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Biologists Developing Mobile App for Coastal Marine Assessment

Posted on: November 23rd, 2020 by erabadie

Glenn Parsons and Richard Buchholz lead new Gulf of Mexico Citizen Scientist Initiative

Citizen scientists can take an active role in studying and protecting biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico using the Mobile App for Marine Assessment being developed by UM biologists. The project is funded by federal money through the RESTORE Council and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Submitted photo

Citizen scientists can take an active role in studying and protecting biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico using the Mobile App for Marine Assessment being developed by University of Mississippi biologists. The project is funded by federal money through the RESTORE Council and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. Submitted photo

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 BY EDWIN B. SMITH

In the age of crowdfunding and viral media, two University of Mississippi biologists are developing a mobile phone app that will allow “citizen scientists” to conduct marine assessments on the north central Gulf of Mexico.

Professors Glenn Parsons and Richard Buchholz have partnered to create a Mobile App for Marine Assessment as part of the Gulf of Mexico Citizen Scientist Initiative. MAMA’s state-of-the-art technology will allow residents and visitors to upload photos, measurements, GPS location and other data regarding specimens they have captured, observed and identified.

UM biologist Glenn Parsons shows off a tuna caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Parsons is a co-principal investigator on the Mobile App for Marine Assessment project. Submitted photo

UM biologist Glenn Parsons shows off a tuna caught in the Gulf of Mexico. Parsons is a co-principal investigator on the Mobile App for Marine Assessment project. Submitted photo

Users also will be able to submit photos of endangered or unusual specimens of fish and other marine creatures for identification, track the abundance and health of fish species seasonally and regionally, document invasive species in Gulf waters, and monitor changes in the health of coastal ecosystems and shoreline erosional changes.

The initiative has been awarded $1.7 million, including $1.2 million to UM and $500,000 to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

“In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, I was surprised to learn how difficult it was to quantify the loss of the all the various types of marine and coastal life forms in the Gulf of Mexico,” Buchholz said. “Dr. Parsons and I are both interested in the conservation of biodiversity and felt strongly that the mammoth task of monitoring the populations of living things could only be accomplished with the help of citizen scientists.”

The educators believe the best way to get people to care about conserving biodiversity in the Gulf of Mexico is for them to be actively involved in monitoring and managing it. The Gulf of Mexico Citizen Scientist Initiative will help achieve that goal while also educating the public about biodiversity, population and ecosystem ecology, and the need for them to be involved in restoration efforts.

“Citizen science programs have the potential to educate the average person about how science advances,” Parsons said. “Additionally, at a time when research funding is scarce, citizen science initiatives are capable of providing valuable data to researchers that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive, if not impossible, to obtain.”

The program promises to make science more accessible to the general public, Buchholz said.

UM biologist Richard Buchholz collects data on a research field trip. Buchholz is a co-principal investigator on the Mobile App for Marine Assessment project. Submitted photo

UM biologist Richard Buchholz collects data on a research field trip. Buchholz is a co-principal investigator on the Mobile App for Marine Assessment project. Submitted photo

“These initiatives have broadened opportunities for public participation in science and have served to ‘demystify’ the scientific process for the average citizen,” he explained. “Thanks to the internet and smartphones, data can be acquired, uploaded, evaluated and accessed with amazing rapidity.”

Before being funded, Buchholz and Parsons had already organized Ole Miss faculty across several schools and departments to create a Biodiversity and Conservation Research Group. Parsons is the group’s director and Buchholz is associate director.

Josh Gladden, vice chancellor of research and sponsored programs; Lee Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts; and Gregg Roman, chair and professor of biology, all have been supportive of the efforts.

Roman said his colleagues’ achievements bode well for the department’s reputation for rigorous research.

“Funding of the MAMA program demonstrates that faculty in the biology department at the University of Mississippi are thinking outside the box to lead efforts in biodiversity and conservation research,” Roman said. “Dr. Parsons and Dr. Buchholz came up with the innovative solution of finding ways for all Mississippians to help collect this information and provide everyone with a clearer picture of the health of our marine ecosystems.

