UOG launches its first international marine biological survey

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The University of Guam launched its first Bioblitz, an international collaboration to catalog the diversity of marine organisms found along the coasts of Guam from February 2 – 22, 2024.

In a ceremony held Thursday, February 1, at the UOG cliffside, eight visiting marine scientists were welcomed by UOG staff, faculty and some of the island’s elected officials.

“I look forward to what your research says and whatever recommendations and outcomes come forward so that we can continue our own food sustainability and preservation for our future and our children,” said Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero.

A Bioblitz, also known as a biological inventory, is an event that focuses on finding and identifying as many species as possible in a specific area within a short time. Due to climate change, many species around the world are at risk of extinction and Bioblitzes provide an opportunity to inform future conservation efforts of at-risk species.

“We have the most diverse coral reefs in the U.S. We have more species of corals and more species of fishes, and we have a lot of stuff that we don’t even know we’ve got yet. That’s up to the people who have come to participate in this Bioblitz to find out what those things are,” said Guam NSF EPSCoR Principal Investigator, Dr. Terry Donaldson.

The Bioblitz is supported by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, which aims to employ cutting-edge methods to determine solutions that address

the challenges imposed by climate change on coral reefs and associated ecosystems.

The visiting scientists include:

· Dr. Gustav Paulay, Florida Museum

· Dr. Justin Scioli, Smithsonian Marine Station in Florida

· Dr. Kristine White, Georgia College & State University

· Dr. Barbara Mikac, University of Bologna

· Dr. Svetlana Maslakova, University of Oregon

· Dr. Ryutaro Goto, Kyoto Museum

· Shawn Wiedrick, Los Angeles County Museum

· John Slapcinsky, Florida Museum

Along with researchers from the UOG Marine Laboratory, the scientists will collect specimens such as crustaceans, worms, and mollusks through dives, intertidal walks, and by snorkeling. For this event, local community members, scientists, and fishers were consulted to develop a list of locations to collect specimens.

“I would like to acknowledge and thank everyone who is interested in protecting and restoring Guam’s incredible marine ecosystems and those who just appreciate it and value it,” said UOG Biorepository Curator of Crustacea, Dr. Robert Lasley. “All forms of knowledge are important and play a role in our endeavor to protect and restore this biodiversity.”

Once the specimens collected during the Bioblitz have been processed, they will be placed in the Guam NSF EPSCoR Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans Biorepository, a natural history collection of marine fauna and flora that serves as an archive of the biodiversity found within the Micronesian region.

“This island has been inhabited for thousands of years and it was made habitable by the ocean around us,” said Dr. Paulay, curator of invertebrates at the Florida Museum and a former director of the UOG Marine Laboratory. “The CHamoru people relied on the marine resources to keep going in a place like this. For an island community, there’s nothing more important than the ocean, so understanding the ocean is absolutely fundamental to island culture and to maintain life on the island.”

Guam NSF INCLUDES and EPSCoR welcomes 12 new student researchers


Guam National Science Foundation-Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (Guam NSF EPSCoR) and Guam NSF SEAS Island Alliance INCLUDES programs at the University of Guam welcomed 12 new student researchers and their families at an orientation held at the UOG CLASS Lecture Hall at the start of the year.  

The student researchers will be participating in the 2024 Student Research Experience (SRE) program. This initiative aims to boost the quantity and diversity of students pursuing careers in STEM fields.  

The program is specifically designed for undergraduates who are seeking valuable research opportunities. Out of the 12 student researchers, five are supported by Guam NSF EPSCoR and seven by Guam NSF SEAS Island Alliance INCLUDES. 

The event was also organized to introduce    the new SREs to their faculty mentors who will be working with them in the coming year.  

Emily Wendte, education and workforce development program associate for Guam NSF EPSCoR-Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO) facilitated the family orientation event.  

Wendte emphasized the role of the family and mentors in the SRE program. “It’s important to us to involve the family members of our students as much as possible so that during the student’s year-long journey, family support groups are able to ask their student participants questions about how things are going in order to offer support.”  

