Marine biology students welcome aquatic life

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By: Laura Grimm, [email protected]

In the basement of Langseth Hall, a second move-in day takes place.

The new tenants are aquatic organisms, and their new home is the Marine Lab, a student-run research lab advised by Dr. Brian Wisenden.

In early September, the Marine Lab welcomed these newcomers, including sea urchins, pipefish and horseshoe crabs. Some of the creatures are new to the lab, while other species have been there before, such as horseshoe crabs. The new arthropods are the size of a plate rather than the phone-sized creatures the lab had before, surprising both the staff and the post office.

“The post office was a little alarmed to find some large styrofoam boxes that squeaked when we had our three big horseshoe crabs,” said Mark Lueders, student of ecology and evolutionary biology.

The new organisms make their home alongside the stingrays, American eels and starfish that were already there. The Marine Lab also expects a delivery of moon jellies in the coming weeks.

In addition to housing sea creatures, the lab also serves as a calming learning environment for students who care for these animals.

“Between classes, when I’m not doing anything, I go over there and sit down,” said Savanna Hohenstein.

A young graduate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, the Marine Lab offered Hohenstien the opportunity to connect with a long-standing interest when she entered her freshman year.

“I’ve always been interested in marine biology, but in the middle of Minnesota, you can’t get it,” Hohenstein said. “When I got here I was just going to do a biology degree to see if I really liked it, then someone approached me and asked me to get involved in the Marine Lab.”

Now, Hohenstein is very involved in outreach as she manages the Facebook group and leads many tours.

Lueders, who joined the Marine Lab this semester, is excited about this unique chance to work with sea creatures he would otherwise never have seen up close.

“I think this is another great extension of MSUM’s opportunity to research and gain hands-on experience,” Lueders said. “My first year, I was already able to do research with (Wisenden), and now I can be the leader of an exhibition in a marine tank. That won’t happen in many universities in Minnesota or the Midwest in general. “

Marine Lab students help with tank design, feeding, water change, and organizing tours for everyone from preschoolers to college students. Last year alone, they registered over 2,500 guests on tours and open houses. Of course, students always make sure visitors leave with lots of new facts.

“We usually explain high tide / low tide and how it works,” Hohenstein said, referring to the tide program implemented by a physics student last year. “We take out some of the organisms like sea urchins and starfish, pass them around and explain what they are and their different characteristics. They ask questions and I hope we can answer them.

Hohenstein and the other students are also working on setting up a live camera feed so that everyone has constant access to the animals.

The live stream and the new creatures aren’t the only exciting news from the lab, however; Hohenstein and Lueders both help found a marine ecology club on campus. Their goal is to involve more students through this nascent club in order to create a lasting basis for the growth of the lab.

“I hope we can continue to develop (the marine laboratory) because we have even more space and more tanks to fill,” Hohenstein said.

The past few weeks have already provided learning opportunities for Lueders, who plans to embark on teaching or research after earning a doctorate.

“This is an opportunity to work on developing curricula for a range of different students and [it has] the obvious benefit of just learning to work with other people and manage a display for aquatic organisms, ”said Lueders.

The Marine Lab has also given Hohenstein a boost to pursue his future. Being from Minnesota, she was unsure whether moving to another state to pursue a study of marine biology was worth it. Now she knows it.

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