What is the most interesting aspect of working with sea otters?
Sea otters are major players in nearshore ecosystem. They are voracious predators that through their appetites change the type and abundance of other species around them, especially shellfish. These drastic changes then cause trickle-down effects through the ecosystem and change how all sorts of species interact. I am interested in what these changes are and how they may alter overall ecosystem diversity and function.
What is one of your favorite moments in the field?
While surveying a seagrass bed in Southeast Alaska I was kneeling over a quadrat and from behind me I could hear the echoes of humpback whales breathing and reverberating around the bay.
What inspired you to study this species?
By understanding what ecological communities are and how they are impacted by sea otters we may be better equipped to manage the resources that come out of these communities. The population explosion of sea otters in Southeast Alaska has caused drastic changes in many commercial fisheries leading many to question the importance of sea otters. In order to effectively manage all our marine resources we need to understand what they are and how they interact. The population expansion of sea otters allows us to do just that. Sea otters are well known for their impacts in kelp forest but very little is known about their impact in seagrass. By studying the interactions between sea otters and seagrass ecosystems I hope to fill gaps in our understanding so that managers and the public may make more informed decisions.
How does citizen science support your research?
Trying to identify indirect and ecosystem impacts requires a lot of data. Citizen scientists play a crucial role by allowing us to scale up our project to collect more data. Their contributions are extremely valuable. Furthermore, citizen scientists gain the experience of exploring complex ecosystems in Southeast Alaska and can relay their experiences to their communities in order to raise awareness about threats to seagrass and sea otter populations.