“We want family support groups to understand the nature and requirements of the National Science Foundation grant, and that working along with it can ultimately lead to bigger and broader opportunities for the student”, added Wendte.  

The UOG CLASS Lecture Hall erupted with applause from families in attendance as students signed agreements officially entering themselves into the program. 

Wendte said that it is a binding agreement for students to fulfill the expectations and obligations outlined by the grant. This includes maintaining communication with peers and mentors, diligently performing research in labs, participating in fieldwork, and adhering to proper protocols and procedures. 

Among the mentors and students were alumni of the program, sharing advice and experiences with excited newcomers. 

Wendte recognized Brandon Respicio, a program alumnus at the orientation, recalling his journey through the program. Respicio participated in the Summer Math Research Experience (SMRE) and SRE in 2022 and 2023 respectively. 

Respicio’s list of accomplishments includes scholarship awards to attend the 2022 and 2023 Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National Diversity in STEM (NDiSTEM) conference. He also received recognition for his student poster presentation at the 2023 SACNAS NDiSTEM conference.  

Respicio is currently in his final semester at UOG as a secondary education student majoring in mathematics. He is a first-generation college student.   

Wendte says, “At completion of the program, he really wanted to share what he had accomplished that year with his family. His parents were beaming! They looked just as excited and proud as he did.” 

For Wendte, witnessing the growth of each student as they progressed through the program helps her to understand the significance of the work she continues to do. 

“At the end of the program, when we get to see the fulfillment, pride and joy these students have in what they accomplished—it’s really heartwarming. It’s one of those reminders of why we do what we do,” Wendte said. 


Guam NSF EPScoR installs new Micro-CT scanner

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Guam NSF EPSCoR has installed a new Micro-Computer Tomography (CT) scanner at the University of Guam—making the university one of the few educational institutions within the Asia-Pacific region equipped with an instrument of this caliber.  

The acquisition of this instrument was made possible by the support of the U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) under Grant Number OIA-1946352.  

Similar to those used in hospitals, a Micro-CT scanner offers a non-invasive way of studying organisms by taking X-ray images of a specimen from various angles and combining them to create three-dimensional images.  

The scanner, which was installed in August 2023, will be used for projects associated with the Guam Ecosystems Collaboratorium for Corals and Oceans (GECCO) Biorepository, a physical and cyber natural history collection operated by Guam NSF EPSCoR that holds records and images of marine organisms found throughout the Pacific and other locales.   


Using the scanner, researchers can visualize the inner structures of various organisms such as corals, sponges, mollusks, shrimp, or fish. Scans of different specimens can provide a deeper understanding of marine life in the Marianas and the region by offering valuable insight into internal anatomy and how species differ from one another.   

“You can couple that information with the information about the ecology of the organism and their genetic relationships. By doing that, you can build a much stronger understanding of the biodiversity in this region,” said Guam NSF EPSCoR Principal Investigator and Project Director Terry Donaldson, Ph.D. 


Building capacity  

Staff from the GECCO Biorepository trained from Aug. 28 – 30 to familiarize themselves with the scanner. During the sessions, they learned how to prepare specimens for a scan, reconstruct the created files, and process the data.  

“One of our goals regarding the scanner is training more people on how to use it. We want to increase capacity and teach students and researchers how to make the most of this machine,” said Diego Vaz, Ph.D., associate curator of the GECCO Biorepository. 


Promoting growth 

The scanner will enhance collaborative activity, promoting growth in marine taxonomy, ecology, and other fields of research.  

“Having the scanner is going to open a lot of doors for what we can do here. We’re excited to have this instrument because it increases our footprint,” said Donaldson. “The installation of the scanner in a facility directly adjacent to a coral reef ecosystem allows for the creation of a Micro-CT Research Node that will draw researchers from all over the region, and indeed, the world, to utilize the instrument in a unique setting. The Marine Laboratory and the University of Guam will become much more visible, and more and more researchers will want to work with us which means collaborations, publications, and the advancement of science.”  

