Each year SML hosts undergraduate researchers from around the world to study the marine environment. SML partners with several institutions to financially support motivated students who demonstrate the skills and commitment to conduct research at Shoals. Meghan Poth, a student at Dartmouth College, joined SML’s undergraduate research program in 2019 with support from generous donors. Meghan came to Shoals as an English major and Chemistry minor, on the pre-veterinary track. At Dartmouth, Meghan’s interest in marine ecology was sparked in Dr. Mark Laidre’s lab, where she explored crustacean ecology.
Meghan advanced her lab skills with Dr. Laidre’s mentorship and she was rewarded with the opportunity to conduct research at SML by continuing the work of Leah Valdes, a former undergraduate researcher from Cornell University, on hermit crabs within the subtidal environment. Meghan’s project investigated the function of the hermit crab olfactory system in determining their shell preference. Hermit crabs have a variety of shells to choose from including common periwinkles and dog whelks. The shells of these snails are only available after predation by organisms such as sea stars, which results in a characteristic odor and a free home for hermit crabs. Meghan tested her hypothesis of olfaction in the Great Tide Pool of Appledore Island. Fieldwork was one of her favorite aspects of this research, as she could observe and study organisms in their natural habitat. By the end of her project, Meghan identified that hermit crabs prefer the common periwinkle based on their smell. Meghan presented her findings at the SML Undergraduate Research Symposium in August, as well as the Gulf of Maine 2050 Symposium in November. She hopes to return to SML next summer to continue her project and investigate other marine ecology questions.