23rd January 2017 – Lisa Whitenack, Allegheny College

lisa-whitenackI am a biology professor at Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college in northwest Pennsylvania (USA). I teach a wide array of courses, including introductory biology, statistics, evolution, paleobiology (the study of fossil organisms), and research seminars. My research is focused on predator-prey relationships through evolutionary time, encompassing paleobiology and biomechanics (the application of principles from engineering and physics to biological problems). The majority of my research has been on fossil and living sharks, especially focusing on their teeth, as that is what roughly 95% of their fossil record is. I want to know why fossil shark teeth (up to 250 million years ago) are shaped the way they are, and why they are so different than modern sharks. I also study other fishes, crabs, snails, and salamanders.

My students are required to complete a senior thesis in order to graduate. Most of my students study things that are different than my research, as they are passionate about different things, but still use the techniques that I use. My students have examined the prey capture mechanics of venus flytraps, the evolution of trilobites across mass extinctions, the effects of the Endangered Species Act on the shape of wolf skulls, and the biomechanics of sports such as soccer, baseball, and long jump.

My second area of scholarship is on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education, from kindergarten through college.  I coordinate partnerships and events between Allegheny College and my local school district to improve STEM education in my community. I am also a member of the Gills Club, an outreach group that gives girls opportunities to engage with projects focused on sharks, nature, and the environment.

My Ph.D. is in biology, with the wonderful Phil Motta at the University of South Florida. I stayed at USF, but moved up to geology for a postdoc with Greg Herbert. Before USF, I earned my M.S. in geology at Michigan State and my B.S. in geology at the University of Illinois. I grew up just outside Chicago, and even though Meadville is now home, sweet home Chicago still has part of my heart.  My husband and kids (3 & 7 years old) help me maintain that whole work-life balance thing. We craft, we play outside, we build Lego, and we embrace our geekery.

You can follow me on Twitter: @WhitenackLab

My blog: https://whitenacklab.wordpress.com/

My website: https://sites.google.com/a/allegheny.edu/whitenack/

27th June 2016 – Centre for Marine Futures, University of Western Australia

Centre for Marine Futures.pngBIG PICTURE THINKING

Our vision is global, with partnerships and field programmes in most ocean basins either side of the Equator. Past and current sampling sites include: Western Australia, Palau, New Caledonia, the Chagos Archipelago, Tonga, French Polynesia, the Savage Islands (Ilhas Selvagens), The Philippines, and the Gulf of Oman.


Our goal is to make a difference
Our research boasts high academic and real-life impact. It is used to directly inform and influence both policy and management actions. We are a member group of the Ocean Science Council of Australia (OSCA), an independent consortium of leading Australian experts concerned with advancing marine conservation.


Our research focuses on marine ecological questions relevant to conservation and largely explores the influence of human activities on marine ecosystems.

Key questions our research explores include:
– How do pelagic sharks and fishes respond to the establishment of large marine reserves?
– What roles do apex predators play in tropical marine ecosystems?
– How is climate variability manifested in fish growth and what does this mean for warming oceans?
– How are sharks and fishes distributed on biogeographical scales and in relation to habitat?
– What are the socioeconomic drivers of illegal fishing?

These questions are addressed using a range of techniques included BRUVS, telemetry, biomarkers and predictive modelling.


