PeerJ Awards Winners at the 5th World Conference on Marine Biodiversity


Following on from our blog post yesterday – a wrap up of the 5th World Conference on Marine Biodiversity written by conference organiser (and PeerJ Life & Environment editor) Mark Costello – we recently interviewed the winners of PeerJ Awards at the meeting.

PeerJ sponsored four Early Career Researchers awards at the 5th WCMB – two for presentations and two for posters – the winners of each receiving a free publication in any PeerJ journal (subject to peer review).

The PeerJ Awards program aims to support students and early career researchers by highlighting their work, as well as bringing continued awareness to the benefits that open access has in keeping science open and available to all. If you are organizing a conference or workshop and would like to offer a PeerJ Award at your event, please let us know – communities@peerj.com

See interviews and the listing of all the 2020 PeerJ Award winners on the PeerJ blog here, and don’t forget that WCMB presenters and attendees can still submit their research to the upcoming PeerJ/WCMB Collection (deadline 31st March).

 


Yi-Yang (Alex) Chen PhD candidate at the Australian National University, Australia 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests? 

I’m originally from Taiwan, now doing my PhD with Dr. Rebecca Fox and Dr. Michael Jennions at the Australian National University. I’m interested in the feeding preferences of reef fishes, and how much production they can access from epifaunal invertebrates in tropical seascapes.  

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the WCMB conference? 

I’ve presented one chapter of my PhD thesis which was about the secondary production from macroalgae-associated epifaunal invertebrates. I’ve found that epifaunal production was positively correlated to macroalgal canopy size, and can be affected by predatory fish biomass and sea temperature. I’ve also found that epifaunal production was sensitive to environmental disturbances. Understanding how epifaunal production response to changing habitats can help us model the consequences of marine warming events. 

What first interested you in this field of research? 

I was born and raised in Taiwan, a beautiful island surrounded by seas which is famous for its amazing marine biodiversity. I’ve been obsessed with marine animals since I was a child.  

How did you find the virtual conference experience? 

I’m still trying to get used to this new trend. Missing the chance of attending the conference and meeting outstanding people in person was quite frustrating. But I did find that this time I was able to watch all the talks I was interested in. I was also motivated by everybody’s passion for marine research that can not be stopped by COVID-19. 

What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research? 

My next step is to estimate how much epifaunal production can be consumed by carnivorous fishes, by conducting underwater caging experiments. Since most carnivorous fishes in tropical seascapes are fishery targets or recreational species, results of my study can be used to help marine habitat management and conservation. 

 


Ariadna Nocera PhD candidate at the National University of Patagonia San Juan Bosco – CONICET, Argentina

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I’m a marine biologist from Argentina who later specialized in biological oceanography in Canada. In 2018 I started my PhD focused on zooplankton dynamics in coastal marine ecosystems in northern Patagonia. I’m interested in how these organisms that are fundamental for marine food webs can change under future possible scenarios, but first it is important to update the baseline studies.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the WCMB conference?

I presented the most recent data from the Valdés Biosphere Reserve, corresponding to the composition and abundance of zooplankton in relation to environmental variables. This involved sampling at sea and the identification of hundreds of organisms under a stereo microscope.   

What first interested you in this field of research?

I think I was always curious about how small organisms can have such a big influence on other larger organisms, and even on an entire marine ecosystem. I started the study through modeling and now looking more closely at their characteristics, morphologies and behavioral differences allow me to pose new questions that motivate even more my interest in these incredible organisms.

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

Even if there is still less interaction between researchers when compared to an in-person one, the virtual conference gave me the opportunity to participate at WCMB that otherwise would have been more difficult due to the distance and travel costs. It also allowed me to be part of the Early Career Researcher Committee, which organized two different panels during the conference, while interacting with young researchers from different countries. It was definitely a very positive experience and I recommend it!

What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research?

The next steps in my research are to continue gathering more data about plankton community composition and distribution over the coming year to strengthen and complete my thesis. In addition, I have planned to carry out experiments to evaluate the effect of atmospheric dust on zooplankton and, finally, to carry out a numerical model for the area with all the information gathered from the fieldwork and experiments.

