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2017 AAUS Scholarship Recipients


First Place - Doctoral-level

Amelia K. Weiss
Cornell University

Originally from Los Angeles, Amelia grew up diving in the kelp forests off Southern California. She first joined AAUS as a scientific diver while in college at UC Berkeley, where she began studying underwater cave ecology through an undergraduate research apprenticeship program. Amelia became a cave diver shortly after college, and then gained scientific diving experience working in marine conservation in Madagascar, as a research diver in the Caribbean Islands, and as a research technician at Northeastern University.

Now at Cornell University, Amelia is working on her Ph.D. in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology under Dr. Alexander Flecker. Her research is focused on understanding how the structure of animal communities is influenced by the type of food resources available. To do so, she studies crustaceans in underwater caves in Quintana Roo, Mexico, and examines where the resources come from that allow animals to persist belowground. Amelia will use her scholarship from the AAUS Foundation to test and apply molecular techniques to determine community composition and biodiversity. 


Second Place - Doctoral-level

Kathryn Lesneski
Boston University

I am a fifth year PhD Candidate in Marine Biology within the Boston University Marine Program. Before beginning graduate school, I participated as a volunteer diver for two marine conservation non-profits, and subsequently became a PADI Divemaster. During my first year of graduate school I participated in the Scientific Diving course, and since then I have been an AAUS Scientific Dive Leader during research expeditions to the Florida Keys and Belize. Additionally I have served as a Teaching Fellow for the Scientific Diving course twice, while gaining my NAUI Assistant Scuba Instructor certification.

 My broad research interests include coral reef conservation and restoration. My dissertation focuses on understanding the physiology and transcriptomic profiles of the endangered Acropora cervicornis (staghorn coral). Once an extremely important reef builder throughout the Caribbean, this coral has suffered significant population declines over the last several decades. We are eager to determine if some populations of this coral may exhibit an increased ability to buffer against heat stress/bleaching, and/or if they possess enhanced wound healing abilities. These two very important characteristics may help this coral survive despite the expected continued effects of global climate change, including sea surface warming. Staghorn coral is now a focal species for active reef restoration projects, including those conducted by the non-profit Fragments of Hope (FOH) located in Belize. FOH harvests small amounts of wild coral material, which can then be grown on underwater rebar and rope ‘nursery’ tables until they are viable adult-sized corals. Adults are then secured to surrounding reef areas in the hopes of rebuilding the physical structure. By using stock material for coral nurseries from populations identified to possess such desirable traits, we may increase the changes for long-term survival, growth, and success of physically restored reefs in Belize and beyond.

The AAUS Doctoral Scholarship will allow me to conduct fieldwork in Belize during fall 2017 where I am experimenting with such potential “robust” populations of staghorn coral. My research will directly benefit the future active reef restoration efforts of FOH.


First Place - Master-level

George Jarvis
California State University, Northridge

I am a master’s student in the Biology program at California State University, Northridge. I was born and raised in southern Maine, where I spent a large portion of my childhood chasing critters in tidepools. I attended Northeastern University in Boston, MA, where I received my AAUS certification in 2013. After graduation, I accepted a job as a research diver for UCSB’s SONGS mitigation monitoring project in southern California. I then worked as an intern at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, where I contributed to stock assessments for recreationally and commercially harvested fishes.

I currently work in a fish ecology lab under the advisement of Dr. Mark Steele, and I am broadly interested in reproduction and recruitment dynamics in marine systems. I am conducting a caging study at Santa Catalina Island, California, designed to examine the effects of predation risk on reproductive output in the bluebanded goby, Lythrypus dalli. Larval production is a crucial step in the overall recruitment process, but it is relatively understudied in marine ecosystems. By using bluebanded gobies as a model species, I hope to identify natural factors that can alter the beginning stages of recruitment in this nest-brooding fish.

I am grateful for this organization’s continued commitment to furthering graduate student research, and I look forward to using the funds from the AAUS Scholarship to improve our understanding of recruitment variation in marine systems.


