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Research > Departments > Biology

Biology - Overview
Overview | Awards and Recognition

Stefan Sievert, left, at the anaerobic glove box in Redfield Laboratory meets with Sonya Dyhrman and Eric Webb. Along with Tim Shank (who was on a research cruise) they comprise the Biology Department’s four assistant scientists. (Photo by Tom Kleindinst)

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Research in the Biology Department spans the scales from microbes to whales and from molecular to global systems.

During 2002, continuing studies off the mid-Atlantic coast focused on the distribution, biomass and life cycle of gelatinous planktonic animals called salps and their role in the oceanic food chain. A May-June cruise to the Galápagos Islands celebrated the 25th anniversary of the discovery of hydrothermal vents; a new vent field dubbed Rosebud was found (see Science Highlights Rosebud Succeeds Rose Garden), along with a novel species of sponge never before seen at the vents. Several Department members worked in the Arctic on shelf-basin exchange and climate variability as part of the Shelf Break Interaction Experiment. Others ventured to the Antarctic during the austral winter as part of Southern Ocean GLOBEC (Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics) to continue studies of zooplankton and their role in Antarctic ecology (see Science Highlights South for the Winter). Research on toxic and harmful algal blooms ranges from large-scale field programs to molecular and cellular studies.

Development of innovative instruments and new mathematical models continues apace. A new automated submersible flow cytometer to continuously count and characterize different kinds of phytoplankton was tested at the Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory as part of our research to understand how the phytoplankton community is regulated and to develop methods to retrieve information about phytoplankton from bio-optical measurements. The data are available 24/7 via the Internet in real time, a first for phytoplankton studies traditionally done in the lab with a large instrument and a human operator. The new autonomous microbial sampler was successfully deployed at vent sites at 9°N on the East Pacific Rise this year using the submersible Alvin. The instrument collects six uncontaminated and exogenous DNA-free microbial samples for studies of diversity, community structure, and function using combined molecular and cultural methods.

Two Assistant Scientists hired in 2002 enhance traditional Department strengths in microbiology and phytoplankton biology. After receiving a BS degree in biology from Johannes-Gutenberg University in Germany, Stefan Sievert earned an MS degree in biological oceanography in 1996 from Bremen University and the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, and a PhD degree in microbial ecology in 1999 from Bremen University and the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology. He studies ecology of microbial communities at hydrothermal vents and other marine environments. Sonya Dyhrman earned an undergraduate degree in biology at Dartmouth College in 1994 and completed a PhD degree in marine biology in 1999 at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, prior to her appointment as a Postdoctoral Scholar at WHOI in 2000. She studies the coupling between phytoplankton and their chemical environment using molecular and biochemical approaches.

John J. Stegeman, Department Chair