The Mutual Benefits of Collaboration

Photo Credit: Andre P. Seale

Collaboration is a key part of academia. Here two of the Changing Oceans Research Group’s PhD students, Nadia Jogee and Kelsey A. Barnhill, reflect on their experience of working together on a new paper. The paper, entitled ‘Acclimatization Drives Differences in Reef-Building Coral Calcification Rates‘ explores the ability of two dominant reef forming corals to acclimate to changes in their environment. The work was carried out in the fascinating Kāneʻohe Bay, Hawaii. An area which houses some of the toughest corals out there!

Kelsey : Turning the second chapter from my master’s thesis- a Hawaiian reef-building coral reciprocal transplant experiment- into a manuscript had been on my to-do list for the past year. However, between the lack of a deadline, moving to a different country, and starting a PhD on the not-so-tropical Lophelia pertusa, the project remained untouched. This changed when my Master co-supervisor, Dr. Keisha Bahr, emailed me to ask if I would like to have a fee waiver to publish this work in a special issue on coral reef ecology and biodiversity in the open access journal Diversity which she was guest editing. After a hunt through my old files to find the most up-to-date version, I read over the chapter. While I felt quite satisfied with the writing, there were some concerns about the statistical analysis I had used. I had published with MDPI journals before and was familiar with their quick turn-around times. As statistics is not my strongest suit, I had struggled to make the suggested changes within their 2-week major revisions and 1-week minor revisions deadlines. I knew if I wanted to get this work published, I would need some help! Luckily, I didn’t have to look far.

Nadia : Like for many PhD students, the start of the lockdown in the UK was a shock to the system. I was half way through planning my second field season, my new SCUBA equipment had arrived and I was itching to get back out to Honduras. I was aching to see if the experiment I had set up in 2019 had worked. Then the carpet was pulled from beneath our feet.

Weeks of emails from various different sources across the university ensued. ‘Just do what you can… Take it easy on yourself… Follow the latest regulations’. The news was ever more depressing and I can’t deny my motivation for my PhD project plummeted. I tried to keep working, but with no new data I had little to get my teeth stuck into. Then in June, three months after I’d taken to my dressing gown, I received an email. It was from Kelsey Archer Barnhill, a new PhD candidate in our research group. Kelsey has an infectious enthusiasm for productivity and never ceases to amaze me with how much she’s getting done. She asked if I was interested in collaborating on an article that she was working on from her MSc. I jumped at the chance – new data that I could work on AND it wasn’t data relating to my own project. What a novelty! I agreed to help Kelsey with the analysis and data visualisation for her paper. Not only did I find that the project was interesting, but it certainly got me out of my rut.

Kelsey : Bringing Nadia into the project was a great decision! Together we tossed around potential title names, discussed the best statistical analyses and visualizations for the experiment, and interpreted the new results. I was impressed not only with the robust statistical analyses and figures Nadia shared with me, but also the speed at which she did them. Working with a fellow ECR was what made the paper ready to send out for review. Once the manuscript was returned to us with a 2-week major revisions turn around, we quickly got into action. Knowing I had Nadia to respond to any reviewer comments regarding the analysis meant the 2-week deadline was more reasonable as I focused on the main body of text while she altered figures and added more detail to the methods section for the analysis. It also gave Nadia her first experience responding to reviewer comments. Following a quick resubmission and a few further clarifications for reviewer 3, we were thrilled to get the news that the paper had been accepted. I can honestly say that this paper would not have been publishable without Nadia’s expertise!

Nadia : I have previously been intimidated by the peer review process. I want my work to be perfect before I release it on the world for fear of being shot down. For previous papers that I have been an author on I have never been as involved in the analysis and writing process, so I’ve never felt like a ‘real scientist’. Working with Kelsey on this paper has changed my mind and shown me that 1) it’s OK to not get things 100% first time, 2) the review process is not so scary after all, it’s actually really constructive, 3) I do have confidence in my stats and R ability, but most of all 4) the rewards of working with fellow early career researchers.

Breaking in to the academic world, making a name for yourself and putting yourself out there for networking takes a lot of determination. I admit that for a time the pandemic eroded my determination, but this collaboration gave me the opportunity to dip my toes into a different project and reignited my love for my own project. So although my new SCUBA equipment is still sat gathering dust in my unused office, I certainly feel through this paper I have been reminded of why science is fun! 

Abstract

Coral reefs are susceptible to climate change, anthropogenic influence, and environmental stressors. However, corals in Kāneʻohe Bay, Hawaiʻi have repeatedly shown resilience and acclimatization to anthropogenically-induced rising temperatures and increased frequencies of bleaching events. Variations in coral and algae cover at two sites—just 600 m apart—at Malaukaʻa fringing reef suggest genetic or environmental differences in coral resilience between sites. A reciprocal transplant experiment was conducted to determine if calcification (linear extension and dry skeletal weight) for dominant reef-building species, Montipora capitata and Porites compressa, varied between the two sites and whether or not parent colony or environmental factors were responsible for the differences. Despite the two sites representing distinct environmental conditions with significant differences between temperature, salinity, and aragonite saturation, M. capitata growth rates remained the same between sites and treatments. However, dry skeletal weight increases in P. compressa were significantly different between sites, but not across treatments, with linear mixed effects model results suggesting heterogeneity driven by environmental differences between sites and the parent colonies. These results provide evidence of resilience and acclimatization for M. capitata and P. compressa. Variability of resilience may be driven by local adaptations at a small, reef-level scale for P. compressa in Kāneʻohe Bay.

You can read Kelsey and Nadia’s paper, Acclimatization Drives Differences in Reef-Building Coral Calcification Rates, here: https://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/12/9/347/htm

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