The official website of the Elkhorn Slough Foundation and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Elkhorn Slough Graduate Research Fellows

What is a Graduate Research Fellow?

The National Estuarine Research Reserve System's GRF program produces high quality research focused on improving coastal management while providing students with the opportunity to contribute to research and monitoring at a reserve. As part of the Reserve System, each National Estuarine Research Reserve provides opportunities for students to address research questions and estuarine management issues of local, regional and national significance.

GRF funds support management related research projects that enhance scientific understanding of the Reserve System ecosystem, provide information needed by reserve managers and coastal decision-makers, and improve public awareness and understanding of estuarine ecosystems and management issues. GRF funds are available on a competitive basis to students admitted to or enrolled in a full-time master's or doctoral program at U.S. accredited colleges and universities. Fellowships may be funded for up to three years. The amount of the award is $20,000 per annum and may be used to defray the costs of living, tuition, fees and research supplies. For more information on the graduate research fellowships and instructions on how to apply, visit the national program webpage.

Graduate Research Fellows

Brent Hughes (2011-2014)
Ph. D.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of California, Santa Cruz

Brent is exploring the drivers of ecological communities at the land/sea interface. This work focuses on the relationship between the seagrass Zostera marina and ephemeral algae, and the natural and anthropogenic factors that influence their interaction. The motivation for this work has been the observation that certain populations of Zostera in California are ableto persist despite intense eutrophication. This goes against the current paradigm that eutrophication (i.e. increased macroalgal and phytoplankton blooms), generally leads to a shift in dominance of primary producer communities from seagrass to ephemeral algae. In addition to studying seagrass, Brent is exploring the consequences of nutrient enrichment and eutrophication on the nursery function of estuaries.


Carla Fresquez (2009-2011)
Ph. D.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of California, Santa Cruz
Carla Fresquez is trying to tease apart the various factors that control the distribution of a threatened plant community at Elkhorn Slough, the high marsh-upland ecotone, a relatively diverse part of the salt marsh that forms the transition zone between the marsh and adjacent upland habitat. This community is limited to a very narrow area around the periphery of the slough with distinct boundaries with the upland and marsh habitats. She is identifying the  abiotic and biotic process and interactions that determine these distinct boundaries. In addition, she is also trying to quantify how the relative influence of each of these types of factors changes under the varying conditions found across the gradient from marsh to upland.

Science in Action: King Tide at Elkhorn Slough. December 2012 by Carla Fresquez

 

 


Joanna Nelson (2008-2011)
Ph.D.
Environmental Studies
University of California, Santa Cruz
Joanna investigated global-change ecology, resilience, and non-linear ecosystem responses to change, in Elkhorn Slough, where N pollution and sea-level rise  converge at the land-sea interface, impacting rare salt marsh habitats and their provision of ecosystem services.  She focused on the ecosystem service of water filtration, where salt marsh plants intercept watershed-derived nitrogen (N) and buffer the nearshore ocean from nutrient pollution. Nitrogen pollution and sea-level rise both impact coastal ecosystems, yet their interacting effects are poorly understood. She quantified the effects of sea-level rise and nitrogen addition on marsh plant growth and capacity to take up and store N, using two approaches: 1) a manipulative field experiment with simulated sea-level rise and added nitrogen; and 2) a landscape-scale observational study along a nitrogen gradient in Elkhorn Slough and an elevational gradient in the marsh intertidal zone.


Rikke Kvist Preisler Elkhorn Slough GRFRikke Kvist Preisler (2006 - 2009)
Ph.D.
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
University of California, Santa Cruz

Rikke investigated the biogeographic variation in abundance, morphology, and behavior of the European green crab, Carcinus maenas. Results from crab monitoring in Elkhorn Slough have shown that while relative abundances of native crabs have been declining since 2001, relative abundance of the European green crab has been increasing. This intriguing pattern brought to our attention that the invasion success of the European green crab is highly variable in different estuaries and bays. Rikke quantified and compared success of the green crab in estuaries and bays on the US West Coast, the US East Coast, and in Europe by measuring green crab size distributions, fecundity, relative abundance and behavior.