Three new graduate research assistants join Guam NSF EPSCoR  

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Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed three new graduate research assistants during an orientation held on Thursday, September 7, 2023 at the University of Guam’s School of Business and Public Administration.  

As part of the three-year Graduate Research Assistantship, these students will receive tuition coverage, a salary, as well as mentorship and support over the course of their graduate program as they research crustacean biology, vertebrate morphology, and coral molecular ecology.  

These new GRAs include Diana Noto, Nikko Galanto, and Anela Duenas.  

“It’s always exciting to see the new students. It’s really one of the best products from this program – getting to know the students and learning from them. I hope you all have a great time while in this program,” said Dr. Bastian Bentlage, co-principal investigator of research.   

The new graduate research assistants will have access to near-peer mentorship opportunities to not only learn from others within their community, but also teach undergraduate and high school students over the course of their term.  

“During my undergrad, I heard a lot of good things about the GRA program,” said Anela Duenas, one of the new graduate research assistants. “As a student researcher, a GRA named Justin Berg helped me a lot, so I want to do the same for other undergrad students.”  

Math students study the effects of white syndrome diseases on coral 

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Six students presented their research concerning the effects of white syndrome diseases on Guam’s coral populations using mathematical modeling this summer as part of the 2022 Summer Joint Math Research Program showcase held on July 20, 2023.  

The students – four UOG undergraduates, one high schooler, and one recent graduate –  were part of the Guam NSF EPSCoR Summer Math Research Experience held at the University of Guam.  

The Summer Math Research Experience was held concurrently along with the NSA Research Experience for Undergraduates and the Young Scholars Research Experience in Math.  

Due to Typhoon Mawar, the eight-week program was condensed to six weeks this year. Despite the shortened timeframe, the students were able to familiarize themselves with new mathematical concepts and programming tools while helping each other overcome various challenges.  

“They would help each other a lot,” said JC Saul, a Guam NSF EPSCoR research assistant and UOG alum. “Whenever there was a part of the data that didn’t make sense, the other group would try to find out what’s missing. Even though their projects are different, they would still try to help each other.”  

Using data provided by UOG Marine Laboratory Director Dr. Laurie Raymundo, participants focused on modeling the infection rate of white syndrome diseases on coral as well as how factors such as water quality and temperature can impact infected coral.  

White syndrome refers to a group of coral diseases that cause acute tissue loss. During an outbreak of white syndrome, the disease eats away at coral tissue, exposing the white coral skeleton. This disease is different from coral bleaching, white also turns coral white. Coral bleaching stresses the coral, making them more susceptible to disease, but does not immediately kill them.  

“Dr. Raymundo and her team had been monitoring coral restoration plots and they had planted some Acropora aspera in February 2022 and did monthly monitoring. In May 2022, they noticed the plot had contracted white syndrome disease, so they were able to track the progress of the outbreak until unfortunately, everything died by the beginning of August,” said Dr. Leslie Aquino, chair of UOG’s Division of Mathematics & Computer Science.   

Acropora aspera is a species of staghorn coral, a type of reef-building coral that is largely affected by white syndrome diseases.   

“The hopes I have for our project is to bring some attention to coral diseases and the state that corals are in right now,” said Ian Galang, an undergraduate secondary education major with a focus on mathematics. “From what we’ve read, a lot of people misunderstand coral and classify them as nonliving organisms, but they play a very big part of the aquatic environment and right now, they need help.”  

Anthony defends his Master of Science in Biology


Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant Colin Anthony defended his thesis in front of his mentors, classmates and teachers at the University of Guam Marine Lab in Mangilao.

His thesis was titled, “Acclimation of Endosymbiotic Symbiodiniaceae: Improved Insights through Flow Cytometric Phenotypic Profiling.”
His chairperson was Dr. Bastian Bentlage. Colin’s committee consisted of Dr. Brett Taylor from the University of Guam and Dr. Cheryl Ames from Tohoku University.