Second Place - Master-level

Tracie Grimes
San Diego State University

I am a third year master’s student in the Biology Department at San Diego State University. I completed my SCUBA certification during my undergraduate degree and recently became an AAUS certified Scientific Diver. I am broadly interested in anthropogenic impacts to vulnerable wildlife and the interface between conservation and resource management. Past projects I have worked on have examined how vulnerable wildlife populations utilize and interact with their environments. Additionally, working as a fisheries observer in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska gave me insight into how sustainable fisheries are managed through the laws and regulations that govern our oceans. For my master’s thesis I am assessing how sea otter predation on a commercially valuable crab species may impact the fishery.

In general, top predator recovery can benefit ecosystem functioning but may also present challenges when predators and humans compete for the same resources. While sea otter recovery in Elkhorn Slough has been linked to ecosystem benefits, there is limited information on how sea otters may impact juvenile Dungeness crab that use estuaries as nursery grounds. Prior to starting graduate school, I interned with US Geological Survey and UC Santa Cruz to track and monitor sea otter activity and behavior in Elkhorn Slough as part of a collaborative project with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, Monterey Bay Aquarium, and Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Since starting graduate school I have monitored crab abundance and size in Elkhorn Slough and plan to compare these data with other California estuaries in the region. Understanding the potential influence of sea otters on Dungeness crab is of particular importance for California fisheries as sea otters continue their range expansion northward into other estuaries that act as important nurseries for Dungeness crab. Funding from the AAUS scholarship will ameliorate travel costs and support dive related research costs associated with this project.   


Huish/Hollis Gear Award

Hannah Aichelman
Old Dominion University

As a native of Charlotte, my first diving experiences were in the chilly lakes and quarries of North Carolina. I first joined AAUS as a Scientific Diver after graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and starting work as a lab manager in a coral reef ecology lab at the same university. Over the next two years, I traveled to and dove in Belize, Panama, and the Florida Keys to assist in the lab’s research project with the goal of understanding the long-term effects of temperature on coral growth.

I am currently a master’s student at Old Dominion University under the advisement of Dr. Daniel Barshis. My research focuses on the Northern Star Coral, Astrangia poculata, which is a temperate coral species that can be found on hard bottom structures from the Gulf of Mexico to Cape Cod, MA. The goal of my thesis is to understand the thermal limits of the Northern Star Coral, specifically that of two populations in Virginia and Rhode Island. Additionally, my work involves characterizing the distribution and abundance of the Northern Star Coral in North Carolina and Virginia. Temperate corals as a whole are understudied compared to their tropical counterparts, with particularly little known about Mid-Atlantic populations of the Northern Star Coral. Ultimately, my research will provide distribution maps for the Northern Star Coralin the Mid-Atlantic region and valuable information about the environmental characteristics of these sites. Additionally, thermal stress experiments will help elucidate potential effects of climate change on this species and how anthropogenic warming could alter the species’ range. Funding from the Hollis/Huish Gear Award will provide additional opportunities for diving off the Virginia, North Carolina and Rhode Island coasts and will aid in the completion of my thesis. 


Huish/Hollis Gear Award

Emily Anderson
Old Dominion University

Originally from Seattle, I started diving in the Pacific Northwest the summer after high school before starting college at Oregon State University. I continued my diving education at OSU and became a PADI Divemaster in 2012. That same year I studied tropical marine ecology abroad in Bonaire and became an AAUS certified Scientific Diver. Later, I spent a term on the Oregon Coast studying intertidal temperate marine ecology and a summer studying lionfish as an undergraduate research assistant in the Bahamas. Since graduating from Oregon State I’ve worked with lionfish in Belize, seagrass in Alabama, and oyster reef and seagrass restoration on the West coast of Florida. Currently, I am a second-year doctoral student in the Ecological Sciences program at Old Dominion University under advisement of Dr. Mark Butler. I am broadly interested in community ecology, recruitment dynamics, and marine bioacoustics. My research takes place in the Florida Keys and focuses on the backreef community of Florida Bay. I hope to better understand factors driving recruitment of fish and invertebrates in the Bay and use this information to improve restoration efforts. Funding from the Hollis Gear Award will allow me to conduct the underwater research necessary for this project. 





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