Scientist Spotlight: Jennie McClain-Counts
Jennie graduated from the University of North Carolina Wilmington with a degree in marine science. Her graduate work included the study of trophic relationships of mid-water fishes. She analyzed the feeding relationships of organisms in the Gulf of Mexico. Jennie has always been interested in meso-pelagic fish, the fishes that provide the link in relaying energy from the surface to the deepest parts of the ocean. Jennie stated that these animals look cool because they have large teeth and photophores (light-producing organs). One fish you may recognize as a meso-pelagic fish is the scary anglerfish from Finding Nemo that appears to have a light above his head.
During the Deep Sea Coral Expedition, Jennie is assisting with collecting and later analyzing, stable isotopes. Isotopes are different forms of the same element which and are identified by having different numbers of neutrons. Jennie is specifically examining carbon and nitrogen isotopes. When looking at carbon isotopes, Jennie can tell the source of the carbon, whether it was from chemosynthetic material, sea grass, or marine phytoplankton. Nitrogen isotopes identify feeding relationships, “You are what you eat.” For example, a big fish eats a small fish. The nitrogen from the small fish is passed on to the big fish.
Jennie was initially interested in studying chemosynthetic organisms, and whether these materials were passed throughout the water column. An organism is considered chemosynthetic if it generates energy by chemical reactions. Another method Jennie uses is analyzing a fish’s stomach contents, to which she will compare the stable isotopes and determine if both methods reach the same result. Jennie plans to continue studying stable isotopes in feeding relationships.
Interview with Jennie (mp3)