The ocean is a giant classroom

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ashley Stasko

It’s a fish-eat-fish world down there, and Department of Biology PhD candidate Ashley Stasko (Swanson Lab) is trying to find out who’s at the bottom and who’s at the top of the food chain.

It’s very gratifying to work so closely with some of Canada’s leading scientists to understand a highly understudied Arctic ecosystem in the face of industrial development and a changing climate, says University of Waterloo graduate student Ashley Stasko

By analyzing tissue samples from fish, shrimp, starfish, plankton and other sea creatures in the deep waters of the Beaufort Sea, Ashley can determine who’s eating whom. Her work is part of the Beaufort Regional Environmental Assessment Marine Fishes Project, a government-led environmental assessment of one of the world’s vast unexplored regions.

Arctic Skate

“Before we started this project, very little was known about what species were down there, how they lived and what they ate. One of the best parts of my Waterloo experience has been spending two summers aboard a research vessel trying to find out.”

While she’s not directly investigating the impacts of climate change on marine life, Ashley’s findings will provide a benchmark against which future environmental change — either from climate change or from industrial activity — can be assessed. Her information will also help to identify marine species that may need long-term monitoring.

Ashley recently returned from Norway, where she continued her research. Her trip was funded in part by the Davis Memorial Scholarship in Ecology, which is awarded annually to graduate students. The scholarship was established in memory of Robert M. and Doreen M. Davis.

This international research exchange allowed me to collaborate with an expert in Arctic marine invertebrates. Norway is a very expensive place to live, even temporarily, and without the scholarship I would not have been able to afford to stay more than a few weeks. Thankfully, I was able to stay several months and complete my research paper.

Even when Ashley isn’t immersed in research work, science is front and centre in her volunteer activities. She’s been actively involved with Let’s Talk Science at Waterloo, an outreach program which brings together faculty, staff and students to engage with youth in classrooms and in the community. She’s also a former executive member of the ArcticNet Student Association and helped organize the International Polar Data Forum held at Waterloo this past fall.

After graduation, Ashley plans to pursue a career with the government or in a non-profit, where she can contribute to bringing new knowledge to real-world environmental challenges.

(All photos courtesy of A. Stasko and C. Giraldo, BREA-MFP)

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