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ABSI Graduate Students

These FSUCML Graduate students are not only imperative to the function and ingenuity of the marine lab, but also to that of ABSI.  Their enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, and creativity are contagious to everyone with whom they interact on the laboratory campus, including the staff, each other, and the faculty.

Adam Alfasso, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke)

My research interests are focused on marine and aquatic ecology, and the response of communities to changing environmental factors.  I am particularly focused on predictive habitat and distribution modelling for marine fishes and coral ecosystems.  My current project is creating a habitat suitability model for mesophotic corals in the Big Bend region.  I aim to produce research that can be applied to the protection and management of at risk marine habitats.

Donaven Baughman, Ph.D. student (Advisors Dr. Joel Trexler and Dr. Dan Okamoto)                         
My research interests are mainly focused in coastal ecology and how larval and juvenile invertebrates respond to environmental change. The juvenile stage is critical to survival and recruitment, and ultimately to the success of wild populations. My current work with the eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) aims to understand how salinity regime effects juveniles ability to induce morphological defenses in response to their predators. I also hope to look at reef structure and density on the survival of juvenile oysters to provide useful insight for management and aquaculture purposes. 


Jenny Bueno, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke and Dr. Sarah Lester)                          
My research interests include marine conservation and restoration. I have previous experience using remote sensing techniques to detect coastal change in lacustrine environments. I am interested in applying these techniques and learning more ways to conserve and restore marine ecosystems. Co-advised by Dr. Sarah Lester and Dr. Sandra Brooke, I aim to research the decline and future restoration of Apalachicola Bay as part of the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative.

Kevin Engelbert, MSc. student (Advisor Dr. Josh Breithaupt)                        
My research focuses on sediment deposition, including carbon and nutrient burial rates, of the bay region. I could apply this focus to a variety of potential coastal environments including mangroves, marshes, oyster reefs, and benthic environments. Understanding these rates can bring insight into how ecosystems can contend with anthropogenic changes such as sea level rise and natural processes. This research could help elucidate the importance of coastal wetland contributions to greenhouse gases and nutrient availability in coastal soils on a regional and global scale.

Emily Fuqua, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke) 
My research interests are based in applied ecophysiology. I am interested in how anthropogenic changes to the environment, such as increasing ocean temperature and increasing anoxic zones, affect an organism’s physiology, and in turn, how physiological changes affect an organism’s behavior and ecology. My PhD research will focus on Eastern oyster health in the Apalachicola Bay system, and my goal is to assist fisheries managers and conservationists in restoring and preserving a healthy oyster population in Apalachicola Bay.                      

Morgan Hawkins, Ph.D. student (Advisor Dr. Sandra Brooke)
My research focuses on using natural and artificial chemical cues oyster larvae use to set onto a substrate, and using those cues to increase settlement rates in a hatchery setting. Using these findings, I will be able to research which techniques are optimal for restoration purposes. I hope to also explore southern bay scallops, by developing a technique to use within our own experimental hatchery to better understand their diminishing populations, ultimately finding which restorative methods are the most successful in returning a healthy number of scallops to our bay.

Barry Walton, Ph.D. student (Advisors Dr. Sandra Brooke and Dr. Joel Trexler)                     
I am broadly interested in elasmobranch and teleost ecology. Ecological questions pertaining to their trophic interactions, food web dynamics, community structure, and movements are especially interesting to me. My dissertation research will focus upon the teleost and elasmobranch communities associated with oyster habitat within the Apalachicola Bay System. Oyster reefs provide biogenic habitat to many ecologically and economically important fish and invertebrates which use the habitat for foraging, shelter, and spawning. Therefore, it is crucial that we understand and monitor the fish and shark communities which rely upon this habitat. My research will use stable isotopes and fatty acid profiles to examine trophic interactions between target species on oyster reefs, environmental DNA (eDNA) methods to investigate community structure present in oyster habitat, and acoustic telemetry to track fish movements and quantify the usage of local oyster habitat.


Michael Wintermantel, Ph.D. student (Advisors Dr. Sandra Brooke and Dr. Don Levitan)                        
My research interests focus on the organismal biology and physiology of marine organisms. I am particularly interested in larval and planktonic life-stages, and am working with the Apalachicola Bay System Initiative to help understand the challenges faced by the larvae of Eastern Oysters. I aim to understand how stress early in an oyster’s life affects its development, survival, and reproductive success as an adult. I hope to contribute my research to restoration efforts of the Bay’s ecosystems and to find a solution for future enjoyment of a healthy ecosystem and sustainable oyster fishery.

Grace Westphal, Ph.D. student (Advisors Dr. Tara Stewart Merrill and Dr. Dan Okamoto)                     
My research interests are founded in eco-immunology, and I am broadly interested in the effects of environmental stressors on invertebrate health and disease. My current research focuses on understanding the role of genes and the environment in shaping invertebrate immunological traits, and the extent to which infectious disease drives clonal selection in Daphnia. Under the advisement of Dr. Stewart Merrill, I am interested in exploring how disease shapes Eastern Oyster populations in Apalachicola Bay. I hope that my research will contribute to the restoration and long-term health of oyster reefs in the bay.