“MAMA empowers all of us to contribute to an understanding of what is happening, and all of us can be part of the solution.”

Scientists at coastal organizations, including the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and the National Marine Fisheries Service, are providing advice during the developmental phase of the program.

The Mobile App for Marine Assessment being developed by Ole Miss biologists will allow citizen scientists to easily track the abundance and health of coastal species, as well as enter photos and enter photos and other data on the health of coastal ecosystems. Graphic courtesy Glenn Parsons/UM Department of Biology

The Mobile App for Marine Assessment being developed by University of Mississippi biologists will allow citizen scientists to easily track the abundance and health of coastal species, as well as enter photos and enter photos and other data on the health of coastal ecosystems. Graphic courtesy Glenn Parsons/UM Department of Biology

“The first step is to design a prototype app that includes all the desired features,” Parsons said. “Through face-to-face meetings between our team and those interested parties, we will make decisions on all features to be included in the app.”

“Design is crucial in that it is important to establish how the app will appear, its graphics and so forth, and in how the user experiences the app,” Buchholz said. “Once developed, we will integrate analytics into the app to help track downloads, user engagement and retention of the app.”

Participants will be able to download MAMA to their mobile phones without charge.

The development team will provide a field kit, which includes a tape measure, thermometer, refractometer, scale, meter stick, tags and other items, to select users. Training sessions, conducted by Gulf of Mexico Citizen Scientist Initiative personnel and coordinated with sport fishing clubs, commercial fishing organizations, schools and various community organizations, will be provided for participants.

“The sessions will provide information on how the app works, how to take data, how to input data and pictures, the disposition of data, the procedures for using the field kit, how to apply tags and so forth,” Buchholz said.

All data uploaded will be reviewed and verified by initiative personnel before entry into the database. Information entered into MAMA with the alert function will be immediately reviewed.

Glenn Parsons checks out a blacktip shark during a research trip in the Gulf of Mexico. Submitted photo

Glenn Parsons checks out a blacktip shark during a research trip in the Gulf of Mexico. Submitted photo

“The alert function will simultaneously transmit to GMCSI personnel cellphones such that the appropriate response can be provided,” Parsons said. “Summary data will be provided via a dedicated website. Complete data sets will likewise be provided.”

Mississippi Department of Marine Resources officials praised the MAMA project as “a terrific way to supplement harvest data with multiple species.”

“Our DMR switchboard deals with these calls between 8 and 5 on weekdays only,” said Paul F. Mickle, MDMR chief scientific officer. “This could be expanded to receive posts and location data 24 hours a day.”

For more information about the UM Department of Biology, visit https://biology.olemiss.edu/. For information on the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation Research, go to https://cbcr.olemiss.edu/.

Disclaimer: This project was paid for (in part) with federal funding from the RESTORE Council and the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality under the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act). The data, statements, findings, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect any determinations, views or policies of the RESTORE Council or the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

Biology Professor Selected as Ambassador for Nationwide Program

Posted on: October 16th, 2019 by erabadie

Tamar Goulet will mentor teen girls to encourage interest in STEM fields

Tamar Goulet, UM professor of biology, has been selected as one of 125 female ambassadors for a new program, launched by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in conjunction with Dallas-based Lydia Hill philanthropies, to encourage girls to pursue STEM education and careers.

Tamar Goulet, UM professor of biology, has been selected as one of 125 female ambassadors for a new program, launched by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in conjunction with Dallas-based Lydia Hill philanthropies, to encourage girls to pursue STEM education and careers. Photo by Robert Jordan

SEPTEMBER 23, 2019 BY ABIGAIL MEISEL

Tamar L. Goulet, University of Mississippi professor of biology, has been selected as one of 125 female ambassadors for a new nationwide education program.

The program, launched by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in conjunction with Dallas-based Lydia Hill philanthropies, is designed to provide role models and support in math and science to middle-school girls to encourage their interest in STEM education and careers.

The academic IF/THEN Ambassadors were chosen based on their research, commitment to teaching and professional accomplishments. As an IF/THEN program ambassador, Goulet will connect with female students ages 11-13 in person and through various media platforms, including YouTube channels, and provide individual coaching via Skype.

