Christina Healy, 2014, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
I spent this past summer doing research at the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences in Princeton, New Jersey. I worked closely with faculty attempting to model a marine ecosystem off the coast of Alaska. In short, my project concerned quantifying predator-prey interactions with respect to physical body size. Some of my findings included identifying the system as a wasp-waist ecosystem (all of the energy is funneled through a very small middle trophic level), identifying key species for ecosystem health, and showing that predator-prey mass ratio was not constant, but rather increased with size. It is commonly believed that the predator-prey size ratio is constant in most ecosystems, so this finding was surprising. This led to an important realization: that all the species in the ecosystem were eating the same two prey items and that we should take steps to protect these critical prey items, otherwise the ecosystem could very easily be thrown out of balance. An unforgettable and incredibly rewarding experience, my internship increased my desire to pursue scientific research in the future. I plan on completing an Environmental Studies certificate, and hope to include mathematical and ecological modeling in my independent work.