Feature Friday: Jayslen Serrano

Hi, Jayslen Serrano! Welcome to ReefBites. 

Twitter handle: @SerranoJayslen 

Instagram: Jayslensteph

Jayslen is a Master of Science in Biology student at California State University, Northridge. Her work focuses on the physiological responses of tropical macroalgae to variable environmental conditions. Read more about Jayslen’s work below! 

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

My research focuses on the physiological responses of dominant macroalgae in Mo’orea, French Polynesia to variable environmental stressors. More specifically, I study the effects of ocean acidification (OA) and elevated temperature on the carbon physiology and growth of two dominant tropical macroalgae (Turbinaria ornata and Sargassum pacificum). 

Why is this research/project important and timely?

All macroalgae require CO2 for photosynthesis and are able to successfully uptake CO2 from seawater through passive diffusion. However, because of the current limited availability of CO2 most algal species are unable to support maximal rates of photosynthesis and have developed carbon acquisition strategies, such as carbon concentrating mechanisms (CCMs), which allows them to raise the CO2 concentrations above that in the external medium. Macroalgae that possess CCMs are able to utilize the available inorganic carbon found in the surrounding seawater during their photosynthetic process. However, the responses of these organisms to OA and temperature may be species-specific based on their carbon physiology. For example, increasing CO2 in seawater could promote an increase of macroalgal growth and abundance for species that exclusively rely on CO2. Meanwhile other species of macroalgae may show either a negative response due the energetic costs of CCMs or the down regulation of their CCM activity under elevated CO2 conditions allowing the reallocation of energy to tissue growth or other physiological processes. By studying the effects of OA and temperature on the physiological responses of macroalgae we may be able to better predict the competitive ability of these organisms on reefs. 

What is the broader impact and implication of your findings?

Macroalgae play several critical roles in maintaining key ecological processes on important coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs. They make up a significant portion of primary production, are critical constituents in nutrient cycling, and provide habitats for many marine organisms, but a high abundance of macroalgae is also a key indicator of coral reef degradation. With escalating effects of global climate change, several studies have shown that increased temperature, ocean acidification, overfishing, and increased nutrient supply have enhanced macroalgal growth and abundance on reefs worldwide. Understanding the physiological responses of macroalgae can help better predict patterns in macroalgal responses on reefs, especially dominant species, and better understand which ecological drivers related to anthropogenic activities are behind these shifts in community structure. With this knowledge we can help implement better management and conservation strategies for coral reefs. 

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

I realized that I desired to understand marine life beyond the naked eye soon after a trip to the Sea of Cortez during my first year at community college. After this trip, I took every marine biology course that was offered at my community college and transferred over to California State University, Northridge (CSUN). CSUN’s curriculum exposed me to various areas of study in the field of biology; but, my inspiration to pursue a career as a marine biologist began when I was enrolled in phycology. Phycology, the study of algae, covered a broad range of topics from taxonomy to the physiological ecology of algae and opened up a field of study that I truly enjoyed! This course challenged me to apply my understanding of physiological ecology and develop my first independent project that focused on the physiological processes of algae and how they are affected by current environmental stressors. Noticing my eagerness to conduct research, my instructor Dr. Robert Carpenter, encouraged me to be a research assistant in his lab. This opportunity provided me with a tremendous amount of research experience and added to my growth as a marine biologist. As a research assistant, I conducted my second independent research project on the effects of ocean acidification on coral reefs in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Following that, my undergraduate advisor then strongly encouraged me to consider graduate school, so I applied to work in his lab and got accepted! I’m in my final year of my Master’s program at CSUN and looking into PhD programs. 

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

Coffee, coffee, and more coffee. My graduate survival resources have also included having a great support system, an organized planner, and dedicating some time to do some sort of physical activity, for me it’s been swimming! 

Any additional information or comments you would like to share?

Don’t ever compare yourself to anyone or let anyone dictate what the next step for you is. Everyone is on different paths! 

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