Feature Friday: Kaela Tyler

Hi, Kaela Tyler! Welcome to Reefbites.

Twitter/Instagram: @kaelatyler 

Kaela is a Master’s Thesis Student in Dr. Robert Carpenter’s marine algae lab at California State University, Northridge. Her work focuses on investigating the interactive effects of multiple variable stressors on the physiology of crustose coralline algae. Read more about her work below! 

Give an elevator pitch of what your projects are about.

A primary yet inconspicuous contributor to the foundation and health of tropical coral reefs are crustose coralline algae (CCA). CCA in shallow reefs are naturally exposed to increased temperatures during the day followed by decreased pH at night with copious amounts of literature elucidating the negative impacts high temperature and low pH has on CCA physiology. Very few studies incorporate the role of natural variation of these parameters when investigating CCA physiology to predicted climate change effects, leaving their responses poorly understood. My research investigates how variable environmental stressors simultaneously affect the physiological processes of CCA. More specifically, I am interested in the role of diel temperature and pH variation on CCA metabolism in present day and future environmental conditions.

Why is this project important and timely?

Ocean acidification will intensify concurrently with global warming and because CCA has many ecological functions such as maintaining reef stability, cementation, and upkeeping biodiversity, it is of high importance to understand the synergistic effects of these two variables on the fitness of CCA. 

What is the broader impact and implication of your work?

Because ocean acidification is intensifying concurrently with warming, there is an urgency to determine implications their synergistic variable effects may have on coral reefs. The integration of these studies will not only provide valuable context to those demands but will also enhance interpretation credibility to the inevitable consequences of climate change by considering natural patterns of these stressors. These are the steps that need to be taken to further progress this field in understanding the biophysical impacts of climate change on these valuable ecosystems.

How did you come to work in this field?

We grow up learning through grade school just how little we know about our oceans and how much more there is to discover out there. The mystery of what inhabits our oceans has remained intriguing to me throughout my entire life. This led me to pursue a bachelor’s degree in marine biology at California State University, Northridge. During this time, I gained research experience in Dr. Carpenter’s lab as an undergraduate researcher where I assisted his current graduate students with their experiments while also conducting my own independent study in Moorea, French Polynesia. For this project I investigated the effects of ocean acidification on crustose coralline alga, Hydrolithon reinboldii. It was during this study where my passion became understanding the effects of climate change on marine organisms, specifically the vulnerable inhabitants of tropical coral reefs. 

After completing my undergraduate degree, I officially joined this lab as a Master’s Thesis Student and continued my research that focuses on the biophysical impacts of climate change on crustose coralline algae in Moorea. Currently, I am running a field experiment in Moorea that compares the physiology of crustose coralline algae, Lithophyllum kotschyanum in reef environments with differing magnitudes of pH and temperature variation in situ.  

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

My top graduate school survival resource was following #AcademicChatter on Twitter. This tag connects me with other academics all around the world that share tips, ideas, current research projects, as well as struggles related to academia. I have learned effective writing skills, funding/work opportunities, life-work balance tips, and how to identify when I am experiencing imposter syndrome by following this tag. I am extremely grateful knowing there are other academics at all levels going through the same experiences that I am. It really pushes me to keep going when times get tough. 

Any additional information or comments you would like to share?

One of the hardest parts about doing “good science” is being able to effectively communicate it to the public. I believe there is a knowledge gap between scientists and non-scientists that is largely due to the lack of successfully communicating our scientific process and findings to those who do not have a scientific background. It should be just as important to be able to interpret your findings to people from all backgrounds as it is to collect the data. Outreach and guest lectures are a great way to practice effective communication skills while also exposing younger generations to the importance and fun of science. If you can, try to get involved in these kinds of experiences as well!

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