Dr Phil Bouchet
Postdoctoral fellow
I am a jack of several trades – marine mammalogist by training, converted into shark/fish ecologist as a doctoral student. I have a keen interest in spatial ecology and statistical modelling as they relate to wildlife conservation problems. Recently I developed abundance models for a number of cetacean species (humpback whales, bottlenose and snubfin dolphins) and distribution models for large pelagic fish (tunas and mackerels) around Western Australia.
My PhD research concentrated on ‘hotspots’ of mobile marine predators, and how these aligned with prominent physical features of the ocean floor such as seamounts, submarine canyons, or offshore shoals and banks. This involved coordinating or partaking in field expeditions to Shark Bay, the Timor Sea and the Perth canyon, where I used a new generation of midwater baited underwater video cameras to film endangered oceanic sharks in deep-water environments.
Dr Shanta Barley
Postdoctoral fellow
Reef sharks are being removed from coral reefs globally yet we do not understand how this affects these hotspots of biodiversity. Where sharks are absent, prey may change in terms of abundance, size, behaviour, diet, condition and growth rate, which could have severe knock-on effects on the rest of the ecosystem.
I explore these issues using stereo underwater video systems, stable isotopes and a range of other techniques.
David Tickler
PhD student
I am investigating how spatial ecology and population genetics impact the exposure and vulnerability of sharks to illegal fishing on Indian Ocean reefs, and how social, economic and legal factors affect the scale and range of the fishing effort in these locations. The study will use a combination of ecological tools (fine- and broad-scale movement tracking and population genetics), fisheries data collection at landing sites, and interviews with fishers and other actors to collect data on both the ecology of reef shark species and the fisheries that target them.
The spatial ecology and genetic studies will help understand the role of large MPAs such as Chagos in providing a refuge to reef shark species, and its wider role for these species in the Indian Ocean based on the connectivity (or lack thereof) between sub-populations. The study of illegal fishing aims to help quantify the magnitude of illegal fishing in a large oceanic MPA, identify the key drivers of this activity, and suggest points of engagement with regional stakeholders that will reduce illegal fishing effort.
Charlotte Birkmanis
PhD student
I am a marine biologist with a special interest in shark behaviour and conservation. My research in shark ecology, behaviour and genetics focuses on the role of sharks as regulators of tropical and temperate ecosystems across the Indian Ocean.
This research involves studying a variety of shark species and their prey to discover the implications of reduced shark populations in our oceans, and to determine the relative health of sharks in the Indian Ocean. I attained a Bachelor of Science with distinction in ecology and a Bachelor of Arts in mandarin from Queensland University of Technology. Following on from this, my research on shark and ray biomechanics earned me a Bachelor of Science (Honours I) degree from the University of Queensland. My research will highlight the importance of sharks in our oceans.
Marjorie Fernandes
PhD student
Pelagic (open-water) marine ecosystems are the largest marine environment on Earth. A key ecological component of pelagic systems are their sharks and fishes. My research will explore spatial ecology and behaviour of sharks and fishes using observations from two large marine protected areas (MPAs), the Chagos Marine Reserve and the Palau Shark Sanctuary.
I will be looking at spatial structure and behaviour patterns relating to environmental and habitat characteristics, regarding three pelagic ecosystems key components: (1) juveniles fishes; (2) forage species, and (3) top predators. I will use an innovative, non-destructive and fishery-independent approach, remote underwater camera system to sample pelagic fish and shark. By improving our understanding of how pelagic species use the environment, it will also contribute to improved MPA design.

November 10th 2014 – Adam Summers, University of Washington

Adam SummersFrom the beginning of my research career I have attempted to capitalize on previous training as an engineer to understand the evolution of the mechanical systems of animals. At the University of California Berkeley I was a Miller Research Fellow working on the mechanics of salamander walking and the jaws of a particularly unusual group of limbless amphibians called caecilians. While at UCB I worked with Pixar Studios on the movie ‘Finding Nemo’. I spent three years advising on animal movements and biological aspects of the film and was delighted when the hard work of the Pixar folks was so well received at the box office.

In 2001 I founded the Comparative Biomechanics Laboratory at the University of California and while there he won the Bartholomew Prize for physiology research from the Society of Integrative and Comparative Biology and the UC Academic Senate prize for undergraduate teaching. In 2008 I moved to the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands. With students and collaborators I have published more than 90 articles in scientific journals on abstruse subjects including the heads of hammerhead sharks, the properties of skeletons and the difficulties of eating hard prey. I do my best to share my enthusiasm for the field of biomechanics, for a while with a monthly column that has appeared in Natural History Magazine (2000-2008) and now with occasional writing for other popular press outlets.

My current research takes advantage of the marine lab’s easy access to fish in their natural habitat. I am trying to understand how and why some fishes are sticky, how they burrow, and the relationship between skeletal structure and function. The tools of my research include CT scanning, prototyping, CNC milling, material testing, high-speed video, sonomicrometry, SEM, and physical and mathematical model building.