Richard Randall: The life of a naturalist  

Richard Randall Photo 1 1

Guam NSF EPSCoR is paying tribute to one of its finest in Professor Emeritus Richard “Dick” Randall, who passed away late last year at the age of 91.  

“He was kind, gentle, generous, astute, knowledgeable, and understanding – all of these amazing qualities that you would really want in not just a scientist or a professor, but a colleague and a friend,” said David Burdick, the collections manager of the Guam NSF EPSCoR GECCO Biorepository 

As a naturalist, Randall was full of curiosity and wonder for the world around him.   

His interest in corals started on a farm in Ohio, where he came across limestone fossils and asked his father what they were. This fascination led him to pursue a degree in biology and become a science teacher at George Washington High School when he and his family came to Guam in 1965.  

His daughter, Lauren Gutierrez, recalled fondly that he would spend almost every day in the ocean after they had arrived to the island.  

“When I was a kid, I used to live with him out in the reef,” said Gutierrez. “He would tie a belt to an inner tube that had a board in it. He would dive down and get the corals and I’d pick them up and put them in the inner tube.” 

Later, Randall received a master’s degree in biology from the University of Guam Marine Laboratory in 1971 – just a year after the facility was established – and went on to teach about corals at the university.  

Randall did not pursue science for fame or renown, but to satisfy his curiosity and share his knowledge with whoever was willing to listen.  

His love for the world around him was relayed through the highly detailed quality of his research, which would include meticulous notes and sketches of the coral species he observed. 

That’s just the kind of guy that he was,” Terry Donaldson, Ph.D., the principal investigator and project director of Guam NSF EPSCoR. “He was a biologist and a geologist, which is not something I always see these days. He always found something interesting to look at and he could tell you about it because he was very knowledgeable.” 

 
Impact on coral research  
 
Over the course of his life, Randall worked on 180 scientific publications and accumulated several achievements.   

Randall’s research on the impacts of crown-of-thorns starfish on the island’s reefs in the late ‘60s was foundational when it came to understanding more about how coral communities changed in response to outbreaks of the starfish, which prey upon stony corals.  

In 1983, he wrote the second volume of Guide to the Coastal Resources of Guam, a field guide of the coral species found in Guam waters.   

The UOG Marine Laboratory named a research vessel after him in 2016 for his contributions to the institution’s development.  

As part of a ceremony held in March 2022, Randall was one of six recipients of the 2021 UOG Distinguished Alumni Award – a prestigious designation given to UOG alumni based on professional accomplishments in their field, character and integrity, as well as achievements of local, national, or international significance. 

 
Randall’s legacy  
 
Although Randall has passed, his legacy lives on in the people who loved and were inspired by him. 

In June 2021, the Guam NSF EPSCoR GECCO Biorepository was given the honor to house over 30,000 coral specimens he collected – the largest addition to the facility to date.  

The GECCO Biorepository is both a physical and cyber warehouse of records and images of marine organisms found throughout the Pacific and other locales. The collection will serve as a resource for researchers around the world to reference and better understand the diversity of the corals found in the Marianas.  

In addition, Burdick, a longtime friend of Randall, is working on a series of books about coral species found in the Marianas, which will be an expansion of Randall’s coral field guide. The series will contain Randall’s notes about coral species, including new species that have not been described.  

Donaldson said that Guam NSF EPSCoR will be happy to support the completion of the project.   

“He was always amazed by life – every part of it,” said Gutierrez. “Even at 91, he was amazed by it all. He didn’t take it for granted. He had a love for nature and it’s something we’ve always shared. He always instilled in us that you can’t know everything. There’s too much to know and you have to keep your mind open.”    

Graduate student presents at American Society of Naturalists Conference  

Kenzie Pollard Presentation
Kenzie Pollard Presentation
Kenzie Pollard, a University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her research at the 2023 American Society of Naturalists Conference which was held from Jan. 6 – 10, 2023, in Pacific Grove, California. She presented her project, entitled, “Cryptic diversity and population connectivity of the coral guard crab, Trapezia bidentata.” Photo courtesy of Kenzie Pollard

Kenzie Pollard, a University of Guam graduate biology student and Guam NSF EPSCoR Graduate Research Assistant, presented her research at the 2023 American Society of Naturalists Conference which was held from Jan. 6 – 10, 2023, in Pacific Grove, California.  
 
