Nate Messenger ('15 Marine Biology)

Photo of Zoe VanderPloeg What do you do for your undergraduate research?

My research is identifying essential habitat features for Southern Flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma). I am currently using acoustic telemetry, as well as looking at previously collected data, to measure the movement of tagged flounder within an estuarine tributary to New River. I am also collecting data on biotic and abiotic conditions in the environment, including sediment properties and prey community, and using a variety of software programs to spatially map out these data. I then cross-examine the patterns of habitat use and ecological variables and use statistical analysis to determine the significance of each variable in respect to habitat selection. The goal of this research is to gain a better understanding of Southern Flounder habitat selection, and hopefully inform fisheries managers of relative habitat quality allowing for new management and conservation practices.

What made you want to pursue an undergraduate research project?

In today's job market, field experience is equally as important as a degree; the ability to gain both at the same time is indispensable. When I was approached with the opportunity, I gratefully took it immediately.

How did you start your research project?

I started by doing a DIS in Dr. Scharf's fisheries lab, and was then given the opportunity to take on a research project of my own. To prepare, I was given a lot of scientific articles to gain an understanding of previously conducted, relevant research, and introduced to a variety of field procedures and equipment by the graduate students in the lab.

Was doing your own research fun? Be Honest.

It was a blast. I was able to spend well over 100 hours out in the boat collecting real field data in order to answer a novel question in the fisheries field, and then I was given the opportunity to use technologies current in the field to analyze my data. It was an exciting and refreshing change from scripted lab reports, and a great introduction to what research is really like.

It isn't required to do research as an undergrad, so what advantages do you think this experience has provided you?

Countless. I have been given the opportunity to see how the field really works, and from working so closely with graduate students, I have been given insight to what graduate school looks like in my field. I have also been given the opportunity to apply and expand things learned in the classroom, such as structuring a full-scale research project around a question, and collecting and organizing my data from the field. I have also learned how to use many tools of the trade not traditionally learned in an undergraduate degree; I have used acoustic telemetry equipment, machines at UNCW and CMS to test organic content and grain size of sediment respectively, and the latest software programs to map out and statistically analyze my data.

What recognition and/or grants did you receive for your research?

I awarded the CSURF Undergraduate Research Fellowship for 2014-2015.

What are your plans after you receive your degree from UNCW?

I pAfter graduation I hope to pursue a job with a state department such as DMF or DNR, but I do see graduate school in my future as well.

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