“A scientist should not only excel in science but also facilitate understanding of, and foster enthusiasm for, science,” Goulet said. “My career combines novel innovative research in science and teaching with science communication and mentorship.”

Goulet, who joined the UM faculty in 2001, has published numerous papers on the symbioses between cnidarians – including corals, octocorals and sea anemones – and their mutualistic algae. Her work has received funding from the National Science Foundation, NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in biology.

In 2008, she received the College of Liberal Arts’ Cora Lee Graham Award for Outstanding Teaching of Freshmen. In 2018, she received an honorable mention Teaching Excellence Award from the Personalized Learning and Adaptive Teaching Opportunities Program.

“Professor Goulet is an accomplished researcher who has also devoted her career to teaching and mentoring students,” said Lee M. Cohen, dean of the College of Liberal Arts. “The University of Mississippi has been the lucky beneficiary of both these talents.

“I know her passion for teaching will help ignite enthusiasm for STEM in the country’s next generation of female budding scientists.”

Survival of the Weakest

Posted on: September 20th, 2019 by erabadie

Professor Brice Noonan Puts a New Spin on Evolutionary Biology

JP Lawrence photo of poison frog.

Dyeing Poison Frog (Dendrobates tinctorius) from the Kaw Mountains, French Guiana. Photo by J.P. Lawrence

SEPTEMBER 19, 2019 BY ABIGAIL MEISEL

When he was a teenager in south Florida, Brice Noonan discovered a new love that ultimately shaped the course of his life.

“I became enamored of frogs in high school,” said Noonan, an associate professor in the Department of Biology.

His fascination increased when he learned about a specific species of South American frogs: poison dart frogs, so called because several indigenous peoples have used them to tip blowgun darts. The frog secretes a life-threatening bitter poison as its natural defense.

Noonan discovered a store near his childhood home that imported reptiles and amphibians, including poison dart frogs, so he had a ready supply to study.

Decades later, his homespun investigations evolved into the scientific article, “Weak Warning Signals Can Persist in the Absence of Gene Flow,” published earlier this month in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study was featured last Thursday in the New York Times.

“There are several variations of this species of poison dart frog, and they have different colorations,” said Noonan. “Most are blue and black with bright yellow markings, but some populations of the same species have white stripes instead of yellow ones. That type of variation within a species is incredibly rare. It was a conundrum as to why the species was so variable.”

The answer was unexpected. The yellow-marked frogs have a stronger poison than their white-striped counterparts. Their predators, chiefly birds, spot the brilliant yellow from afar and know to stay away. Yellow reads as “danger.”

The white-striped frogs have a less potent toxin, which would seemingly make them more vulnerable to the same predators—but they’re not.

“These frogs live close to the bold and ostentatious yellow frogs, but not among them—about five miles away,” said Noonan. “But they are harder to detect and far less recognizable to birds. Birds are more afraid of something they’ve never seen than something that they’ve tried that has toxins. So, they stay away.”

Noonan’s research, funded by the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France), was a collaboration with a nine-member international team that was led by one of his former students, J.P. Lawrence. Now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California at Irvine, Lawrence served as the lead author on the PNAS article.

Noonan is dedicated to mentoring not only graduate students but also undergraduates. He teaches a section of UM’s introductory biology class as well as upper-level courses. During the upcoming winter session, he will teach a course in the Caribbean for UM students.

“I’ve loved reptiles and amphibians since I was a little kid,” he said. “Then, when I was at a community college in south Florida, I discovered scientific journal articles, which changed my life.”

Now, he’s writing them.

VIDEO: Science Friday Is ‘Hot’ For Turkey Research

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by erabadie

turkeyThe popular national show Science Friday  highlights the research of Richard Buchholz, associate professor of biology, for clues as to what a female turkey finds “hot” in a male.

With its fanned plumage and bold strut, a male wild turkey’s display conjures images of Americana and festive feasts. But this bird’s grandstanding isn’t intended for human eyes—it’s for female turkeys who actually use it to discern a male’s genetic prowess. How exactly she parses performances to pick a suitor can be a fairly complex enterprise.

Watch the Science Friday VIDEO>>