The American Society of Naturalists is the oldest scientific society dedicated to the study of ecology, evolution, and behavior. The event was fully in-person and included researchers from physiology, phylogenetics, genetics, and other associated fields.  

This year’s conference focused on what it means to be a naturalist and researcher in the 21st century.  

During the event, Pollard presented her project, entitled, “Cryptic diversity and population connectivity of the coral guard crab, Trapezia bidentata.”   

“It was my first time presenting a talk at an international conference and while I was nervous, it was exciting to share what I had spent the last few years on,” said Pollard. “I even had a professor from the University of Florida reach out to me to discuss my research and our shared interest in pocilloporid corals.”  

According to Pollard, she appreciated being able to attend the talks held at the event.  
 
“The conference itself was intriguing and packed full of interesting talks,” said Pollard. “The most impactful was the symposium on “Confronting the Legacy of Eugenics in EEB.” A necessary conversation, it raised the voices of underrepresented groups in STEM and focused on the history and impacts of eugenics as well as emphasizing what actions we may take to prevent the perpetuation of these ideologies.”  

During the conference, Pollard was able to make new connections easily.  

“I could meet somebody new at every meal, and coffee breaks between sessions were great opportunities to approach speakers and chat about their research,” said Pollard. “I was fortunate to attend the conference with colleagues from my undergrad and a prospective advisor for my Ph.D. They introduced me to several scientists in their network and it truly helped build my community.” 

UOG graduate student studying Guam’s native freshwater eels

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From UOG.edu

Karina Mejia, a graduate biology student at the University of Guam within the National Science Foundation EPSCoR program, and her research mentor, UOG Associate Professor of Biology Daniel Lindstrom, are looking to answer some unknowns about Guam’s most common river eel — the giant mottled eel, or marbled eel (Anguilla marmorata) — and they will be using some innovative techniques and technologies in the process.

Anguilla eels are found widely through the tropics, and their popularity in Japanese, Chinese, South Korean, and Taiwanese cuisine has contributed to four of its 16 species becoming endangered. While the species in Guam is not endangered, it could be sustainably managed as a food source, but surprisingly little is known about it.

The knowns and unknowns

 

Giant mottled eel
Guam’s most common river eel — the giant mottled eel, or marbled eel (Anguilla marmorata).
River eels spend some of their lifecycles in both salt and fresh water. In particular, A. marmorata and related species spawn in the ocean, where the eggs and larvae drift until they become small glass eels and enter freshwater rivers.

 

For the A. marmorata, the spawning grounds are not well-defined, and it’s not clear what time of year they journey upstream — both critical pieces of information in order to sustainably fish them in the wild or to raise them in aquaculture facilities.

A deep dive into DNA

Former UOG graduate student Sean Moran discovered that the marbled eels in Guam’s rivers have significant genetic differences. Mejia’s main focus, she said, is to build upon his findings by showing that there are genetic differences because they’re coming from different spawning grounds.

She will do this by performing a high-resolution DNA analysis using a new PCR-based genetic sequencing technology called MIG-seq developed at Tohoku University in Japan. This will allow her to group Guam’s eels with other genetically documented eels in the Indo-Pacific.

Rings that tell a life story

The second analysis Mejia and Lindstrom are hoping to do is a technique known as otolith microchemistry. It is commonly used on species around the world to trace their migration patterns, but it has not yet been conducted on the A. marmorata species in Guam or elsewhere.

The process assesses chemical concentrations within an ear bone, or otolith, of a fish. Much like a tree, otoliths add rings over time, capturing the chemical elements of their environment. The elements found can be compared to the chemical signature of different parts of the ocean, providing a daily timeline of the fish’s migration.

“So we’ll be able to say, ‘OK, this eel floated around in the ocean this many days,’ and if we’re lucky, we can say, ‘This is where it was on Day 27 — this is really close to where it was spawned,’” Lindstrom said. “We’re hoping it’s possible.”

