Where are you from, and what is your role in Extreme 2004?
am a postdoctoral
working with Dr. Dave Caron and Peter Countway (Extreme 2003
cruise participant) at the University of Southern California
(USC). We investigate single-celled organisms called protists
using molecular methods based on DNA sequence information.
In collaboration with Dr. Craig Cary, we examine protistan
diversity and community structure at hydrothermal vents, and
this is the second time that our lab has been invited to participate
in the Extreme program. I will collect protists from the water
column (within and around the hydrothermal plume) and from
different locations within and surrounding the deep-sea hydrothermal
vents for molecular analyses and for the isolation of protists
to establish cultures.
What questions are you trying to answer and why?
The questions addressed in our research concern diversity, abundance, and
activity of protistan assemblages in hydrothermal vent ecosystems. By using
DNA-based technologies, we are able to detect and describe protists that
are difficult to characterize by means of microscopy since cells often
lack distinct morphological features. The resolution of electron microscopy
helps resolve this issue for a number of species, but this technique is
costly and labor-intensive. We will use molecular tools to investigate if
protistan assemblages associated with the vent sites are unique to their
environment and how abundant protists are at different sites within the
vent ecosystem. In addition, culturing protists collected from the hydrothermal
vent system (which was successful in 2003) will allow us to study their
physiology and to link physiology with morphology and DNA sequence information
for the isolated organisms.
Why is this research important? What are the benefits?
Protists play a fundamental role in aquatic ecosystems. Phototrophic
protists (phytoplankton) are responsible for a majority of the primary
production in the euphotic zone (the region of the water column illuminated
by solar radiation) while heterotrophic protists feed on other protists
and prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea) throughout the water column.
Despite these facts, we have yet to better determine protistan abundances
and describe species community composition in marine ecosystems and
how both change with time. Addressing these questions for protists
that live at hydrothermal vents is an important task that can help
us understand how these single-celled organisms are able to cope with
the harsh environmental conditions they experience at depth (e.g.,
high pressure, high temperature gradients, etc.) and what ecological
role single species or functional groups of protists play in the cycling
of energy and material through vent habitats.
is your background, and what lured you into marine science/education?
in Austria, I came to spend all my summers at the Mediterranean
Sea, which sparked my interest in marine biology. I returned
to the northern
Adriatic Sea to conduct fieldwork for my master's
thesis, which dealt with coastal harmful algae blooms. Most
of the sampling for this study required SCUBA diving, which
I truly enjoyed. I graduated in zoology
from the University of Vienna in 1995.
my participation in a summer course at the Bermuda Biological
Station for Research (BBSR) my interest in open ocean food
webs lead me to conduct my Ph.D. fieldwork at BBSR. Under the
supervision of Dr. Debbie Steinberg (BBSR) and Dr. Gerhard
Herndl (University of Vienna), I investigated how crustacean
zooplankton impact biogeochemical cycling in the Sargasso Sea.
For three years,
I participated in numerous monthly cruises with the Bermuda
(BATS), whose main goal is to understand the ocean's role in
global carbon cycling. While earning my sea legs, I enjoyed
working as a teaching assistant for several courses, and upon
completion of my Ph.D. in 2001 (University of Vienna) I returned
to BBSR to instruct a course in Biological Oceanography.
2002, I moved to Los Angeles, California, to join Dr. Dave
Caron's lab at the University of Southern California
as a Postdoctoral Fellow. Since my arrival at USC, I have become
involved in several interesting projects that focus on protistan
biodiversity in different geographical regions such as the
northeastern coastal Pacific, the North Atlantic, and the Southern
Ocean. In addition, I study how protistan community structure
is altered due to grazing pressure by crustacean zooplankton,
and I am involved in the development of early detection methods
for harmful algae species. My research experience at USC has
allowed me to become proficient in molecular methodologies
and has deepened my passion to try to understand and explore
the field of marine biology and oceanography. I am greatly
looking forward to my first participation in a hydrothermal