Theresa Edwards

2011 JISAO Summer Research Internship

Two months with the wildlife in Alaska

Theresa EdwardsPrior to beginning my junior year, majoring in environmental science and biology at Willamette University, I never dreamed that my search for a summer internship would lead me to Alaska.  When I learned that I had been accepted as an intern into the JISAO program, I was super excited, and when I was asked if I “would mind doing research up in Alaska?” I was ecstatic.  Of course I said yes.  The opportunity to help conduct research in one of the few remaining pristine environments on this planet was a once in a lifetime, dream come true experience for an aspiring undergraduate science major.  Who could pass on that kind of offer?

In Alaska, I worked with the Alaskan Salmon Research Program under the supervision of University of Washington Professor Daniel Schindler.  There I learned about and helped to collect data on both long term monitoring studies, as well as many individual research projects currently underway in the Wood River System.  Established in 1947, the field sites where I worked diligently monitor sockeye salmon populations in the Bristol Bay area.  These fish are not only vital in the local economy; they also play a key role in the surrounding ecosystem, impacting just about every aspect of it.  After spending time feeding and growing in the ocean, sockeye salmon return to the freshwater systems in which they were born in order to spawn and die.   The organisms living in and around these freshwater systems are specifically adapted to take advantage of this annual influx of food and nutrients.  Over the summer, the more I learned about the system, the more I began to see how much of an integral role the sockeye play in maintaining a thriving ecosystem.  If anything were to happen to the salmon populations, this vibrant, life-filled environment would probably struggle to survive.

Theresa measuring fish in AlaskaHelping with the long term monitoring studies was a privilege in and of itself.  It is an amazing feeling to be collecting data and helping to build upon years and years of previous research, diligently collected by many brilliant scientists.  These studies, which include taking limnology data on the various system lakes and performing stream counts once the sockeye enter the creeks, make it possible to monitor changes in the salmon populations as well as the surrounding ecosystem.  It is hoped that by analyzing the variation in these data sets, we will be able to identify and help prevent any changes in the system which could cause sockeye populations to decline.

Besides helping to collect the long term monitoring data, I also had the opportunity to learn about and help with many of the individual research projects.  Some of the projects that I worked on included studies on how other organisms in the system utilize and exploit the food resources provided by sockeye salmon, looking at how geomorphology affects streams and salmon runs, examining salmon behavior and genetics, and looking at the secondary effects of sockeye salmon on Tree Swallow communities. 

Theresa working in lab in AlaskaMost of the work that I did involved collecting raw data which will later be brought back to Seattle and analyzed.  Some of my tasks included monitoring Tree Swallow chick growth, tracking the change in stream communities after salmon entry, taking water samples, collecting rocks, filtering water to obtain chlorophyll A samples, monitoring the movements and growth rates of resident fish in the streams, tagging and tracking sockeye salmon, collecting genetics samples, and monitoring predator and scavenger activity along streams.  I also helped to enter the data that we collected into various data bases and preformed calculations on some of the data sets.

Overall, my JISAO research experience was absolutely amazing.  The people that I met, the knowledge that I gained, and the experiences that I enjoyed have greatly increased my desire to study and learn as much as I can about the world around us, and how I might be able to contribute to our understanding of the delicate balances in play.  Hopefully one day I will be able to discover and implement ways in which people can prevent harming those balances.  Thank you to all those who helped to make this entire experience possible!



Theresa's research poster

Click on poster for full-size image [PDF]