We are linking Cabrillo College students to the One People One Reef Program by involving them in research opportunities. We chose to work with them on genetic projects, because these help build skills that students from a wide variety of science related fields need: 1) lab etiquette, 2) learn and understand the basis of techniques of DNA extraction, PCR, electrophoresis, 3) keeping a good notebook journal, 4) handling chemicals and samples that require cleanliness and preventing contamination, 5) understanding and analyzing DNA sequence data, 6) learn and discuss evolutionary, taxonomic and ecological concepts, 7) develop critical thinking, 8) present results using blogs and powerpoint presentations
In Fall 2016, we started with a small cohort of students, that extracted coral DNA to build a next-generation sequencing library. The coral project was to understand the mode of dispersal of Montipora, an aggressive, weedy species that is overgrowing entire reefs and converting them in monospecific stands in Ulithi atoll. The aim was to understand if typhoon Maysak facilitated coral dispersal, and get a grasp on the population genetic structure of this coral on the island. This is an ongoing project, thus far we have found that recent, smaller coral colonies are product of breakage from larger colonies, supporting the idea that the typhoon had a role in dispersing these corals. We have also found strong genetic structure within the atoll, and had informed the Ulithian communities of these results. We will continue studying the evolutionary history of this coral.
In Spring and Fall 2017, we have been working on a different project. The communities of Ulithi atoll have been collecting fisheries catch data since 2012. There has been a strong effort to match the names in Ulithian with the scientific names. One single species can have different names matching different color morphs, maturity or sexual stages. During their collections, they have been taking small pieces of fish tissue (fins), to preserve for genetic analysis. At Cabrillo college, we are barcoding the species collected, to create a genetic database of the fishes from Ulithi atoll, validate the fisheries database, and compare with conspecifics from other places in the world, in order to identify potential cryptic species. During the Spring of 2017, we found that the species that were reportedly collected match those barcoded, and to our surprise, we found a signature that indicates the presence of a new species. The project is ongoing in the class of Fall 2017.