Hometown: Port Moody, British Columbia, Canada
Home university: University of Alberta
Previous degrees: BSc Honors Evolutionary Biology, University of Alberta
I study sponges – you know those weirdo, oddly shaped, “hole”-y animals (yes, animals!) that can be found almost anywhere in water, both freshwater and marine. Maybe it’s that I always root for the underdog that makes me love sponges so much, but once you start to learn more about them, you realize that they are pretty darned cool and we still know so little about them! They may not be cute and cuddly, but they are a very important part of ecosystems, filtering many times their body volume of water a minute and forming important habitat for other organisms. They are also thought to be one of the first metazoans to have evolved, and knowing how they work can help us to understand the evolution of key traits such as nerves and muscles, ‘true’ tissues, and polarity.
For my Master’s thesis I am studying how the canal system in sponges is designed to allow both water flow and particle capture, and then how sedimentation can impact these filtration systems. Increasingly, sedimentation from resource exploitation such as oil exploration or fishing trawls is having severe impacts on benthic suspension feeders including sponges, which, as filter feeders, are sensitive to materials that can clog their filtration system. By understanding how their water filtration system works, we can begin to understand the potential impact of sedimentation. This knowledge can be used to predict what level of sedimentation sponges can tolerate and to help manage important ecosystems such as the glass sponge reefs off the coast of British Columbia and the ‘ostur’ in the fjords of Norway.