St. Viator grad studies how coral reefs are affected by climate change
Need a respite from this long, cold winter? Try placing yourself near the ocean and learning about the ecosystems of coral reefs. That's just what Katie Dziedzic is doing in her work as a doctoral candidate at Oregon State University.
This Palatine native and graduate of St. Viator High School always has been drawn to the ocean and the study of marine life, but now she's doing research that has significant implications for one of the most diverse and complicated ecosystems on earth.
Essentially, Dziedzic is studying coral reefs and their response to ocean warming and climate change. Can coral species acclimate and adapt to a warming ocean, she asks?
"As ocean warming continues to threaten coral reefs worldwide, it is uncertain whether they will survive," she says.
Beyond being interesting creatures on the ocean floor, why are coral species important? Turns out they provide an important resource for fisheries, coastal communities and recreational businesses -- or nearly $400 billion a year in economic goods and ecosystem services.
In her experiments, she is investigating how thermal acclimation -- or the ability to favorably adapt -- can be a potential mechanism for coral evolution.
So how did a young woman from the Northwest suburbs become an expert on marine life and the coral reefs?
Her interest started with family vacations to the ocean front, but furthered when she worked as an intern at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium.
Consequently, after graduating from St. Viator in 2009, she attended the University of Miami in Florida, where she majored in marine science and biology.
She describes it as a "wonderful four years learning all about the ocean." She got hands-on experience as an intern in a coral reef ecology lab, performing experiments that investigated stressors on corals, using various DNA techniques.
As a doctoral candidate, Dziedzic works in Oregon State's Meyer Lab, which is an integrated biology lab that contains multiple thermal-controlled aquariums for research.
One of her lab mates, John Parkinson, who is a postdoctoral scholar, says that Dziedzic's project gives him hope for the future.
"We hear so much in the news these days about climate change, coral bleaching, and reef loss, it's easy to lose hope," Parkinson says. "But we can't forget that these ecosystems have been around for millennia, riding the highs and lows.
"Corals have many tricks to deal with temperature stress, including extraordinarily plastic molecular responses," he adds. "Katie's project will shed light on both rapid molecular acclimation as well as the long-term adaptive capacity of one of the most important symbioses on our planet."
One challenge for Dziedzic's project is funding. She set up a crowdfunding account and she has already reached the $3,400 goal in pledges she needed to proceed with two weeks left. To learn more about the project or support her research, visit: https://experiment.com/projects/can-thermal-acclimation-be-a-mechanism-to-help-coral-reefs-adapt-to-the-changing-climate.