Information for conservation

 

Glass eel
A glass eel, or an eel in its juvenile stage. Photo by Canopic, sourced from Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
With research lacking on the tropical Anguilla species, Mejia is hopeful that her work will not only contribute to the regional conservation efforts, but will also inform local conservation decisions so Guam’s population doesn’t become endangered.

 

“If we’re able to say, ‘You’re only allowed to catch this amount,’ we can keep the population going and keep them from becoming endangered and then extinct,” she said.

Lindstrom said their findings will also be applicable to aquaculture. No one has been able to spawn and rear these or related eels completely in captivity, he said, so eel farms rely on the collection and captive growing of juvenile eels, or glass eels, as they swim into rivers. By knowing the locations and timing of spawning, those places could be better protected, and wild-caught fisheries could be more sustainably managed.

On the lookout for glass eels

Mejia will be looking for glass eels at Guam’s river openings and encourages the public to let her know (mejiak@gotritons.uog.edu) when and where they may have seen them.

She hopes to have enough data by next fall to draw conclusions and complete her thesis paper by Spring 2024.

Laurie Raymundo signs on as director of the University of Guam Marine Laboratory  

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DSC03835

History has been made with the creation of a permanent director’s position at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory. During its 52 years of existence, the facility has followed the tradition of having a three-year rotating directorship that the faculty took turns occupying. 

On August 2, 2022, UOG Professor of Marine Biology Laurie Raymundo signed her contract to fill the marine laboratory’s first permanent directorship position.  

“This is a huge change for the better. As we have grown, it has gotten harder and harder for everyone to deal with a position of leadership that is only for three years,” said Raymundo. “The continuity that the permanent position provides will enable long-term planning and implementation.” 

Raymundo’s qualifications for the job are stellar. As a coral scientist, she, her students, and colleagues have been in the forefront of coral restoration in Guam and the region. She has also held the director’s position from 2010 to 2013 and again in 2019 through August 2, 2022. 

She is happy to be able to continue her research and work with students on the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant as well as other grants she has for the next few years. Mentoring students is something she relishes, so she is not ready to relinquish that responsibility. 

When asked about her vision going forward, she gave a soft chuckle at the novelty of the question. In the past, the directorship involved putting out fires. With the new sense of stability of a permanent directorship, she wants to continue the partnerships that have been formed and wants to get faculty input as to needs going forward. Organizing a yearly faculty retreat to discuss what has been accomplished and how to propel future endeavors is on her list of priorities. 

“We work in 50-year-old buildings that have some issues, so I will be writing some grants to shore up infrastructure to meet the needs of all the new faculty we now have. There is a lot of talk about a Ph.D. program, and we have the talent, but that will need the support of the University.” 

Director Raymundo will bring some new and exciting changes to the middle-aged UOG Marine Laboratory while continuing its reputation for excellent scientific exploration and innovation. 

UOG Marine Lab conducts first coral genetics research on the Mariana Islands of Maug, Pagan, and Sarigan 

2022 may uog marine lab sarah lemer diving

A first-time study on the genetics of corals from the Northern Mariana Islands of Sarigan, Pagan, and Maug is underway at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory with funding from the UOG Sea Grant program and support from the National Science Foundation-funded Guam ESPCoR grant. 

A four-person research team spent 10 days on these islands in May collecting eight different coral species known for their reef-building ability and ecological importance to other species. The team is now sequencing and analyzing the DNA of the corals to identify if and how coral populations throughout the Marianas archipelago are connected and, therefore, how resilient they may be to warming waters.  

“We are looking to understand the roles of these northernmost Mariana islands and their coral reefs. Can they act as reserves for the declining reefs around the southern Marianas, or do they, in contrast, depend on our reefs?” said David Combosch, associate professor of population genomics at UOG. “We will be spending months analyzing the data to understand the patterns of genetic diversity, connectivity, and adaptations across the islands.” 

Combosch is spearheading the study as lead researcher of the Island Evolution Lab at the UOG Marine Lab. Working with him are UOG alumnus James Fifer and his doctoral program adviser from Boston University, Assistant Professor Sarah W. Davies, as well as Assistant Professor Sarah Lemer, postdoctoral researcher Héctor Torrado, and graduate biology student Joe Proietti, all with the UOG Marine Lab. 