 


Trevyn Toone Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Auckland, New Zealand

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I’m a marine ecologist interested in how we can merge ecology, conservation, and restoration to improve coastal environments. I grew up in coastal North Carolina near salt marshes, shellfish reefs, and seagrass beds, inspiring a career in conserving these ecologically and culturally vital ecosystems. My current work focuses on mussel beds and how we can most successfully restore lost shellfish reefs via scientifically supported methods including harnessing positive species interactions, improving early life stage retention, and minimizing stressors. 

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the WCMB conference?

I presented the first stage of my work in Kenepuru Sound, an area at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The Kenepuru was historically an area with dense and healthy mussel reefs along much of the shoreline, but those populations have been decimated in the last fifty years leading to calls for restoration. My project sought to find the exact extent of this loss, as well as potential causes. We pinpointed the cause of the depletion to commercial handpicking, which began in the late 1960’s. Our results also suggest a number of factors that may be responsible for a continued lack of recovery since the end of handpicking, including loss of settlement surfaces, predation, and sedimentation. 

What first interested you in this field of research?

Growing up on the coast I’ve always been interested in the ocean and the fascinating ecosystems it creates. In my undergrad I was introduced to the world of ecology and how species interactions and connections build the world around us. From there I was hooked on research and finding out ways to use ecological principles to conserve and restore the ecosystems I first fell in love with growing up.

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

The virtual conference experience was never going to perfectly replicate an in-person event, but if 2020 has taught us anything it’s that adaptability and change are sometimes necessary. I particularly liked being able to go back and rewatch talks after they initially aired as it opened the door to seeing talks in sessions I wasn’t able to attend the first time. While the networking aspect of a virtual conference will never be the same as an in-person experience, I still enjoyed WCMB and wouldn’t have been able to create the presentation I did without the virtual environment. 

What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research?

My next steps are building on the results of this project. Shoreline resurveys and interviews with residents have confirmed the need for successful restoration and provided valuable information on where to start these efforts. Specifically my next project will focus on improving recruitment success for mussels which was one of the most commonly identified problems during my interviews. After that I plan on trialing restoration methods for intertidal mussels and looking beyond shellfish to other coastal ecosystems. 

If you want to watch Trevyn’s presentation, it has been uploaded to YouTube.

 


Ohad Peleg PhD candidate at the University of Auckland, New Zealand

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research interests?

I am a marine ecologist studying shallow temperate reef ecosystems. My study focuses on how human stressors, such as overfishing and sedimentation, affect kelp forest ecosystem health and stability.

Can you briefly explain the research you presented at the WCMB conference?

Phase shifts from kelp forests to unforested ecosystem states due to anthropogenic activities are widely considered a catastrophic decline in ecosystem health on temperate reefs. Using 20 years of monitoring data from inside and outside New Zealand’s oldest marine reserve, I demonstrated that by protecting sea urchin predators, long-term marine reserve protection can promote more stable and healthier kelp forest ecosystems. In contrast, unprotected sites lacked stability and fluctuated between less healthy urchin barren and algal turf states. Remediation, however, can take decades, and it is unclear whether this will be possible under future climatic scenarios. Therefore, prompt protection of larger reef areas is strongly advised. 

How did you find the virtual conference experience?

Given the current world pandemic, being able to meet and have an excellent conference cannot be taken for granted. With such an outstanding line-up of speakers and presenters communicating excellent top-notch science, I did not have any expectation to win a prize, and I am stoked and humbled to have won the award for the Best ECR presentation (speed-talk). I am also delighted to have won the best ‘story’ photograph for my photo titled ‘the battlefront’ showing sea urchins grazing on kelp. I wish to thank the participants, organisers, and sponsors for an outstanding conference, and for these awards and prizes. 

What are your next steps? How will you continue to build on this research?

I hope my study can promote marine protection and kelp forest ecosystem restoration and thereby its health. Communicating this work is, therefore, extremely important. Currently, I am looking for a postdoctoral opportunity on kelp forest ecosystem ecology and human impacts.

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