Feature Friday: Erin Shilling

Hi, Erin Shilling! Great to have you on ReefBites.


Erin is currently pursuing her M.S. in Marine Science & Oceanography at FAU-Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in the lab of Dr. Joshua Voss. Her research focuses on intervention strategies for diseased corals in Southeast Florida and potential impacts on mucus microbial communities. Learn more about Erin’s research below!

Give an elevator pitch of what your research/project is about.

My project is comparing two disease intervention strategies to compare their success, specifically to treat the disease “Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease ” (SCTLD) which has been rapidly spreading and causing high mortality along the Florida Reef Tract, as well as other areas in the Caribbean, including Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, to name a few. Additionally, I will be assessing the microbial communities in the mucus of both the diseased and some healthy coral colonies to look for any shifts in makeup between diseased and healthy, over time, and between diseased colonies treated with the different methods.

Why is this research/project important and timely?

This research will add a greater depth to all of the extensive work being carried out by groups responding to this disease outbreak, which is all being coordinated by FDEP. It will provide further information about the success rates of the treatments on diseased coral colonies affected by SCTLD and also allow us to learn more about how this disease and these treatments may be impacting the coral’s mucus microbial communities.

What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?

The results of this study will directly contribute to management recommendations by the Florida Coral Disease Advisory Committee. The goal is to send field teams out implementing the most effective intervention treatments possible to preserve as many coral colonies as possible. In the future, hopefully this work can also provide information for other coral disease events and how to most successfully manage and treat them.

How did you come to work in this field/project?

I’ve been really interested in biology since I was little, and my passion for marine sciences specifically evolved along the way, it was always the topic I was the most interested in my classes. In undergrad, I took some classes freshman year focusing more closely on marine biology and eventually ended up volunteering in a coral genomics lab, as well as partaking in a coral ecology study abroad program in Akumal, Mexico. After those experiences I knew I wanted to work in coral ecology in some aspect.

What is your top graduate school life hack or survival resource?

Sleep! It’s not a competition to see who can be the most exhausted. Also, my planner and Google calendar are a lifesaver!

Location of fieldwork; why choose this location?

The work for my project is just offshore from the Pompano Beach/Lauderdale-by-the-Sea area in Broward County, Florida. I wanted to work locally so I could do field work more frequently, and this site specifically was chosen due to our lab’s previous work fate-tracking diseased coral colonies, which will now be involved in my project as well.

Best and worst parts of your fieldwork:

The best AND worst part of field work are the flexibility of it.. it’s always exciting and you never know completely what to expect, but that also means that a lot of times you don’t get to implement the experimental design you had hoped for.

What advice would you give for successful fieldwork?

Plan for the worst and hope for the best- always have extras of everything, and practice new methods before implementing them in the field.

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