Six student researchers join Guam NSF EPSCoR 

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Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its 2023 Student Research Experience (SRE) as part of an orientation ceremony held on Jan. 26, 2023, at the UOG School of Business and Public Administration. Photo courtesy of Guam NSF EPSCoR

Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its 2023 Student Research Experience (SRE) as part of an orientation ceremony held on Jan. 26, 2023, at the UOG School of Business and Public Administration.   

The initiative of this internship is to increase the diversity of students who choose STEM careers.  

As part of the program, these student researchers will spend a year receiving mentorship and research experience in fields such as coral genomics, invertebrate genomics, marine microbiology, molecular ecology, marine ecophysiology, and diatom diversity.  

These students include Madeline Gonzalez, Thomas Babauta, Anna Mallari, Merry Ocampo, Cassandra Paule, and Brandon Respicio. 

“It’s a privilege to be able to welcome and work with all of you,” said Terry Donaldson, Ph.D, the principal investigator and project director of Guam NSF EPSCoR. “Do good work and have a lot of fun!”  

These students will also participate in near-peer mentorship programs which will encourage them to share their experiences and learn from participants in the NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance along with other programs under Guam NSF EPSCoR. 

During the SRE program, the student researchers will be able to present their research at various conferences such as the National Diversity in STEM Conference held by the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics in Science, the UOG Center for Island Sustainability Conference, and the UOG CNAS Conference.   

Students present at 2022 NSF EPSCoR National Conference

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Two students from the University of Guam presented their research at the 27th NSF EPSCoR National Conference which was held in Portland, Maine from November 13 – 16, 2022.  

This year’s conference theme was “Translating Stakeholder Needs Into Impactful Research Outcomes.”  

The event engaged audiences from various sectors, disciplines, and jurisdictions – including state legislators, congressional representatives, as well as EPSCoR committees, scientists, and faculty members.  

During the conference, students had the opportunity to interact with peers, and attend workshops and discussions.  

UOG undergraduate biomedical track major Zaine Benavente along with graduate biology student MacKenzie Heagy presented posters of their research projects.  

Benavente, who is part of the 2022 Student Research Experience program, presented his project, “Genetic barcoding of cryptic massive Porites species in Guam’s reef flats.”    
This was my first time presenting at an off-island conference,” said Benavente. “I didn’t know what I was saying yes to, so it was a big surprise! I didn’t know it was such a small group going. I was the only undergraduate student from Guam at the conference. It was a little intimidating, but I got through it and presented my work.”  

Heagy, a Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her project, entitled, “Coralline Algal Phylogenetics to Better Assess Coral Reef Biodiversity.”  

“I talked about Guam’s vastly diverse marine flora and how my group of interest, Genus Mastophora, is a representation of the many species that have yet to be discovered of the crustose coralline algae,” said Heagy.  

Heagy said that she appreciated the opportunity to talk about the research being done at the University of Guam.   

“It was a privilege to represent some work being produced at the UOG Marine Laboratory while learning about the incredible science EPSCoR has encouraged across the country,” said Heagy. “Facilitating strong research from young scientists, EPSCoR projects ranged from virtual reality fire-wise properties to 3D in vitro models for breast cancer research.”  

Graduate biology student attends University of Washington summer research program 

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University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR graduate research assistant Therese Miller gained research experience this summer through a course held by the University of Washington. The class was called Biodiversity and Integrative Taxonomy of Invertebrates and was held at the university’s field station in Friday Harbor Laboratories on San Juan Island from July 18 to August 18, 2022.  

The course focused on methods for documenting and describing the species-level diversity of invertebrate animals through activities such as field trips to collect samples, dissecting, photography, and genetics work.  

The class was taught by two instructors: Gustav Paulay, Ph.D., a curator and professor at the University of Florida who served as the director of the UOG Marine Laboratory from 1991 to 2000 and has extensive experience in studying marine invertebrate zoology.  

Kevin Kocot, Ph.D., a curator and professor at the University of Alabama, hosted workshops on bioinformatics and studying meiofauna. Bioinformatics is an interdisciplinary field that develops software and tools to understand biological data. Meiofauna are small invertebrates that live on or near the bottom of bodies of water.  

