I’m a rising senior at Princeton University and am getting a degree in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) with a minor in Environmental studies. This summer I was lucky enough to conduct research for my thesis project with Dr. Alyssa Marshell at Palau International Coral Reef Centre (PICRC) from June until August 2015. Several sources from my university helped fund my research: The Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, the Princeton Environmental Institute, and the Council for Science and Technology.
I studied the grazing impact of microherbivores such as hermit crabs and snails on algal turfs in coral reef leeward and windward habitats.
Microherbivores have previously been largely ignored when discussing the importance of herbivory in promoting a resilient coral reef, as the few previous studies investigating their ecological role found they had little impact. I collected data on the shape of the algal turf growth curve in different environments by setting up and collecting preconditioned tiles in a time series, and I also determined the impact of microherbivores in the field by comparing treatments in which they were prevented from grazing to those where they were not. I found that microherbivores removed significant amounts of algal turf biomass in Palau. I also collected data on microherbivore abundance on the reef, composition of the benthos on the reef, the abundance of fish predators and herbivore competitors, light and temperature data on the reef, and the grazing rate of microherbivores in aquarium experiments. All of this will help me paint a picture of how much algal turf biomass these small, extremely ubiquitous animals can remove daily from the reef, and investigate their role in helping to maintain a healthy and resilient reef.
My time in Palau was incredible, and my experiences have helped prepare me for life after graduation. My time at PICRC has helped me grow both as a scientist and as a person, and I thank everyone there for not only helping me with my project but welcoming me into their lives. Alyssa has taught me so much about marine life, conducting research, how to be organised, and countless other things, and I am eternally grateful for all the guidance and instruction she has provided me the past two months. I’d also like to thank Mark Priest and Steven Lindfield for their additional help and guidance. My experience in Palau was truly unforgettable, and I will treasure these memories for the rest of my life.