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Snail Research Boosts Interns’ Careers

Mar 18, 2019 | Elkhorn Slough, California, Informed Citizens, Reserves

Elkhorn Slough Reserve hosted Julia Stanganelli (left) and Zachary Mize (right) for an intensive hands-on research internship—an experience that can transform a new scientist’s path while helping a Reserve advance community research and management goals.
Zachary Mize never imagined pursuing a career in research. After serving in the military and a career in construction, he’s pursuing a college degree—and a new direction—at age 35. And following his summer 2018 internship at Elkhorn Slough reserve, he’s set his sights on a PhD. “I went into the internship program thinking that I’d go on to do fisheries management or wetland restoration,” says Zachary, “but discovered I really prefer the research side. Now I’m thinking about a PhD, and maybe going on to do research for a non-profit.” Zachary’s time at the Reserve was supported by the Research Experiences for Undergraduates internship program, funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and run by CSUMB (California State University Monterey Bay). This program provides students the opportunity to pursue a rigorous, hands-on research experience at places ike Reserves. “The Reserve staff is full of brilliant folks who are totally immersed in estuary science,” observes Zachary. “Working with them I learned about a whole different side of the research world, that it’s not always ‘publish or perish.’ You can do small-scale local research that has impact on management and conservation decisions. I didn’t think I could go into the research world at first, but now I’m trying to fit another research project into my degree.”
REU interns Julia Stanganelli (left) and Zachary Mize (right) deploy tethered Batillaria snails on a mudflat in Elkhorn slough. The student researchers studied the sudden decline of these invasive snails as part of their hands-on research internship.

Zachary and his fellow intern, Julia Stanganelli, from the University of Virginia, focused on a diverse set of research questions involving crabs and snails in the estuary. They studied the invasive snail Batillaria—once widespread in the estuary and now nearly absent for previously unstudied reasons—as well as invasive green crabs and crab predation.

The interns’ work not only gave them hands-on research experience, it also contributed to ongoing research programs and management decisions at Elkhorn Slough.

“All of our recent Reserve publications have included summer interns,” says Kerstin Wasson, research coordinator at Elkhorn Slough. “We might not have conducted those investigations if we hadn’t been designing projects that would provide undergraduates hands-on science experience. So, the program benefits them and benefits us!”

Julia Stanganelli shares some of her findings on the decline of Batillaria snails at Elkhorn Slough. The REU program allows interns not only to conduct hands-on research, but to learn how to share it with a community of researchers and stakeholders for real-world impact.

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ReservesElkhorn Slough, CaliforniaSnail Research Boosts Interns’ Careers