Aaron Eger is proof that there is biology research can be more than pipetting and cell cultures. He has come a long way since leaving his hometown of Robert’s Creek, British Columbia; yet at the same time, he’s kept touch with his coastal upbringing. The U3 Honours Environment student has spent several months scuba diving and snorkelling off the coasts of Barbados and Vancouver Island as part of BIOL 334: Field Course in Barbados. The course has provided him an opportunity to kick-start his research career with his exploration of “Parrotfish body size as an indicator of diurnal fish species richness on fringing coral reefs in Barbados.”
When Eger arrived at McGill after a four-day cross-country train ride, he was moving to attend an institution he had never seen. On top of that, he was moving from Robert’s Creek, BC – a town of 3000 people – to Montreal – the second-largest city in Canada! While his original plan was to go into Chemistry, he soon realized his true passion was marine biology, and that a degree in Environment would provide the perfect level of flexibility to pursue this path.
Moreover, the Environment degree has a mandatory field-course component – a great opportunity to start a career of research. Eger elected to take BIOL 334, supervised by Professor Frederic Guichard. He was intrigued by Guichard’s projects, which included a scuba-diving mission off the coast of Vancouver Island collecting sea cucumbers. (Eger assured me that in addition to being a topic of research, the sea cucumber is quite good to eat.) This work can provide data for use in habitat suitability modelling for benthic invertebrates (invertebrates living on the ocean floor) – and designing marine protected areas for the local species.
In BIOL 334, students are responsible for the creation of their own project design. In his project, Eger selected six accessible reefs on the west coast of Barbados and assessed the size of parrotfish encountered as well as the number of fish species present on the reef; this data was then plotted to establish a possible correlation between size of parrotfish and the diversity of species in the reefs. The results obtained show that the community size composition of parrotfish, particularly the population of large parrotfish, is a more accurate measure than average parrotfish size for predicting the average fish species richness on a particular reef. In his hands-on experience, Eger therefore developed a measure of diversity which might be generalizable to other ecosystems; practical research at its finest! Eger’s decision to publish in the McGill Science Undergraduate Research Journal (MSURJ) was also rooted in pragmatism. He thought of the opportunity as a good way to enter the field of research and to become familiar with the process of peer-review.
Eger is certified as a Scientific Diver through the Canadian Association of Underwater Science. When not scuba diving, Eger is working as President of the McGill Environment Students Society, and represents its students to the Faculty of Science. We look forward to seeing where Eger’s adventures will take him next.
You can read Eger’s article here*.
*The link to the original paper will be provided as soon as the journal is uploaded to msurj.mcgill.ca.