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Salt-Water Science up Close

By UC Davis Staff on April 14, 2014 in Environment

Why would you wade into scientific mysteries at UC Davis?

A vanishing marsh mouse in the Suisun Marsh? 

Declining native oysters in Bodega Bay?

Or taking a makeshift raft into a Massachusetts estuary to figure out the secret to “pink berries”?

That’s the draw for ecologists Jillian Bible and Katherine Smith and microbiogist Lizzie Wilbanks. Watch and read what it’s like to be in their shoes.

Marsh mouse solving habitat mysteries

By Katherine SmithEcology

My research is helping save the only mammal in the world restricted to coastal marshes and found only in the San Francisco Bay — the salt marsh harvest mouse. This mouse is endangered due to habitat loss. 

By performing my research in a variety of habitat types, I hope to identify methods for improving multispecies management in this complex system. 

Through monthly trapping, I’m learning important information such as how long can these rodents live, or in what months do they breed.  I am also performing a study to determine what diet preferences they share with waterfowl. I use radio telemetry to examine their movements, home ranges and habitat use.

Threats like climate change will continue to imperil marsh species like these mice.  I want to help government agencies save this awesome endangered species by increasing the understanding of its biology, ecology and behavior.


Olympia oysters — the ‘canary’ in the estuary?

Videography by Zak Long/University of California 
(1 min 42 sec)

By Jillian Bible, Ecology

I chose to conduct research that would not only document how humans are impacting marine ecosystems but also provide information to help conserve and restore an important species, the Olympia oyster.

This is the only oyster that occurs naturally on the West Coast of North America, and it is a critical species in estuaries. I am investigating whether different populations of this species might be more or less vulnerable to oceanic changes caused by humans.

Specifically, I am investigating whether changes — such as warming waters, changes in salinity, ocean acidification, and the introduction of invasive predators — affect their vulnerablity.

Besides doing my research, one of my strongest passions is communicating it — and science in general — to broad audiences. I love sharing the magic of science with learners of all ages and helping people to understand some of today’s pressing problems and the ways in which science can inform solutions.


The secret lives of marsh microbes

By Lizzy Wilbanks, Microbiology

I study “pink berries”— centimeter-sized, round, pink balls of bacteria found at the sediment-water interface of intertidal pools in the Sippewissett salt marsh in Falmouth, Mass.

Although these mysterious bacteria have not been grown in the laboratory, I’ve been able to eavesdrop on the metabolic “conversations” between these microbes using cutting-edge technology.

My work has revealed a previously unrecognized partnership between two sulfur-metabolizing bacterial species. Using methods borrowed from the field of geology, I have visualized this as an intimate cooperation on a nanometer scale and shown how nutrients (specifically sulfur) are recycled within the pink berry aggregates.

I have assembled genomes for the pink berry microbes, clarifying the pathways that drive their metabolism.

My work has added to our understanding nutrient cycling in the Sippewissett marsh and provided a model system for studying nutrient cycles at the microbial scale. 

Keep up with Lizzy’s research on her lab Web page, on Twitter @LizzyWilbanks (all science all the time) or through a recent project publication.