Student Awards

MAC Student Presentation Awards from AFS 2018

The MAC AFS Chapter always encourages students to present their research at meetings and we had a number of students present at the National AFS Conference in Atlantic City, NJ in August.  Our MAC judges have evaluated the scores and we are happy to announce our student presentation winners.

Ms. Jessica Valenti from Rutgers University received first place for her presentation “Influence of Shoreline Armoring on Deep-Subtidal Marsh Creek Fish Communities” and Ms. Emily Ruhl from the University of Delaware received second place for her presentation “Understanding the Importance of Habitat Complexity for Juvenile Reef Fish Using 3D-Printed Corals”.  Congratulation to Jessica and Emily and to all of the students that had the opportunity to present in Atlantic City.  If you didn’t get to hear their presentations, you can read their abstracts below.


Influence of Shoreline Armoring on Deep-Subtidal Marsh Creek Fish Communities

Jessica L. Valenti, Rutgers University
Thomas M. Grothues, Rutgers University
Kenneth W. Able, Rutgers University

Armoring (e.g. bulkheads) defends shoreline property against erosion. Consequently, 14% of the shoreline of the continental United States has been armored, with more armoring along sheltered shorelines of estuaries. In Barnegat Bay (NJ) more than 36% of the bay’s shoreline is bulkheaded. The potential impact of these alterations on the juvenile fish communities has not been studied, despite the fact that this estuary serves as nursery habitat for various fishes of economic and ecological significance. The objective of this study is to assess the response of deep-subtidal marsh creek fish assemblages to shoreline armoring in Barnegat Bay. Otter trawl surveys in April, June, August, and October over three years (2012-2014) within ten marsh creeks (two sampling sites per creek, three net tows per sampling site) spanned the length of the bay. We compared fish species composition, abundance, and diversity between locally paired creeks (armored shoreline vs. un-armored shoreline). Preliminary analyses do not suggest prominent differences in deep-subtidal marsh creek fish communities related to shoreline armoring. Many of these fishes are also found in open bay habitat and therefore may depend less on intertidal marsh subsidies than shallow-subtidal marsh creek fish communities, which are known to be impacted by shoreline armoring.


Understanding the Importance of Habitat Complexity for Juvenile Reef Fish Using 3D-Printed Corals

Emily Ruhl, University of Delaware
Danielle Dixson, University of Delaware

Reef systems have been experiencing ongoing regional declines in important topographic and biotic complexity over the last 40 years. While studies have documented the importance of live coral in habitat selection for reef fish, the role that habitat complexity plays in those choices is poorly understood. Here, we isolated the physical structure of an Indo-Pacific reef building coral, Pocillopora damicornis, using 3D-printed models to investigate complexity preferences and resulting behavior of the coral-associated lemon damselfish, Pomacentrus moluccensis. P. moluccensis was highly selective of the high and medium complexity corals over the low complexity coral. Fish occupying 3D-printed low complexity corals had the highest rate of abandonment and most deviant behavior from live and dead control P. damicornis corals. Conversely, fish on 3D-printed medium and high complexity corals spent more time utilizing the shelter than fish on control corals, and behaved similarly to the controls when not utilizing the shelter. Our results show that coral structure is an important factor driving habitat preferences of P. moluccensis, and plays a critical role in influencing their behavior. Artificial corals made using 3D-printing technology designed to mimic the structural complexity of healthy reefs have the potential to be used as reef habitat restoration tools.