When I took Ecology and Evolution last semester, my lab TA gave a mini lecture about how an understanding of Ecology can be applied when studying human health and medicine. I wanted to explore this idea further, and discovered Conservation Medicine, a field that focuses on understanding how human interaction with the environment can harm both animals and humans. One such example is how cultural eutrophication, which is when a body of water accumulates excess nutrients due to water pollution, can cause large volumes of phytoplankton to accumulate, and some are capable of producing neurotoxins. If a fish eats the neurotoxin producing phytoplankton, it becomes a carrier, and if a human eats the fish, it can be lethal.
During this past semester, I’ve been analyzing data taken by my mentor Dr. Ren from Barnegat Bay in Little Egg Harbor, New Jersey, which consists of information regarding the phytoplankton species composition and water quality of different water samples. These analyses demonstrate the distribution of different phytoplankton species and how they relate to environmental factors that are derived from the water quality data. Some of these environmental factors include the water’s salinity, temperature, nitrogen content, and phosphorous content. Some of them are naturally occurring factors while others are triggered by human interaction and water pollution, and I’m working towards accessing how substantial human impact is on this estuary. Through this project, I’ve discovered several new methods of data analysis, as well as new software that is dedicated to analyzing ecological data. I’ve also learned how to properly compile data so that the program can effectively analyze the water sample and produce understandable results – a process that I never realized was so important.
I have an interest in community health, and understanding how conserving and preserving the environment can help in improving the health of a community as a whole excites me. I’m hoping to become a pediatrician, and I’m interested in finding ways to improve the health of future generations that are often overlooked, and are not practiced within the walls of a hospital or doctor’s office.