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Casey Morrisroe Saup

Earth Sciences; Undergraduate Research

Casey M. Saup researched "Physiological and Isotopic Responses of the Coral Stylophora pistillata to Future Coastal Ocean Conditions" and was advised by Dr. Andréa Grottoli.

How would you briefly describe your research to someone who is not familiar with your field of study?
As the climate continues to change, corals are increasingly at risk of bleaching and bleaching-induced mortality due to rising temperatures. However, there is evidence to suggest that increased feeding and less intense light may offset some of the damage caused by increased temperatures. We measured the individual and interactive effects of temperature, light, nutrition (fed brine shrimp, not fed brine shrimp) on the physiology and biogeochemistry of one particular coral species, Stylophora pistillata. Calcification, feeding rates, photosynthesis, and respiration were measured, as well as the nitrogen (δ15N), and carbon (δ13C) isotopic compositions of the whole coral tissue. Our results indicated that less intense light and increased feeding do not appear to mediate the negative effects of elevated temperature as was hypothesized. 

How/why did you select this topic?
In order to obtain a Bachelor of Science in the School of Earth Sciences, you must complete a senior thesis. Narrowing down my interests to one particular topic was difficult; everything sounded so interesting! I chose this particular topic because I love chemistry, and the interdisciplinary aspect of this work really appealed to me. I also like that this work allows me get involved with conservation efforts.

How did you identify a faculty mentor?
When I started taking my major classes, I was intimidated by the thought of completing a senior thesis, and I didn’t really know how to go about finding a faculty mentor. I had a class with Dr. Wendy Panero, one of the advisors in our department. She very strongly encouraged those of us not currently engaged in research to find faculty mentors during class.  After that, I set up an appointment with her and asked her for some advice. After I described my personality, interests, and academic strengths, she suggested Dr. Andréa Grottoli and she encouraged me to look at Dr. Grottoli’s student’s posters in the hallways of Mendenhall Laboratory. After reading through her work and the work of her students, as well as exploring my other options, I knew I wanted to become a part of her research team.

How has your major program and your time at Ohio State prepared you for this research?
The rigorous math and science requirements, as well as some of the required GECs prepared me very well for the data analysis involved in my research, as well as lab protocols and operation of lab equipment. The wide array of upper-level geology courses offered, such as Geochemistry and Advanced Oceanography, allowed me to learn more about different aspects of my research and provided me with valuable skills that I used in my work.

What have you learned from the experience that will be valuable to you in the future?
The most valuable thing I have learned thus far from this experience is what I can expect in graduate school. I feel like I am much more prepared for graduate school with this undergraduate research experience under my belt than I would be without it. I am also taking away many transferrable skills from this experience, including lab equipment operation, coding, the use of statistical software, the use of specialized graphing software, and most importantly improved critical thinking and data interpretation skills.

What most surprised you during the research process or what did you most enjoy about the experience?
I most enjoyed that my project was very hands-on. I was physically involved in every step of this project with lab work. This was very important to me! I was also very surprised at how many things I learned that were not directly related to my research, such as how to use different statistical and graphing software.

What impact did/do you hope to make through your research?
The biggest impact I hope to make would be to show other students that geology is a very broad area of study and doesn’t necessarily mean “I look at rocks all day.” I really hope I can encourage more students who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in geology to consider geology as a major and possible career path.  

Do you plan to continue with this research in the future?
I plan to continue this work through the spring for my senior thesis. I then plan to go to graduate school where I would very much like to continue with geochemical work.

What advice would you give students about getting involved in research?
I know how intimidating the thought of a research project can be, but don’t be afraid to get involved! It will put you miles ahead of other applicants for graduate schools and careers. I would also want to tell other students to use all of their resources when looking for research (like contacting an advisor for advice or reading through the posters in the hallways), as well as during their research. One of the most beautiful things about going to a university this size is that we have access to just about every journal and piece of equipment you can think of, and we as undergrads are allowed to use them!