What we don’t know 

By analyzing the DNA sequences of these corals, the team can not only document the genetic diversity of corals on these islands for the first time, but can learn about gene flow — or the transfer of genetic material from one population or island to another. 

“What we don’t really know is how much and in what direction corals across islands are connected via larvae exchange and interbreeding — or if each island has their own, distinct coral stock,” Combosch said.  

If coral populations share DNA across the Marianas, there is greater likelihood that reefs will get what they need to adapt to future ocean conditions.  

“Since Guam corals live in generally warmer water than corals on the northernmost Mariana Islands, they might be better adapted to deal with the warmer waters expected as a consequence of global climate change,” Combosch said. “But it may well be the other way around. Occasional pockets of hot water in the northern CNMI could have pre-conditioned those corals for hotter days. This is one of the things we’re looking into.” 

Additionally, the northern corals may be better equipped for more acidic waters, Combosch said, since they have lived for centuries near a volcanic vent inside the Maug caldera, which releases carbon dioxide and has created a more acidic environment. 

The team is also conducting heat-stress experiments on two types of corals from Maug, Sarigan, and Pagan — Acropora surculose and Pocillopora meandrina — to see how the same corals from different islands respond.  

Getting local students involved 

During an internship last week at the UOG Island Evolution Lab, Northern Marianas College students Subin Cho and Richelle Ramon worked with UOG graduate student Mikay Reuter to reproduce the heat-stress experiments for this study and witness the effect of warming waters on Marianas corals.  

They also learned about the relationships that corals have with other species in the ecosystem and the other stressors corals face, including pollution and overfishing, that can limit their ability to recover from bleaching events and adapt. 

“It was an eye-opener to see how different species and organisms create relationships with each other in order to thrive and survive,” said Cho, a sophomore working toward an associate degree in natural resource management. “We pollute, neglect, and overlook our coral reefs and believe that many years after, it will still be there. However, after this internship, I learned that these things we are so used to will soon disappear if changes are not made.”  

Graduate students publish paper on upside-down jellyfish

Jellyfish Photo 2

A new study by University of Guam researchers has found that differences in upside-down jellyfish (Cassiopea ornata) populations found in Guam waters may be environmentally driven. 

The study, which was funded by the university’s National Science Foundation EPSCoR grant, was published in May in Zoomorphology, a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the form and structure of invertebrates and vertebrates.   

Upside-down jellyfish spend most of their time with their bells resting on the seafloor of shallow, coastal waters. By lying upside-down, the jellyfish expose the photosymbiotic algae living inside their arms toward the sun. Photosymbiosis is a type of symbiotic relationship between two organisms in which one organism is capable of photosynthesis.   

Upside-down jellyfish can sustain themselves off the byproducts of the algae and can capture zooplankton for additional energy to grow.   

The study involved examining two upside-down jellyfish populations from Cocos Lagoon and Piti Channel. Because both populations were different in size, color, and shape, the researchers initially thought they were two different species.   

“Upon doing a little genetic work, we determined that they were the same species. So instead of it being species-level morphology differences, we determined that it was environment-level morphology differences,” said lead author Colin Anthony, a UOG graduate student studying biology. “The environments we pulled them from are very different. Cocos Lagoon had turbid, sediment-laden water and the water in Piti Channel was very clear.”   

According to the study, it may be possible that these different environments affect the way these jellyfish acquire sustenance.  

“If they’re in a little more turbid or muddy water, they may rely more on their hunting skills and releasing their stinging structures and using heterotrophy to feed versus if they’re in clearer water, they would use more photosynthetic capabilities,” said co-author MacKenzie Heagy, a UOG graduate student studying biology.   

Studying upside jellyfish is important for several reasons: some species are considered invasive, with the potential to impact the use of waterways when congregating in large numbers. Upside-down jellyfish can also serve as environmental indicators for nutrient pollution and microplastics.   

Because they are close relatives of corals, which also share the same bond with photosymbiotic algae, upside-down jellyfish are being used as a model to study coral without having to harm coral populations.   

