Category Archives: Visiting Scientists

OSU Research Update- Lillian Tuttle

Lillian diving a patch reef.
Lillian diving a patch reef.

Lillian Tuttle is a PhD. student from Mark Hixon’s lab at Oregon State University, who is working at CEI for 90 days this summer studying the lionfish invasion.  Broadly, Lillian is interested in the interactions among invasive lionfish, native parasite communities, and native cleaning symbioses.  Her past research demonstrates that invasive lionfish have escaped the threat of parasitic infection here in the Atlantic, especially when compared to native fishes that are chocked full of parasitic worms and crustaceans.  Without the need to fight infection, lionfish might be able to put more energy into growth and reproduction, perhaps explaining some of their success as an invasive species.  But if lionfish don’t have parasites, might they still change the way that native fish get parasites?

Lillian's hand getting cleaned at an underwater fish cleaning station!
Lillian’s hand getting cleaned at an underwater fish cleaning station!

This brings us to Lillian’s project this summer. Thus far, Lillian has logged many hours of observation and deployed many GoPro cameras to detect what lionfish are doing at cleaning stations, locations on the reef where small “cleaner” gobies and shrimp pick the parasites off the skin of larger fish “clients” (think, car washes in the sea!).  Are lionfish eating cleaners?  Are lionfish eating clients?  Or might the slow, stalking, hunting behavior of lionfish interrupt cleaning somehow?  These are all questions Lillian hopes to answer this summer at CEI.

SFU Researcher is studying yellow stingrays at CEI

SFU undergraduate researcher Sev counts yellow stingrays on a patch reef.
SFU undergraduate researcher Sev counts yellow stingrays on a patch reef.

In order to better understand the ecological role of the Yellow Stingray, Urobatis jamaicensis, team SFU has been performing some baseline stingray surveys each Saturday. What happens on Stingray Saturdays? There are sixteen survey sites (patch reefs) total. At these sites two SCUBA divers record the number of individual rays, sex, total length, substrate, refuge, and where they were found on the patch. In addition to this they also take their picture!

A photo of one of the yellow stingrays.
A photo of one of the yellow stingrays.

This data will reveal more about the habitat use and site fidelity of the rays. If time permits, the team may even test whether or not the rays can be reliably identified based on their spot patterns. If photo ID were a feasible option it would mean no tags necessary – a noninvasive and cost effective way of identifying individuals!