“Together, they not only encouraged our passions for studying marine biodiversity but also equipped us with the tools to further our careers,” said Miller.  

Over the course of the program, Miller worked on a research project that involved describing species of blood stars (Henricia), a sea star found along the Pacific Coast which is typically red-orange in color but can vary from tan to almost purple. 

“Historically, what appear to be several different species are all called the same name in the literature or are left undescribed,” said Miller. “My project entailed collecting about 50 specimens of these sea stars and taking DNA from them to see how closely they were genetically related.”  

During the course, she found two specimens of a species that were the first to be sampled in the Juan de Fuca Island strait. This species had previously been found along California and Oregon.  

Throughout her time in Washington, Miller was able to see cultural aspects of San Juan Island such as various small farms throughout the island as well as a fishing vessel that belonged to the indigenous Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest.   

“It was fascinating to learn about some of the native tribes that have lived in the area for several centuries,” said Miller. “I also relearned the importance of characterizing biodiversity in the anthropogenic age, particularly for marine species, which are largely understudied compared to terrestrial fauna. This is especially important to me living on Guam since marine biodiversity here is so rich and there is so much to research and explore. I felt this course really inspired me to open my eyes more to the world around me and consider what species here have yet to be identified.” 


Six new graduate research assistants join Guam NSF EPSCoR

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Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed six new members to its Graduate Research Assistantship program during an orientation held on Friday, August 26, 2022.  
Over the course of the three-year program, these six graduate research assistants will receive tuition coverage, a salary, as well as mentorship and support over the course of their graduate program as they conduct research regarding coral reefs, coastal systems, genetics and genomics, or identifying patterns of regional biodiversity.  
These new GRAs include Grace Jackson, Lauren Kallen, Andrew O’Neill, Xavier De Ramos, Zoe Trumphour, and Garret O’Donnell.  
“I would like to welcome our new students to the program,” said Terry Donaldson, the principal investigator and director of the Guam NSF EPSCoR program. “You will get to utilize equipment, instruments, and various assets to conduct your research that people used to dream about. When I was a student, a lot of this stuff had not been invented yet. You’ve earned your place here. We’re behind you and we want you to succeed.”  

The GRA program is part of Guam NSF EPSCoR’s goal to develop a research program to help ensure the sustainability of coral reef ecosystems in the face of environmental change. In total, Guam NSF EPSCoR now has 20 graduate research assistants.  
Each of the graduate research assistants were given free memberships to the Guam Green Growth Makerspace and Innovation Hub. Guam NSF EPSCoR helps support Guam Green Growth.  

“This is like a whole other fancy lab,” said Austin Shelton, Guam NSF EPSCoR’s co-principal investigator and the director of the University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability and Sea Grant. “Outside of campus, you can go down to the CHamoru Village in Hagatña and use 3D printers, CNC routers, and laser cutters as well as brand new terracotta printers. If anybody wants to use that to build tiles to start growing stuff on, you can plug in the 3D designs and start building there.”  

For three years, these students will be a part of a project that covers a diverse range of research areas.  

“For this grant, the research crux here involves understanding why some corals are more resilient than others, climate change and temperature increases, and watershed degradation and sedimentation,” said Bastian Bentlage, co-principal investigator of the Guam NSF EPSCoR. “We have a lot of associated research projects, as well. Some of you will focus on coralline algae, crustaceans, diatoms, as well as fish that spend part of their life in freshwater systems and then another in the ocean. There’s a broad variety of research areas, but the overarching theme is how our reefs will fare in a changing climate.”  

The new graduate research assistants will also be able to access near-peer mentorship opportunities in which they can learn from their peers and postdoctoral students as well as teach undergraduate and high school teachers over the course of their term. 

“This program is such a great opportunity, especially for master’s students,” said Garret O’Donnell, a new graduate research assistant. “It’s very well-funded compared to a lot of master’s programs. When it comes to other universities, sometimes students would have to pay for their positions, so it’s helpful to have a salary on top of my tuition coverage that allows me to do this.”  

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