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Student Awarded Grant to Perform Innovative Research in Santa Monica Mountain Creek Beds

Audrey Fontes looking into microscope. Audrey Fontes, Seaver College student in the Natural Science Division, was awarded a grant from the Santa Monica Bay Audubon Society (SMBAS), whose mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems. The grant was awarded to aid her continual research on the behavioral ecology of the invasive crayfish and its minuscule companion the ostracod. This is the first time a Seaver College student has been awarded a grant of this kind, and this is the first study to give insight on the mysterious relationship between the two species.

Fontes began researching invasive species in the creeks of the Santa Monica Mountains under the mentorship of Dr. Lee Kats in the summer of 2018. Crayfish are particularly destructive as they are omnivorous, feasting on native plants, fish, and frogs. The ostracods, no larger than half a millimeter, attach to the body of the crayfish and depend on it for survival. The tiny species sparked Fontes’ curiosity into the possibility of a relationship between ostracod presence and crayfish aggression. After developing a careful, chemical process to remove the ostracods from the crayfish without harming either, she observed that the presence of ostracods slowed the rate at which the crayfish ate and led to less aggressive behaviors.

This grant from SMBAS will allow Fontes to deepen her understanding of this relationship which in turn may offer some solutions to the management of the crayfish population and to the restoration of weakened natural habitats. Fontes will share her initial research findings during the Annual Conference of the Animal Behavior Society in Chicago this weekend. She has spent this summer reviewing the literature and is eager to begin the next stage of her research in August 2019.