Katie Griffith Elkhorn Slough GRFKatie Griffith (2005 - 2008)
Ph.D.
Ocean Sciences Department
University of California, Santa Cruz

Katie examined the distribution and abundance of Cuscuta salina (salt marsh dodder). C. salina is a native, parasitic plant that is often found attached to Salicornia virginica (pickleweed) in Elkhorn Slough’s salt marshes. Because C. salina does not photosynthesize, it survives by inserting plugs of tissue, called haustoria, into the host tissue and extracting water, sugars, and nutrients. The distribution of C. salina is extremely patchy and Katie investigated, both experimentally and through surveys, how this distribution is related to host quality, abiotic conditions, and/or seed recruitment.


Scott Wankel Elkhorn Slough GRFScott Wankel (2003 - 2006)
Ph.D.
Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences
Stanford University

Scott's research focused on the use of stable isotopic tools, primarily the nitrogen (d15N) and oxygen (d18O) isotopic composition of nitrate, a ubiqutous contaminant found in Elkhorn Slough, for understanding important sources to the slough as well as transformations within marsh/mudflat regions. Surveys of water samples from over three years showed a high degree of variability in isotopic composition, highlighting both variability in sources of nitrate with the main channel as well as the hydrodynamic complexity of mixing of these sources. A compilation of these data show the influence of saltmarsh/mudflat sediments in controlling nitrate isotopic composition with the main channel through simultaneous denitrification and nitrification. Laboratory based sediment core incubations indicated very active microbial communities at the water interface, including those responsible for mitigating large amounts of nitrate, a ubiqutous aquatic contaminant within the Elkhorn Slough ecosystem. Furthermore, his work highlighted the spatial variability that exists between relatively uncontaminated sites, such as South Marsh, and more impacted sites, such as Hudson Landing. The impacted sites exhibited generally higher denitrification rates, despite lower availability of organic carbon, suggesting microbial communites which are adapted to high nutrient conditions found at more polluted sites.


Kimberly Heiman (2002 - 2005)
Ph. D.
Ecology and Evolution Department
Stanford University

Kimberly worked on the distribution and effect of invasive species on the native communities in Elkhorn Slough. Specifically, she looked at the effect of an invasive reef-forming worm on the biological communities inhabiting native mud flats. Ficopomatus enigmaticus is native to Australia and came to Elkhorn Slough in the 1990s. Today it forms reefs in the eastern end of the Slough. Observations show that this invasive species is spreading throughout the Slough. Understanding the rate of spread and the potential impact of this invasive species was one of Kimberly's research goals.


Sherry Palacios researchSherry Palacios (2001 - 2004)
M.S.
Phycology Department
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Sherry assessed the effects of climate change and light availability on the productivity and distribution of seagrasses. Her work included modeling seagrass distributions based on light and CO2 concentrations and validating the results of the model by measuring seagrass distributions in the field. Sherry also tested the parameters of the model by growing seagrasses at varying light and CO2 concentrations in an outdoor mesocosm experiment located at the Duke Energy Power Plant.


Jennifer Brown (2000 - 2002)
Ph.D.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department
University of California Santa Cruz

Jennifer determined the relative importance of estuaries and shallow coastal areas as juvenile habitat for three species of flatfish that are common on the central California coast. She assessed the importance of these two habitats by comparing growth rates of juvenile flatfish living in estuaries, such as Elkhorn Slough, to those of juveniles living in sandy subtidal habitats, such as Monterey Bay. Jennifer also determined the proportion of adult fish that once used the estuary as juvenile habitat.


Sarah Connors Shorebird ResearchSarah Connors(1999 - 2000)
M.S.
Ornithology and Mammology Lab
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Sarah Connors studied shorebird use of mudflats in the Elkhorn Slough watershed. Sarah surveyed all the different mudflat regions within the slough watershed each month for 2 years to determine the abundance of shorebird species present in each area.


Jeb Byers Batillaria ResearchJames (Jeb) Byers (1998 - 2000)
Ph.D.
University of California, Santa Barbara

Jeb studied the mechanisms by which the invasive mud snail Batillaria attramentaria is managing to displace the native horn snail Cerithidea californica. He discovered that the invader has the competitive edge over the native snail Jeb has also developed and tested predictive models, that can be applied to other invasive species.


Andrea Woolfolk researchAndrea Woolfolk (1997 - 1998)
M.S.
Moss Landing Marine Laboratories

Andrea experimentally tested the effects of human trampling and cattle grazing on pickleweed (Salicornia virginica) assemblages at two sites in Elkhorn Slough. Overall, trampling and grazing can decrease S. virginica abundance, lead to changes in community structure, promote invasions by introduced species, and contribute to loss of marsh habitat.

 

 

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