A community effort   

This project would not have been possible without the community at the UOG Marine Laboratory and was a collaborative effort of two researchers in different disciplines. Under the mentorship of UOG Associate Professor Bastian Bentlage, Anthony studies cnidarians such as jellyfish, coral, and hydroids while Heagy studies algae, which are photosynthetic organisms, under UOG Professor Tom Schils.   

Locating the Cocos Lagoon population was achieved by UOG Marine Technician II Johnathan A. Perez, who grew up seeing them at his aunt’s house in Malesso.   

“The only way we found the populations is through people who have lived here their whole lives,” said Anthony. “They knew they were here, but they hadn’t been scientifically documented. We owe finding these populations to our friends who helped us and grew up here.”  

Heagy said that she is grateful for being able to study in an environment that has been encouraging when it comes to conducting research.  

“This is the perfect place to do this work,” said Heagy. “There are so many resources and we’re so lucky to be here. Guam gives you so many resources and so many questions to ask and so many things to think about. The marine laboratory and EPSCoR have given us so many opportunities to ask questions.” 

Student researchers from Palau and CNMI explore mangrove sites

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In June, participants of the Micronesia Summer Bridge to Bachelor’s Program from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Palau started their internship experience on island by gathering diatom and algae samples in several mangrove and coastal sites on Guam. The program contributes to an ongoing diatom research supported by the National Science Foundation’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR). 

 

The Micronesia Summer Bridge to Bachelor’s program offers opportunities to students from the Micronesian region who are interested in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) research. Participants are enrolled at the Northern Marianas College, Palau Community College, the College of Micronesia-FSM, or the College of the Marshall Islands.  

 

The students who were selected to participate in the summer program come from diverse academic backgrounds. Prior to their trip to Guam, the student interns collected marine and coastal data in their respective areas.  

 

On Guam, Professor Emeritus of Biology Dr. Christopher Lobban and his team of EPSCoR and NSF INCLUDES SEAS Islands Alliance supported student researchers/mentors are working closely with the students in analyzing the samples at the UOG Microscopy Teaching & Research Laboratory 

 

“The idea of this research experience is to give the students a chance to see what it’s like to do scientific research,” said Dr. Lobban. At the EPSCoR funded lab, the students have access to a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and other innovative equipment to study detailed images of the samples. 

 

According to Dr. Lobban, the overall research project seeks to determine and document the native diatom species in the region, especially on Guam, CNMI, Palau, FSM, and the Marshall Islands. Diatoms are single-celled algae found in oceans, lakes, and rivers. These microorganisms produce 20 percent of the breathable oxygen on earth each year.  

 

Basically, what we are trying to look for is to look for a signal for regional endemicity. So, we are looking at species that occur here but not in other places,” Dr. Lobban said. Samples collected in the previous year’s program resulted in student researchers discovering and naming several previously undocumented types of algae and diatoms. 

 

Yuji Chibana, one of the student interns from Palau said the program spurred his interest in Scientific research. “I’m a liberal arts major and I am trying to transition more into a Science-based major like Environmental Marine Science.

 

The experience catapulted me into that area of learning. This program is really helping me. I’ve never really been exposed into these kinds of things before. So, it is a good start.  

 

Participants of the program receive a $3,000 stipend; comprehensive research training; faculty and near-peer mentorship; and travel, lodging, and food accommodations for those traveling to Guam. 

University of Guam Marine Laboratory celebrates 50 years  

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The University of Guam Marine Laboratory celebrated 50 years of science and service to the Pacific region on May 7th, 2022.  

Since its establishment in 1970 as one of the world’s first research facilities dedicated to the study of coral reefs, researchers at the laboratory have discovered numerous new species and contributed to the recovery of coral reefs. 

During the event, UOGML Director Laurie Raymundo, commemorated the release of a book featuring photos and writing from faculty, students, and colleagues to celebrate the commitment of those who have played a part in the laboratory’s history and its research within the region. 

In his speech, UOG President Thomas Krise commended Guam NSF EPSCoR for its contributions to the facility’s research capacity. 

“We anticipate that EPSCoR is spreading the achievement of research and the development of students, which is really important,” said Krise. 

