Student Research Highlight

CIEE Spring Semester student Shannon Brown talks about her research entitled:

“Time budgeting and community structure of the fairy basslet, Gramma loreto

What school do you come from? Major? Academic Year?

I am an Honors Marine Biology major at the University of Oregon located Eugene, Oregon. I am currently a senior and will be graduating in September 2017.

Fairy Basslet, Gramma loreto (Image from USGS)

What question(s) does your research address? 

My research project examines the community structure and behavioral time allocation of the fairy basslet, Gramma loreto. There is limited research on fairy basslets so I wanted to investigate whether these fish had a coral preference and if they were found living within a specific community of fish. In addition, I investigated whether population size, fish size, and the percentage of piscivores affected the time a fairy basslet spent on various behaviors (e.g. feeding, swimming, chasing, hiding, etc.).

Was it difficult to devise a research question?

During most of my undergrad, I researched feather duster worm regeneration on the Oregon coast. Therefore, before arriving on Bonaire, I was excited to potentially study a new organism but had no clue where to start. Luckily, after a few dives, I became intrigued with the small yellow and purple fairy basslet. Fairy basslets are an understudied organism so when developing a research question there were endless possibilities. The major challenge for my project was finding a way to narrow down my research questions to ones within the scope of a 5 week collection period.

Was it difficult to devise the methods for your research question?

Luckily, my methods were relatively easy to devise because they involved me holding a GoPro and videotaping a single population of fairy basslets for 15 min. The most difficult part of my day was usually calculating the necessary surface interval between my dive and my buddy’s dive since for consistency reasons, I only performed data collection midday.

Describe a typical day of data collection for your research project.

My dive buddy and I would set out in the mid-afternoon to film two populations of fairy basslets. For 15 min, I would position myself in front of a population and attempt to steadily hold a camera. With a current, that proved more challenging than expected. After returning to shore, I would download the GoPro footage and spend a few hours watching the videos to count coral colonies, count fish abundance and identify species of fish. With an arm covered with stopwatches, I would begin analyzing my videos to determine how much time each fairy basslet spent on various behaviors including feeding, swimming, hiding, chasing, etc.

What major difficulties did you have to overcome to complete your project?

The most difficult thing about my project was sifting through hours upon hours of footage. In total, I captured videos of nine populations of fairy basslets. I watched each video 4+ times and even slowed down the video to aid with fish identification and behavioral timing. While I enjoyed researching fairy basslets, I think anyone would agree that hours in front of a computer screen can be taxing.

What was the most fun part of your research project?

My research project allowed me to collect data while diving which was extremely rewarding. I love spending time in the water, so getting to do it for class and a research project was an amazing experience. Not only did I improve my skills, but when you spend 15 min watching the same piece of reef, you tend to observe some amazing interactions. For example, I noticed shrimp and sea cucumber species that I may have never noticed if I was just swimming along the reef.

Describe the general findings of your research project.

I found that massive and leafy corals are more prominent by populations of Gramma loreto potentially because they create ledges and alcoves for the fish to hide under in case a predator approaches. In addition, I determined that invertivores dominate the regions around the Gramma loreto populations at the dive site I examined. When investigating the behavioral time allocation of fairy basslet, I found that they spend most of their time feeding. I also determined that population size, fish size, and the percentage of piscivores in the nearby community does not influence the percentage of time a fairy basslet spend on each behavior. While the non-significant relationship caused me to reject most of my hypotheses, even the lack of a relationship provides new information about the species behavioral patterns. Lastly, though uncommon, I found that fairy basslets tend to chase other planktivores who are competing with them for zooplankton.

Has the process of conducting an independent research project made you a better scientist?

Conducting an independent research project in the Caribbean has made me a better scientist. Not only have I learned how to incorporate diving into my research, but I have also learned how on a small island, you often do not have access to all the chemicals or equipment you are used to at your university. In the end, my independent research project taught me to be more independent and adapt to constantly changing methods.

Comments are closed