Vanessa Pirotta is a conservation biologist and science communicator who has recently completed her PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her research focused on identifying conservation gaps for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Vanessa investigated the types of anthropogenic and natural threats faced by cetaceans and other marine megafauna (e.g. large fish such as sharks and manta rays, marine turtles, pinnipeds, sirenians and large seabirds). Her work also highlights the use of citizen science for marine mammal monitoring.
Vanessa’s most well-known research involves the use of emerging technologies such as drones for marine megafauna conservation. She collaborated with industry experts to develop custom-built, waterproof drones to collect whale snot (visible plume of spray) from large whales. This device uses a remotely operated flip-lid petri dish to minimise sample contamination from air and sea water. Lung microbiota collected from this research was used to provide a non-invasive assessment of whale health.
Vanessa completed her Master of Research (MRes) in 2014 where she investigated the effects of underwater construction and whale alarms upon migrating humpback whales off Sydney, Australia. Vanessa has a Bachelor of Science from the Australian National University where she majored in Zoology and Evolution and Ecology. Before entering into academia, Vanessa worked in marine turtle rehabilitation and as a zookeeper.
Vanessa has a wealth of experience in marine fieldwork and is a qualified coxswain (vessel operator), naturalist and marine mammal observer. She has worked in a variety of challenging remote locations around Australia and the South Pacific. Last year, Vanessa spent 51 days on a research voyage down to the Sabrina coast off East Antarctica. During this time, she saw her very first aurora.
Vanessa is extremely excited to host Biotweeps and will feature a diverse range of interesting work from biologists around the world.
Brandyn Lucca (@brandynlucca) is a PhD student at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY. His current interests involve studying how underwater sound reflects off of different types of animals and how both active and passive acoustics can be used to quantify multiple facets of aquatic life. He obtained his BSc in Marine Biology from the University of Rhode Island (2012) and an MSc in Biological Oceanography from Stony Brook University (2016). His MSc thesis work used sonar to quantify distributions of abundance, biomass, and size-class of Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) in the Peconic River and off the southern shore of Long Island.
His dissertation research, while still in flux, quantifies the ‘acoustic fingerprint’ of individual animals ranging from small krill to larger fish. These measurements are important for converting the acoustic energy what we see on our fancy fish fish finders to actual numbers non-acousticians care about (e.g., number of fish) and identify the types of animals we are seeing. These experiments are conducted in a super-sophisticated water tank that is most certainly not a 44 gallon trash can, which would be preposterous. Brandyn is also an unofficial krill wrangler (and other small critters!) due to his tireless efforts in tying beautiful knots (despite his adviser’s near-daily critiques) to tether the animals since it is significantly easier to record measurements of stationary animals.
Outside of his PhD, Brandyn is pretty bland: no alter-egos, takes mediocre nature photographs, breaks bones by accidentally running into trees, and brews beer that could only be described as “this did not need to be brought into this world”.
Sabah Ul-Hasan is a Quantitative & Systems Biology PhD Candidate at the University of California, Merced advised under Dr. Tanja Woyke at the Joint Genome Institute. Sabah‘s educational background stems from three B.S. degrees in Biologevy, Chemistry, and Sustainability & Environmental Studies from the University of Utah and an M.S. in Biochemistry from the University of New Hampshire. Sabah‘s thesis work focuses on venomous host-microbe interactions with the California cone snail serving as a model system. In addition to Sabah‘s interests in coevolution, venomics, and marine ecosystems, Sabah holds a passion for science communication and spearheads an array of organizations from The Biota Project (@thebiotaproject), an after-school STEM workshop high school students, and a data science graduate student group. Sabah intends to pursue a data scientist position post PhD, with special attention to intersectionality and open access.
This week we’ll be discussing venomous animals. What constitutes a venomous animal? Is there a difference between venomous and poisonous animals? What is the scientific history of venoms and who are the main groups studying venoms today? We’ll then bring up some big topics in the current field of microbiology and draw connections between these two realms.
Are you working on venomous animals with an interest to pursue their associated microbiomes, and/or know someone who is doing that kind of work? If so, send a personal message to Sabah to partake in the venomous host-microbe consortium. The aim of the consortium is to build a collaborative network of scientists for establishing a strong foundation in big data and associated resources. For example, why throw the rest of that snake tissue away when someone else on the other side of the world can use a section of it and perhaps find out something interesting and new too?!
Let’s use communication, collaboration, and citizen science make science great again together!
Laura is a 4th year PhD candidate in marine biology at UNC Wilmington. She obtained her BS in Environmental Science from the University of Delaware in 2010, and then an MS in Marine and Atmospheric Science from Stony Brook University in 2013. Her MS thesis work focused on ctenophores (comb jellies) in Long Island Sound, NY. This project involved quantifying the abundance and biomass of ctenophores and determining the relative importance of ctenophores to nutrient cycling within the estuary.
