The BioOne Ambassador Award recognizes early-career researchers who excel at communicating the importance and impact of their specialized research to the public. Nominees were asked to provide a 250-word plain-language summary of their research which responded to the question:
You Are What You Eight
Imagine you have an underwater time machine and travel back to prehistoric California. What would the kelp forests look like before humans? California’s network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) give us the opportunity to observe the kelp forests as they used to be, untouched and pristine. MPAs also allow scientists to study healthy ecosystems and the kelp, fish, and predators that call these places home.
My research compares octopus diets inside and outside of MPAs to discover how protected areas affect octopus populations. I used a method called stable isotope analysis, or the “you are what you eat” method. I found that octopuses inside MPAs eat different diets than octopuses outside of MPAs, even though the same food was available in both areas. Since fishers outside of MPAs are allowed to take large animals that prey on octopus, the presence of octopus predators varies immensely between areas. The results of this research suggest that octopuses may be adjusting their hunting habits depending on how risky it is to be captured by predators. We know octopuses are smart enough to make these decisions. This research is evidence of the hidden interactions between predators and prey inside and outside of MPAs.
Kelp forests protect our coastline, provide beautiful places to fish and play, and generate oxygen for us to breathe. Continuing to study predator and prey interaction will give us invaluable knowledge about how we can keep our kelp forests healthy and thriving.
This summary is in reference to:
Variation in Octopus bimaculatus Verrill, 1883 Diet as Revealed through δ13C and δ15N Stable Isotope Analysis: Potential Indirect Effects of Marine Protected Areas
American Malacological Bulletin, 36(1):96-108. 2018.
Claudia Hermes, Gernot Segelbacher, and H. Martin Schaefer.
Jenny grew up in California, and after attending the California Summer School for Mathematics and Science and volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center, she decided to pursue a career in the marine sciences. She attended UCLA and majored in Marine Biology. There she volunteered in research labs, interned at an aquarium, participated in a field research program in French Polynesia, and studied abroad in Australia. After graduating, she entered a PhD program in Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley.
Her research focused on the ecology and behavior of a California octopus on Catalina Island at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. After graduating with her PhD from UC Berkeley, she earned a postdoc at UC Davis and led an abalone restoration experiment. She was then awarded a California Sea Grant academic grant which allowed her to pursue a postdoc at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography studying the movement and predatory behavior of octopuses. She was soon hired by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to manage the lobster fishery and continue a leadership role in the endangered white abalone restoration program.
Jenny currently lives in San Diego with her husband and dog. When she isn’t underwater, she plays board games, pretends to surf, and makes quilts.
What drew you to your current research field?
I have always been a question asker, and I think that is the very core of science. You have to have an innate curiosity to find out how the world works. My parents had the approach of “try a bunch of things, and maybe one thing will click”. My first experiences with the marine sciences, which happened to be marine mammal physiology and adaptation, was what finally clicked with me. Once I had the opportunity to experience research in action, I knew I had found a career that satisfied my curiosity while also contributing to the betterment of our planet. The more I learned about invertebrates, the more I realized how much cooler, weirder, and incredible they are than vertebrates (sorry marine mammals). Octopuses are the pinnacles of invertebrate weirdness and studying them and their role in California’s ecosystems have led to all the opportunities and research projects I have been a part of.
Who most inspired and/or influenced your career?
I was inspired by two amazing women who went out of their way to support me and guide me as a young student. My high school biology teacher, Sabrina Sjoberg was the first person to show me how amazing science is, that it isn’t just memorizing things out of textbook. Science is all about asking questions and testing boundaries. Ms. Sjoberg sought out opportunities for me to participate in and grow and worked with me to identify college programs that would meet my career goals. It sometimes takes only one person to see that spark in you and help you cultivate it, and Ms. Sjoberg was that person for me.
Dr. Shawn Noren was the first professional marine scientist I met. She was an instructor at the California Summer School for Mathematics and Science, and I later job-shadowed her as part of my high school senior project. She showed me the nitty-gritty of research and what a career in marine biology could look like. It isn’t all glamorous. It is hard work, often frustrating, always challenging, but immensely satisfying. She became my role model, and I only hope that I have been able to do the same for the young women in science that I have had the honor to teach and interacted with.
What one thing would you like the public to remember or understand about your research?
Humans can impact the environment in so many more ways than just taking animals out of it. Just like our communities and relationships are complicated, so are animals’. If you knew that there was a t-rex by your house that could eat you if you stepped outside but only in the daytime, you would probably change your behavior. Maybe you would only leave your house at night or invent some elaborate invisibility cloak to hide yourself. If that t-rex disappeared, how long would it take you trust that it was gone and venture outside during the day? Would it change the type of food you ate or the people you interacted with? This is the kind of situation octopuses are in in Southern California. The predators and prey in their environments are disappearing, changing, or returning, and I want to see how they use their incredible problem-solving abilities to respond to these changes.
If you had one piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue research in your field, what would it be?
Be creative and persistent! In this field, you will get a lot of rejection. You will encounter a lot of road blocks. You have to be willing pick yourself up and keep trying. Look for creative ways to utilize skills you have gained in other parts of your life and apply it to challenges in marine research. Sometimes, you also have to be a little stubborn.