Terry Donaldson, the principal investigator of Guam NSF EPSCoR, says that the grant has helped contribute greatly to the future of the research being done at the marine laboratory.  

“We’ve got a young generation of students who have great promise,” said Donaldson. “We have a lot of people who did their degrees on Guam who have come back and lots of people who used to be on the faculty and to be able to have these people and this celebration is fantastic.  The future is bright.”  

The event connected researchers, students, alumni, and colleagues who played a part in shaping the history of the facility. 
 
“It’s pretty amazing to celebrate the lab’s anniversary,” said Kelly Ebeling-Whited, a Guam NSF EPSCoR Biorepository technician. “I get to see the people whose names I’ve seen on the really old specimens we have. I’m seeing stuff from 1963 and meeting the people who collected them.”  

The UOG Marine Laboratory continues to contribute important marine research regionally and globally. Ongoing research at the laboratory includes coral genetic connectivity across the Pacific, coral diseases, reef adaptations to climate change, and more. 

 2022 Student Research Experience: Meet our Student Participants!!  

Zaine Benavente 2022 SRE
Jackie Cabusi 2022 SRE
Jacquelyn Cabusi

This year, Guam NSF EPSCoR welcomed 10 undergraduate students from the University of Guam to its Student Research Experience. From coastal oceanography to red algae ecology and diadromous genomics, the internship offers mentorship and research training to increase the diversity of students who choose STEM careers and teach them skills such as DNA extraction and sequencing, experimental design, and more. In this article, we will introduce five out of the 10 students who have joined the program.  

Jacquelyn Cabusi, a pre-pharmacy and bio-medical track double major, joined the program to gain experience conducting research. Under the mentorship of Atsushi Fujimura, a UOG professor of oceanography, Cabusi will focus on analyzing concentrations of toxic chemicals in Guam’s marine environments during and after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and how they impact coral health. One of the chemicals that will be included in the study is oxybenzone, which can be found in products like sunscreen and certain cosmetics and can negatively affect coral health.  

“What I really enjoy about EPSCoR is that it’s allowing me to explore options and paths that I could possibly take,” said Cabusi. “Throughout my time here in EPSCoR, the primary thing I would like to learn is the reason why I applied – which is to learn more about the processes that surround conducting a research study. I’m excited to construct my own experimental design and carry it out, as well.”  

Anela Duenas 2022 SRE
Anela Duenas

This is not the first time that Anela Duenas, a biology major, has participated in a STEM research program. Her time as a 2021 NSF INCLUDES: SEAS Islands Alliance research fellow led her to become interested in the Guam NSF EPSCoR Student Research Experience as an opportunity to further enhance her research knowledge and build relationships with her mentor and peers.  

Under the mentorship of Tom Schils, a UOG professor of marine biology, she is working on the experimental design of her research project, which will focus on studying crustose calcifying red algae (CCRA). CCRA is a group of marine algae that deposit limestone like stony corals.  

After earning an undergraduate degree, Duenas plans to pursue higher education to eventually return to the Marianas and continue answering questions about the region’s marine ecosystems.  

“After graduate school, I plan to come back to the Marianas – more specifically Saipan because that’s where I’m from – and I want to conduct some research and hopefully help open the first marine lab there,” said Duenas. 

 

Hunter Sidell 2022 SRE
Hunter Sidell

Hunter Sidell got to know his mentor, Daniel Lindstrom, when he volunteered to help the UOG professor of biology collect specimens in 2021. Sidell has always been interested in the field of biology and finds his background as a philosophy major to be helpful when it comes to conducting research as it encourages him to be curious to find answers about the world around him.  

Under Lindstrom’s mentorship, Sidell’s research will involve learning more about the island’s native diadromous shrimp species. Diadromous animals are those that transition between freshwater and saltwater environments at different stages of their life cycles. Animals that are diadromous on Guam include certain species of fish, shrimp, and snails. 

“Dr. Lindstrom’s amazing. I knew that he would be a great mentor when he bought me pizza,” Sidell said. “I’d always ask a lot of questions and he never got impatient. In fact, it seemed like he was always happy to answer my questions and it created this sort of dialogue where he wanted to answer all of my questions and I wanted to keep on asking them so I could learn more. There’s nothing more I could ask for. I hope I can continue working with him.”  