For her PhD, Laura is currently working on understanding drivers of global jellyfish populations and examining the response of early life stages of scyphozoan jellyfish (polyps and ephyrae) to various environmental conditions. Jellyfish are often claimed to be robust to environmental change, specifically factors such as such as temperature, hypoxia, and coastal acidification. The complex life cycle and short generation time of scyphozoans leads to the ability to answer questions regarding environmental stress and change. In general, Laura is interested in understanding how anthropogenic impacts and climate change interact and affect organisms and ecosystems at various temporal and spatial scales.
Laura can be found on Twitter @aqua_belle, tweeting about #jellyfish, #climatechange, #womeninSTEM, #scicomm, and trying to #pomodoro through the last year of her dissertation. While Laura is usually based in Wilmington, NC, she will be taking over @Biotweeps from KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) in Saudi Arabia, where she is visiting to work with a coauthor.
I’m Sara Cannon, a Ph.D. student and Ocean Leaders Graduate Fellow at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada (where I also recently finished my M.Sc.). Before moving to Vancouver, I lived for five years in Santa Cruz, California, where I obtained a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. My research interests involve attempting to understand the ways that people affect the health of coral reefs, and how the health of coral reefs affects people.
I grew up on the Chesapeake Bay in rural Maryland, and water has always been an important part of my life. My parents were avid scuba divers and I was exposed to the underwater world at a very young age. I have always wanted to be a marine scientist.
My M.Sc. research was based in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (if you’re interested, you can read more about the project here). I worked in the Micronesia region before; as an undergraduate student, I worked in the Ulithi Atoll, Yap, Federated States of Micronesia as a part of One People One Reef (a group of community members and researchers combining science and tradition to find innovative ways to manage marine resources). I worked with communities in Ulithi from 2012 – 2016. I hope to continue working in the Marshall Islands and the wider Micronesia region in the future.
As a graduate student in Geography at the UBC, I have had an opportunity to benefit from the interdisciplinary nature of the department through being exposed to approaches that are not traditionally a part of a graduate education in marine ecology. Students in Geography are encouraged to participate in research that may be outside of the purview of their graduate studies; for example, I recently co-authored a study investigating gender and racial biases in how presenters were received at an academic conference (the publication is currently in review). My coauthors and I hope that this work will inspire new ways for conference organizers to create welcoming environments for underrepresented minorities at academic conferences.
I’ve learned a lot about science, conservation, and community outreach through all of these experiences. My primary interests involve integrating biology and social science to understand how human activities impact coral reef health, and how the health of reefs affects the people who depend on them. In this way, I hope my work will give communities the tools they need to make empowered decisions about resource management.
Emilie is a PhD candidate with Memorial University’s Marine Geomatics Research Lab in St. John’s, Newfoundland. She studies marine biogeography and seafloor mapping to inform conservation planning. To date, there has been little data available to study the interactions between climate change, seafloor habitat, and marine species distributions. For example, we still have better maps of the surface of the moon, Mars, and Venus than the vast majority of the Earth’s seafloor. Emilie’s research brings together many data sources, like navigational depth soundings from fishing vessels, to build better maps of Newfoundland’s seafloor geomorphology, sediment types, and associated habitats. She uses this information to investigate changes in marine species distribution on the Newfoundland Shelf since 1995, and to predict future shifts based on potential seafloor habitat and climate change projection.
As a conservation biologist, Emilie is very interested in environmental policy, and her research is often linked to management; recent projects include habitat mapping within a Marine Protected Area to assess capacity to meet conservation objectives, and mapping nearshore habitat of Atlantic Wolffish, one of few marine fish listed by the Canadian Species at Risk Act. Outside of the GIS lab, Emilie is a scientific diver with experience ranging from Carribean coral reef restoration to specimen collection for biodiversity and fisheries studies in the Canadian Arctic. Emilie volunteers as a diver and interpreter for the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium, a non-profit catch-and-release aquarium focused on hands-on ocean education for all ages, and as a research mentor for the Oceans Learning Partnership.
International Penguin Early Career Scientists (IPEC; ) is an international network dedicated to providing career development, networking, and other educational opportunities and support to early career penguin professionals in academia, NGOs, private industry, and beyond. You can learn more at .
Alex Thornton () is a marine ecologist based in Alaska, USA, and is interested in how polar seabirds and marine mammals respond to environmental change. He’s a life-long penguin nerd and co-founded IPECS with Meagan Dewar. You can learn more about him at .
Dr Meagan Dewar is a lecturer in Environmental Science from . Meagan’s research focuses on the microbial composition of marine wildlife and understanding what factors influence the microbial composition and its importance. Meagan is the co-founder of IPECS with