Continuing with the Spotlight Series of posts to introduce you to the other members of the science party:
Jessica Lueders-Dumont is currently a graduate student at Princeton University. Onboard the R/V Endeavor, she is mainly working with Dr. Van Oostende. [she also happens to be my roommate!]
What is your field of study? I currently study biogeochemistry and am interested in large-scale chemical cycling in the ocean. I’m particularly interested in what controls food webs. Think of food webs like a food pyramid (see below).
There are two theories regarding the control of food webs: a bottom-up scheme and a top-down scheme. In bottom-up control, the bottom of the pyramid controls the level above it. So, the types and amounts of nutrients determine the amount of phytoplankton, which controls the zooplankton population, which in turn controls the fish population. Top-down control is the opposite: predation (predators eating prey) control everything below. In the ocean, both of these controls exist in a balance (not necessarily equal). For phytoplankton blooms to occur, bottom-up control must be favored, but eventually this bloom decreases due to top-down control.
I think of biogeochemistry as the main control of food webs so understanding chemical cycles helps understand food webs.
Right now, I still feel like I’m in training and learning how biogeochemistry controls the types of phytoplankton that grow based on the types of nitrogen available. This then controls the type and amount of zooplankton, and so on up the web.
Oceanography actually started due to fisheries and why there are differences in the amounts of fish that are available each year (essentially, why do fish populations vary year to year). This ties into my background interest in fisheries related to the fact that many fish populations are declining and maintaining fish populations are very important.
How did you become interested in science? Science is fun. You get to ask questions, do experiments, need to think creatively, and get to travel to cool places. I grew up in Vermont, then went to college in Maine and worked at a marine research institute. Following college, I moved to Idaho and worked as a technician studying river chemistry and fish. I’ve worked in Maine studying phytoplankton and Washington, DC to study fisheries policy. I’ve also lived, worked, and studied in Iceland, Alaska, Massachusetts, and now New Jersey.
Educational background: My undergraduate degree is from Colby College in biology with minors in studio art and STS (Science, Technology, and Society – history and ethics of science). I’m currently in the second year of my PhD program in geosciences at Princeton.
Plans for the future: Definitely research, not sure in what capacity, but hopefully I can study both phytoplankton and fish. My current long-term goal is academia.
Until next time,