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Rising Star: Biologist Dr. Beth Stauffer

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For Dr. Beth Stauffer, an assistant professor in biology, it was her natural curiosity that eventually had her questioning the invisible powers in the ocean and their impacts on human life.

Phytoplankton dynamics, marine ecosystems and coastal oceans — these are some of the areas Stauffer investigates.

“Most of my research programs focus on understanding what drives changes in these phytoplankton communities,” said Stauffer. “They are important for how carbon moves on the planet, how it affects oxygen in the atmosphere and the base of food webs that essentially produce many of the foods we consume.”

Stauffer began working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in July, and after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last summer bringing fresh water into the Gulf of Mexico, she received a Rapid Response Research grant from the National Science Foundation to observe and study the changes of the food web interactions of how phytoplankton communities affect seafood.

“Every three or four years, they’ll send a boat out to measure the entire Gulf of Mexico to see how Ocean Acidification is warming climate changes and causing negative effects to the organisms in the Gulf,” she explained.

Ocean acidification, or the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth's oceans caused by the uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, is one of the leading environmental issues that led Stauffer to focus her research on how the ocean is becoming more acidic. She collaborated with the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Sciences to research new technology for detecting harmful species of phytoplankton that can cause drinking water sources, shellfish and marine resources to change.

This led Stauffer further into a new series of questions on why the changes happen, what it could mean for the broader ecosystems, and how researchers can better understand ocean acidification.

“This is how our field works,” she stated. “We’re constantly improving upon how we ask questions and go about answering them. Science is a series of challenges.”

In addition to her own research, Stauffer and Dr. Katie Costigan, an assistant professor hydrological sciences, received a $287,986 grant from the National Science Foundation to fund the first Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at UL Lafayette.

The eight-week, nationwide program that will begin this summer is a paid program for students interested in working closely with interdisciplinary researchers on watershed and coastal values.

In the three years Stauffer has worked at the University, she said she realizes how her experiences have been intellectually satisfying because everyone in the biology department has been collaborative, helpful, and encouraging.

“UL is a great research university serving our region, our nation, providing higher education opportunities to first generation college students and students from unrepresented groups,” Stauffer said. “There’s a real commitment to diversity here that I appreciate.”

(Photo credit: Scotty Rachaphoumy)