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Antoni Badowski 2022 SRE scaled
Antoni Badowski

Antoni Badowski, a biology major, joined the SRE program to gain research experience and apply what he’s learned in his classes to conducting research. 

Badowski, who has always been fascinated with the natural world, says that being mentored by Daniel Lindstrom has been a great experience. Under the mentorship of Lindstrom, Badowski is excited to learn more about the diadromous animals that are native to Guam.  

“I am most excited to meet and work with other people who are passionate about the natural world,” Badowski said. “I’m also excited to explore and find out my areas of interest and career fields to get know more of what I can do in the future and what I can accomplish.” 

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Zaine Benavente 2022 SRE scaled
Zaine Benavente

Zaine Benavente, a biomedical track major, saw the SRE program as a way to gain experience and become more familiar with the lab procedures he would conduct in his classes.  

“I just finished my genetics class and I was thinking that I could get more experience here because we had been doing a lot of extractions and procedures in the lab and I wondered if it would be similar,” said Benavente. “And it is quite similar! Now, I’m applying what I’ve learned in the classroom to my internship.”  

During the program, Benavente has been performing DNA extractions of coral samples as part of his work with David Combosch, a UOG professor of population genetics. Combosch’s research explores evolutionary questions in island settings using genetic and genomic approaches to inform coral reef conservation, management, and restoration.  

“As one of my career goals, I always told myself that I wanted to be a medical lab technician,” said Benavente. “But now that I’m in a STEM program, I get to explore and pick the brain of my advisor about what it’s like to be a researcher.”  

Study explores effects of nutrient pollution on Guam reefs

Kansas EPSCoR Photo 4

Warming waters, diseases, and sedimentation are some stressors that threaten the health of coral reefs. To help preserve these important ecosystems, a researcher from Kansas State University visited the University of Guam and studied a stressor that has not been well-explored — the effects of nutrient pollution on corals found in Guam waters.  

Nutrient pollution is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorous in the air and water and can damage the environment, cause health problems, and take a heavy toll on the economy.  

Molly Fisher, a graduate student from Kansas State University, arrived on Guam on March 14 as part of the first academic cross-collaboration between Kansas NSF EPSCoR and Guam NSF EPSCoR.  

She came along with her advisor, Walter Dodds, a distinguished professor from KSU. Dodds’ research areas of specialization focus on water quality and nutrient cycling. He departed Guam on March 18.  

Dodds and Fisher collected small samples of staghorn coral (Acropora pulchra), one of Guam’s dominant reef-builders, from West Agana and the Luminao Reef in Santa Rita.  

The sites were chosen due to their different levels of human activity. Substances such as fertilizer, stormwater runoff, and sewage treatment plant discharge can cause nutrient pollution.  

“Luminao is our pristine site while West Agana has roads and a sewage treatment plant that may contribute to increased levels of nitrogen in the water,” said Dodds. “We add nitrogen and phosphorous to get our plants to grow. If you add too much fertilizer, the system gets too productive for its own good. In the case of corals, that means that algae can grow over the surface of the coral and cause them to stress and die.”  

Fisher said that the coral samples were exposed to varying levels of ammonium and will monitor how the corals respond over time. Ammonium is one form of nitrogen that can be present in marine ecosystems.  

“Anthropogenic nutrient loading is a stressor to corals that isn’t heavily studied,” said Fisher. “Our work is pretty novel, and we hope that we can figure out how they respond to nutrient loading in an attempt to hopefully lessen the impacts on corals.”   

Dodds said that the faculty and staff at the University of Guam Marine Laboratory have been integral to the execution of the project.  

“We’re grateful for the faculty here at the University of Guam. They’ve been extraordinarily helpful and have gone out of their way to make us feel welcomed and find the materials that we need to do this work,” said Dodds. “Everyone has been super helpful and told us that if we need anything at all, that we can talk to them. It’s been an incredibly pleasant experience so far.” 

Fisher concluded the experiment and departed Guam on April 10.  

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