Congratulations to Mathias Wagner and Benjamin Titus, the winners of this year’s MASNA Student Scholarships! The two students will receive their awards, including a $4,000 scholarship each, this weekend at the 29th annual Marine Aquarium Conference of North America (MACNA), in New Orleans, LA. Mathias Wagner is full-time senior at the Ohio State University and is pursuing a Bachelor of Science with Honors in Evolution and Ecology with a minor in Spanish. At home Mathias keeps a 30-gallon reef tank containing a pair of A. ocellaris anemonefish and a scarlet cleaner shrimp along with LPS and soft corals. He is also interning Columbus Zoo and Aquarium working at the Discovery Reef, which features an 85,000 gallon indo-pacific aquarium as well as a 5,000 gallon live coral system. The focus of his internship at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is the advancement of captive breeding of aquarium fishes for both the public aquarium and hobbyist markets.At the university, Mathias volunteers in Dr. Andrea Grottoli laboratory, where they are investigating Hawaiian coral’s adaptability to levels of increased water temperature and acidity that are predicted to exist within 100 years. Mathias does this by measuring changes in coral photosynthesis and cellular respiration in Porites compressa and Montipora capitata specimens throughout experiments that induce bleaching and recovery. In the future, Mathias hopes to be able to continue contributing to captive breeding efforts either through a career within the field, or pursuing new research in graduate school.
Benjamin Titus is a PhD candidate at the Ohio State University for a PhD in Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology. His dissertation is the “Comparative phylogeography in a multi-level sea anemone symbiosis: effects of host specificity on patterns of co-diversification and genetic biodiversity.” Towards his dissertation goals, Ben is collaborating with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to study and understand patterns of gene flow and genetic diversity along the Florida Reef Tract and Greater Caribbean for ornamental sea anemone and crustacean species. Focal taxa include: Giant Caribbean anemone (Condylactis gigantea), corkscrew anemone (Bartholomea annulata), beaded/flower anemone (Phymanthus crucifer), sun carpet anemone (Stichodactyla helianthus), yellowline arrow crab (Stenorhynchus seticornis), Pederson’s cleaner shrimp (Ancylomenes pedersoni), spotted cleaner shrimp (Periclimenes yucatanicus), and the Florida corallimorph (Ricordea florida). In addition, Ben is using DNA sequencing and molecular species delimitation techniques to determine whether the globally distributed sexy shrimp, Thor amboinensis, is a single circumtropical species or whether it is a cryptic species complex (i.e., multiple species). Ben has an extensive list of academic accomplishment including various funding awards, publications, and undergraduate mentoring. Ben’s ultimate career goal is to pursue an academic career as a university professor and establish a research program that focuses on the ecology and evolution of coral reef organisms harvested in the aquarium trade. Specifically, he’s interested in non-coral invertebrates for which there is very little molecular data. Congratulations again to the two deserving winners, and best of luck to you both in all your future endeavors! (students’ biographies courtesy of MASNA)