Larval Behavior Film Reaches the Final Round of NSF’s “Creating the Future” Video Contest

When the National Science Foundation announced their “Creating the Future” contest, I was excited to have the opportunity to present my PhD research in the form of a short video. It turned out to be quite challenging to explain my work on underwater soundscapes and larval navigation in just 90 seconds. The film combines unique footage of pelagic fish larvae, recorded by my advisor Claire Paris, as well as audio recordings made on reefs right here in Florida. The final product, called “Sonic Reef,” made it to the final judging round. This means that the film is eligible to win the people’s choice award if it gets enough votes. The $1000 prize money that I could win would be used for field research next summer.

Please vote for “Sonic Reef” by visiting this National Science Foundation website: Click here to vote!

You have to enter your email address – and only once you receive the confirmation email can you cast your official vote.

Thanks for your support!

Erica Staaterman
PhD Student, Applied Marine Physics & Marine Biology and Fisheries
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Understanding Navigational Cues in the Marine Environment

I spent a hot afternoon in late July with the two Principal Investigators (PIs) on a new National Science Foundation (NSF) Ocean Technology and Interdisciplinary Coordination grant entitled “T-LEOST: realTime Larval Environmental and Ocean Signal Tracking: an integrated system for the study of navigational cues in the marine environment.” Instead of meeting in an office, we met by the pool at University of Miami’s main campus.

The goal was to test several new instruments that are part of this project. A drifting behavioral chamber developed by Dr. Claire Paris, one of the PIs, observes the behavior of fish larvae at sea using a camera and a compass system. The orientation the larvae take while tested inside the chamber reveals whether or not they are guided by certain navigational cues, such as a sun compass, odor, or sound.

With the new grant, we are making modifications to the existing chamber, allowing us to observe the behavior of fish in deeper waters, and in response to acoustic cues measured from reefs here in Florida.

To put the chamber into deeper waters and to de-couple it from the water surface, a motorized buoyancy device called the Medusa is being developed by Dr. David Mann of Loggerhead Instruments, the other PI on the grant. An essential step in the development process is to determine the natural rising and sinking

We also tested the capabilities of a pair of underwater speakers that will be mounted to the chamber to play back sounds of coral reefs to the fish. Recordings made in Florida with a hydrophone (developed by Loggerhead Instruments) will be played to fish in order to see whether they demonstrate orientation behavior towards these sounds. Reef soundscapes have been proposed as a cue that fish larvae may use during their journey from the pelagic environment to the reefs.

This is truly an interdisciplinary project, involving physics, biology, and engineering. Spending an afternoon with the experts was a great learning experience for me and we learned about the performance of our instruments in a controlled environment. Next step: the ocean!

Erica Staaterman
PhD Student, Applied Marine Physics & Marine Biology and Fisheries
Follow the Rosenstiel School on Twitter: @UMiamiRSMAS
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