Jennifer is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, in Florida (USA), where she is investigating the chemical ecology of fish foraging aggregations using the comparative study sites of the Smithsonian Marine Science Network in the United States, Belize and Panama. She received her bachelor’s degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from Texas A&M University and later went on to gain her PhD in Animal Behavior, from the University of California – Davis, under Dr. Gabrielle Nevitt. Her first postdoctoral position was as the Research Specialist for NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary, which presently oversees three coral reef-crested banks in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico. Having worked with NOAA’s Sanctuary Office and previously, with the National Marine Fisheries, her interests ultimately center on how basic science can inform better management practices, including marine reserve design.
Resident reef fish and pelagic reef-associated fish aggregate to forage and spawn over coral reefs. How these animals coordinate their aggregations is unclear, but one possibility is that they may recruit to a suite of natural chemicals released over coral reefs, especially during foraging events or through trophic cascade interactions. Presently, there is much we do not know about which chemicals and processes are important in fish chemical ecology. Fish use chemical cues to maneuver in their environment, yet we do not know how these cues vary in nutrient-enriched habitats, over healthy versus degraded reefs, or as plankton aggregations shift. Will the sensory capabilities of fish be able to adjust to these changing conditions? Understanding the mechanisms by which fish are locating productive areas is vital when planning for marine protected areas, determining essential fish habitat criteria, or predicting effects of a changing climate on the movement of fish. The central theme of my research is to understand how aggregation patterns of fish depend on the chemical signatures produced by transient foraging events, and how these signatures and corresponding behavioral effects vary across reef locations and across a range of organisms.