Honors Thesis: "Stage and Population Specific Salinity Tolerance in Acartia tonsa Copepods
Research Interests and Future Goals: I'm planning to continue in research in biology and living systems, and to pursue graduate level studies in this area. I have a lot of interest in genetics and microbiology, so I hope to be able to continue to use the skills and knowledge I've gained doing population genomics and ecological research throughout my career in science.
Comments from Dr. Melissa Pespeni, Research Mentor: I am delighted that Jessica Crooker has been selected to receive our prestigious George Perkins Marsh Award this year. George Perkins Marsh warned about climate change, describing the impacts of deforestation on weather systems, decades before the beginnings of the conservation movement in this country. 170 years later, Jessica, in the Department of Biology at the University of Vermont, designed her honors thesis research to better understand how an ecologically foundational species will weather the storms that have become increasingly frequent and intense in the global conditions Marsh foretold. Using the coastal copepod, Acartia tonsa, Jessica took meticulous care to collaboratively develop a new, low-salinity tolerance assay. She designed her studies to integrate her interests in genetics, physiology, development, and evolution and test hypotheses about variation in low salinity tolerance among populations along a broad latitudinal gradient and across life-history stages of the copepod. She found that populations from Florida, the area with greatest storm intensities and frequencies, survived at much lower salinities than populations from New York and Maine. Surprisingly, she also uncovered that the juvenile life stage was most sensitive to low salinity, relative to babies and adults, particularly in the northern populations. As all good research does, Jessica’s work turned answers into more questions and revealed lessons in resilience along the way. Jessica’s experiment certainly didn’t work the first time, the second time, or even the third time. But with thoughtful determination, she refined her approaches and questions to yield new insights into genetic and developmental variation in these critical adaptive traits present in natural, under-studied populations.
Jessica’s membership in my lab group over the last year and half yielded more than important research results; she built friendships, shared knowledge through training other students, and cultivated happy copepods and more data through her collaborations and willingness to assist in animal care and experiments for several other ongoing projects in the lab. She was a delight to have in lab meetings, not only for her delicious baked goods, but also for her thoughtful contributions to paper discussions, practice presentations, and brainstorming sessions. I am excited to see what answers and questions she turns over next in her pursuits of a PhD and MD.
About the Award: George Perkins Marsh is regarded as the founder of the environmental movement with his 1864 publication of Man and Nature, which is still in print. The book influence many important scientific and political figures, including Theodore Roosevelt, and some argue that it was this influence that led President Roosevelt to establish the National Park system. The Marsh farm was a model for sustained agriculture and was later purchased by Frederick Billings, who set out to test Marsh’s ideas. The Marsh-Billings Farm is now a national park, the first and only in Vermont. Marsh was also a diplomat, holding the record for longest service to our nation, and was the primary designer of the Washington Monument. The Marsh Life Science building is named in his honor.