PeerJ Award Winners: ICMB XI

by | Jul 6, 2023 | Award Winner Interviews, Awards, Community, Societies

The International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions is an international forum where scientists and policy makers from around the world meet to review current challenges and share new developments in the global management of invasive marine organisms. The 11th International Conference on Marine Bioinvasions (ICMB XI) was held between the 15th and 19th of May, 2023 in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. After an unusually long gap between meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was wonderful to finally convene the conference and learn of the many new advances in marine bioinvasions ecology, management, and policy. The organizers were pleased to welcome over 210 colleagues hailing from two dozen countries across six continents. The ICMB XI program included 126 talks and 37 posters presented during three days of concurrent and plenary sessions, plus field trips, affiliated workshops, and a unique sci-art program. It was especially inspiring to see strong participation by students and early-career researchers, who made up over a third of attendees. Their excellent presentations contributed notably to the content and success of the conference.

Julia Blum, Local Organizing Committee of ICMB XI. 


Maggie Stoffer Recent graduate of Smith College, USA. 

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

I am a non-binary ecologist with a passion for understanding the natural world and bridging the gap between scientists and the public. I just wrapped up my undergraduate career, so I still have a lot to figure out in terms of research interests, but I am broadly interested in examining how climate change impacts species interactions and alters human-wildlife interactions.

What first interested you in this field of research?

I became interested in marine invasion science through my advisor L. David Smith. I took his class during my sophomore year, and went to office hours to talk about his research one afternoon and that is when I really fell in love with ecology. I love how this field gets me outside to new places in order to not only study biodiversity, but be on the frontlines of understanding the impacts of climate change on the planet.

You won the Best Overall Student Poster award at ICMB XI, can you briefly explain the research you presented?

The research I presented at ICMB examined inducible defenses (a form of phenotypic plasticity) in a native snail (Littorina obtusata) in response to a recent crab invader (Asian shore crab, Hemigrapsus sanguineus) as well as the impact of temperature on the ability to have such defenses. For these snails, an inducible defense often takes the form of thickening their shells in order to prevent them from being crushed by crabs. I looked at two populations of this snail within the Gulf of Maine: one in Northern Maine that is entirely naive to the crab and one in Cape Ann, Massachusetts that has been exposed to the crab for a few decades. L. obtusata is known to thicken its shell in response to a previous invader C. maenas (European Green Crab), but I was interested in how the snail would respond to this new invader given the two species share no evolutionary history and have very limited historical contact. Over the course of my three-month long experiment my team and I took several morphological measurements of the snails’ shells as well as used a non-destructive protocol to isolate shell and tissue weights for individuals. I utilized a reciprocal transplant design, so half of the snails from each site were raised at the temperature of the other site.

What are you next steps?

I am currently in the beginning stages of applying to graduate school! Throughout my application process, I intend to continue analyzing data from the experiment I presented at ICMB, return to the field in Maine and Massachusetts to collect data loggers that have been recording climate data in the Gulf of Maine for a year, and prepare a manuscript for publication.

I would like to extend a special thank you to my fellow members of the Crab Lab: Rosa Lao-Brooks, Leah Corckran, and Sophie Schneider for their amazing support throughout this experiment as well as to my other mentors Marney Pratt, Mariana Abarca, and Paulette Peckol.



Phikolomzi Matikinca Researcher and Lecturer, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 

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

I have recently graduated with my PhD in Zoology, which was supervised by Prof. Tamara Robinson-Smythe. My PhD focused on the implications of the predicted changes in temperature and carbonate chemistry along the South African west coast for fouling organisms. Before I joined Stellenbosch University, I was at the African Climate and Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town (UCT) for my Masters, and at Rhodes University for my Honours and undergraduate studies.

I now work as a Researcher and Lecturer at the School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, where I teach modules in the Marine Biology and Biological Sciences streams. I also convene / coordinate and teach a course on Biostatistics, and supervise postgraduate students.

Broadly, I am interested in the subjects related to Global Change, particularly the interactions between the different drivers such as climate change and biological invasions. Specifically, I am interested in how carbonate chemistry varies spatially and temporally, and what that variability means for biota in coastal environments in the context of the predicted climate change. I am also interested in Socio-Ecological Systems – understanding the relationship between society and ecosystems.

What first interested you in this field of research?

I have always been interested in the subjects related to Global Change since my undergraduate studies at Rhodes University, particularly the interactions between the different drivers of Global Change. For my undergraduate studies, I did a double major in Environmental Sciences and Geology, and it was Environmental Sciences that sparked my interest in Global Change Ecology. However, there were many reasons that led me to make a conscious decision to pursue a PhD in Zoology, some of which were personal. First, I am curious about climate change, and its implications for the world. Second, I had developed an interest in Experimental and Quantitative Biology. I was interested in learning the experimental and quantitative techniques used in understanding nature, specifically in the context of marine invasion biology, and how all of that translates into the greater good for the world around us. Therefore, conducting the PhD research on the implications of climate change for fouling organisms was a great opportunity for me.

You won the Best Overall Student Talk award at ICMB XI, can you briefly explain the research you presented?

The talk I presented at ICMB XI was entitled “Effects of changing temperature and acidification on alien dominated fouling communities”. It was based on one of the chapters from my PhD. The focus of the talk was on the implications of cooling and acidification along the South African west coast for fouling communities. Research shows that the west coast in South Africa experiences cooling of 0.5℃ per decade. In this study, I experimentally mimicked the predicted cooling and ocean acidification for the year 2100 in the laboratory, and exposed fouling communities from Saldanha Bay and Table Bay marinas to such conditions. Results showed that fouling biota are vulnerable to the predicted climate change, even when they are soft-bodied and lack calcium carbonate shells. The take home message from this talk at ICMB XI was that: acidification may be more detrimental to west coast fouling communities. At species level, different organisms may respond differently. Therefore, context dependency is important when thinking about the effects of the predicted climate change on fouling biota, and it currently precludes generalisations about responses in the future.

How do you feel about winning the two awards at ICMB XI?

Winning the PeerJ Award for best overall student talk and the First Place Award for student oral presentation (Day 2) was something very unexpected. There were a lot of good and inspiring talks that I attended during the conference. The standard was very high and I was inspired throughout. To find out that I had won those two awards at an international level, I was over the moon! I am grateful to God for all the blessings, and to my supervisor Prof. Tamara Robinson-Smythe for her guidance during my PhD studies. Lastly, I am super grateful to ICMB XI organisers and committee, the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), PeerJ and the Society for the Study of Marine Bioinvasions (SSMB) for the awards. I highly appreciate them!

What are your next steps?

As mentioned, I have just completed my PhD, and have been appointed as a Researcher and Lecturer at the School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal. Holding this position on the east coast of South Africa, places me in a wonderful position to expand the geographic coverage of marine invasion biology research within the country. For example, two of the biggest harbours in South Africa (Durban harbour and Richards Bay harbour) are located along the east coast. These harbours have been highlighted as most at risk of receiving new invasions in South Africa. This presents me with an opportunity to establish a research network focused on monitoring biological invasions along the east coast in collaboration with different stakeholders, researchers and other interested parties. Therefore, I will continue working closely with Prof. Tamara Robinson-Smythe in making this a reality.

I also aim to continue working on monitoring coastal carbonate chemistry and exploring the implications of the predicted climate change for biological invasions. I am aware that this is a very ambitious idea that will require a lot of skills training and development, collaborations and partnerships, and funding. But, baby steps!

Get PeerJ Article Alerts