Behavior for Improved Storm Surge Management, Erosion Mitigation, Land Formation and Sustainable Development in Louisiana

Coastal erosion and landloss caused by extreme weather events are a significant problem in Louisiana. Consequently, maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems along the state’s coast is vital. Trees have been known to stabilize soil and reduce erosion by absorbing water and trapping sediment, however there is a knowledge gap regarding the efficacy of tree planting strategies for coastal protection and restoration. In this project, the researchers will evaluate the behavior of different tree species under the forces of wind, a crucilal aspect for designing resilient coastal ecosystems capable of mitigatin storm surge impcts and supporting sustainable coastal development. By integrating large-scale wind testing and computational modeling, the researchers hope to equip communities with a tool to help citizens, decision makers and industry strategically fortify coastal areas.

Photo: Angelica SolanoAngelica Solano, Loyola University New Orleans
Faculty Advisor: Philip Bucolo
Assessing Phytoplankton Community Dynamics and Their Photosynthetic Contributions in Lake Pontchartrain

The Lake Pontchartrain Basin is a critical resource for the residents and economy of Southeast Louisiana, providing spawning grounds for many commercial fish species, shellfish, oyster and crustacean populations. Yet, the basin ranks among the most vulnerable regions in the nation within the context of climate change – increasing water temperatures, sea level rise and the impacts of tropical storms. The greatest threats to the basin’s ecosystem are harmful algal blooms (HABs) and their subsequent release of algal toxins, hypoxic events that reduce dissolved oxygen availability and periodic pulses in salinity due to storm surges.

This project aims to determine the photosynthetic contributions of certain algal groups. Determining these contributions and the major groups of algae involved is important for predicting the threats of long-term climate change and more immediate threats from storms and flood mitigation to the lake’s ecosystem.

Photo: Ayden ThomasAyden Thomas, Louisiana Tech University
Faculty Advisor:  Jennifer Hill
Exploring How Salinity Gradients Affect Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Communities in Louisiana’s Coastal Basins

Submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) are an important habitat for sport fish, crabs, and shrimp, making that habitat equally important to the seafood industry harvesting those resources. Water quality factors, such as salinity and turbidity, affect SAV species composition, distribution and abundance. Numerous factors, including sea level rise, droughts, levees and freshwater diversions are altering coastal salinity at a time when SAV monitoring is nominal compared to other wetland habitats.

The goal of this project is to understand how SAV composition and abundance in the Atchafalaya and Barataria basins correlates with salinity levels and affects SAV usage by blue crabs and penaeid shrimp. Project results should help coastal resource users and decision makers in predicting how freshwater diversion alterations to salinity might affect the ecological relationship between SAVs and that habitat use by blue crabs and shrimp.