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Loyola undergraduates to present ground-breaking research next week

March 28, 2013

One undergraduate researcher at Loyola University New Orleans spent much of the past summer deep in the mud of the Mississippi River Delta to study how major disasters such as the 2010 BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina in 2005 affect aquatic life today. Senior Environmental Science major Thomas Sevick will report the project’s unexpected research findings during Loyola’s Biology Undergraduate Research Symposium Friday, April 5.

Sevick collaborated on the project with biology professor Frank Jordan, Ph.D., chair of Loyola’s Department of Biological Sciences. The two are comparing data on the number and variety of fishes, shrimp, crabs and other creatures in the Mississippi River Delta before and after Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.

Given the extent and severity of the BP oil spill, they predicted that the abundance and diversity of aquatic organisms would be reduced. What they uncovered astonished them both. Preliminary findings show that the number and variety of shrimp, crabs and fishes actually increased following major environmental disturbances.

“It’s surprising,” Sevick said. “And we’re definitely not saying that the oil spill was a good thing, but our research tells us that the Mississippi River Delta is really resilient.” Sevick believes this resiliency is a great sign for coastal wetlands, which are important nursery grounds for commercially and recreationally important species.

Sevick will highlight those findings at the Biology Undergraduate Research Symposium scheduled from 12:30 to 5 p.m. in Nunemaker Auditorium located on the third floor of Monroe Hall on Loyola’s main campus. His presentation on “Post-Disturbance Abundance and Diversity of Marsh Nekton in the Mississippi River Delta” is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. The symposium is followed by a crawfish social from 5 to 7:30 p.m. in Dixon Court at the St. Charles Ave. entrance of the Communications/Music Complex.

The researchers used large, square traps to catch all types of live aquatic life, including the kinds of shrimp, crab and fishes important to the state’s seafood industry. While Jordan and Sevick were picking lots of creatures out of the traps last summer, local fishermen were also doing well.

“This kind of resilience could just be the nature of the Mississippi River Delta,” Sevick said. “It’s important that we find out why this ecosystem is so resilient.”

It’s gratifying for Sevick to participate in such ground-breaking research as an undergraduate student. “It reassures you that you can go headfirst into grad school,” Sevick said. His research was funded in part by Louisiana Sea Grant’s Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, and this was Sevick’s first-ever research grant.

The research isn’t just great for Sevick’s resume, it’s also connects his passion for the state’s fishing industry.

“I grew up here in New Orleans, so I’m really passionate about the fisheries here,” Sevick said. “That was a big deal to work on something that I cared about.”

Sevick is currently considering graduate school options and is also interested in pursuing a career with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Sevick will be one of the very first Environmental Science majors to graduate from Loyola and the first to complete departmental honors research in the Environment Program. Jordan has recruited two additional Environmental Science majors—Jenny Simon and Samantha Stieffel—to continue research on fishes and other aquatic organisms that depend on Louisiana’s coastal wetlands.

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