By Hayley Cox
Texas A&M University was designated as a Sea Grant College in 1971 with a mission to improve the understanding and use of Texas coastal and marine resources. Texas Sea Grant Director Dr. Pamela Plotkin developed the idea for a scholars program in order to engage undergraduate students. The Texas Sea Grant Scholars Program sent three representatives from its initial class to present to Texas Legislators at Undergraduate Research Day on April 26th at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas.
Cyrenea Millberry, a senior studying Wildlife and Fisheries at Texas A&M University, presented research on how river discharges and changes in tides affect populations of shrimp on the Texas coastline. Texas A&M University at Galveston students Josh Carter and Raven Walker also presented at Undergraduate Research Day.
Could you explain your research topic and findings?
I looked at how Brown Shrimp and White Shrimp populations are affected by tide levels and river discharge in the Gulf of Mexico. We used statistical analysis to look for associations between fluctuations in shrimp populations (the quantity of shrimp) and environmental data between 1987 and 2010. Based on past research, we expected higher tide levels, which give shrimp greater access to marsh edges in estuaries during the post-larval stages, to increase shrimp abundance. We expected greater quantities of discharge from rivers to cause declines in populations due to decreased salinity and temperatures, which we expected would then cause declines in shrimp abundance. Our research found that there are significant associations between tide and discharge and shrimp populations. We are still looking at our data to identify trends etc.
How did you become involved with Texas Sea Grant?
I was hired by my research adviser, Dr. Masami Fujiwara, to collect data. After being hired, we decided that I should use the data we were collecting to write a thesis. I wrote a proposal and submitted it to the Undergraduate Research Scholars program. After being accepted into the program, Dr. Fujiwara suggested I submit a research proposal to Texas Sea Grant in order to fund my research further, so I could go to Galveston to collaborate with NOAA researchers and so I could present my research.
What did you gain most from this experience?
I believe this research, the collaboration with professors and professionals, and the creation of a thesis has helped take me from student to professional. This research, and working directly with such a great mentor, has allowed me to apply the things I have learned in my classes to real original work and has probably prepared me to actually work in Wildlife Biology better than anything else.
What would be your piece of advice for success to students involved in research?
Make a plan and a schedule and find a professor who you can work well with. Every week, I committed to 10 hours and my professor made himself available for questions and oftentimes lessons in statistics every week as well. We made progress goals regularly and we stuck to them. Writing a thesis seemed like an impossible undertaking when I first started, especially being an undergrad – but I took it just a step at a time, and it was done before I knew it. Now I am preparing my research for publication and figuring out what to write my Master’s thesis on.
Millberry, who was married in the spring and became Mrs. Cyrenea Piper, will graduate in December 2013 with her BS in Wildlife and Fisheries. She plans to continue her research with Dr. Fujiwara as a Masters student and eventually hopes to work for U.S. Fish and Wildlife as a wildlife biologist.