An Inconclusive Summary

As I mentioned in my last post, I am far from finished with my research, the end goal being an article sent in to be published by the end of December. However, I accomplished much over the summer. I mapped 31 sites (10x10m sections of coral reef) for two species of coral and one type of disease. I found that the disease was more prevalent on one of the coral species. But I have not finished the spatial analyses because in the last few weeks, we changed the statistics we were using and I had to learn new methods of comparing the spatial data. I am still in the process of completing these analysis. I have managed to get my old disease transmission model code to work, but am now developing a new model involving use of a continuous function. My research is a work in progress, but my time spent at Mote brought me closer to my adviser, broadened my view of ocean acidification and coral disease research, and gave me valuable time to work on my project. I look forward to completing my research during this semester, even though right now it seems like having to take classes and graduate is taking away too much time from my research which is really all that I want to do.

Last few Weeks at Mote

Today was my last “official” day at Mote Marine Lab. (So this WAS the case when I originally started writing this post…) However, my research is no where near finished. My last weeks at Mote were hectic and stressful. I finally got through all of the site mapping and data file shuffle-ing and got into the actual analyses in R… and then everything just kind of blew up for a while, as research likes to do sometimes. I found no significant difference in the spatial patterns using the Komogorov-Smirnov test… SO Dr. Muller and I decided to try fitting the distributions and then running statistics on the fits. However, I have never done this before and had to start from scratch on figuring out how to go about distribution fitting in R, learning the “lingo” for distribution fitting, and determining just what everything means. I also ran into problems trying to run my old disease transmission model code with the new data. R kept throwing up error after error after error. For about two weeks, I was completely lost. I felt overwhelmed and incapable to solving all of my questions. It took a pep-talk from Dr. Muller over a couple of beers after a 5K put on by one of the local bars to get me to push past my “research plateau.” Sometimes, you just have to fall down and then pick your self back up piece by piece in order to push past problems that occur in your research. When I was driving the struggle bus, I went back through everything I had done to date and wrote everything down step by step and I also went back and re-read a lot of the R instruction manuals. This really helped me understand what I am doing even better than before. I think encountering difficulties during research forces scientists to re-evaluate and refocus to better continue on in their project.

Coral Puzzles and Spatial Statistics

So far, I’ve only really written about the exciting things that I get to do because of the laid-back nature of my research. Let me explain more about what I actually do…

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Black Band Disease Project in the Florida Keys

This week, I have been extremely lucky to be included in a project run by Dr. Erinn Muller at Mote’s Tropical Research Lab on Summerland Key. Dr. Muller is looking at the effects of pH and temperature on the spread of Black Band disease on three species of corals. Coral reefs have the highest diversity of all marine ecosystems, but they have deteriorated rapidly in the past few decades. Coral reefs have undergone significant declines with changes in their composition, structure, and function. These alterations are attributable to one or more natural or anthropogenic factors. The emergence of diseases and bleaching emphasize the need for rigorous assessments to understand their causes and ecological impacts on coral reefs. This project is specifically looking at Black Band disease, pictured below.

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Research Buffet

Ok, so it is half way through the summer already and I have yet to post anything. I’ve been SUPER busy. Unfortunately, field work in the USVI didn’t happen because of permitting issues. Permit requirements are great for protecting the corals on the reef, but also a huge pain to work around when trying to do science on endangered species (most coral species). I arrived in Sarasota on June 14th, a whole two weeks earlier than I had originally planned. Since then, I have re-organized the data for my project (scoured through 4 different external hard drives for all of the files I needed), identified colonies of my species of interest and diseased colonies in 10 new sites (looked at pictures of coral until my eyes bled ),  merged the rows into sites (completed coral jigsaw puzzles), and helped with all of the other intern’s projects (took breaks from staring at my computer screen). My research can be extremely tedious and mind-numbing at times, BUT I love how it combines into a big picture conclusion in the end. And don’t let me fool you, I actually like working through all the computer work, but If I tell everybody that I like looking at thousands of pictures of coral, then they might start to think I’m crazy.

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