ECR Spotlight is a series of interviews with early-career authors from a selection of papers published in Journal of Experimental Biology and aims to promote not only the diversity of early-career researchers (ECRs) working in experimental biology but also the huge variety of animals and physiological systems that are essential for the ‘comparative’ approach. Nina Bean is an author on ‘ The scaling of metabolic traits differs among larvae and juvenile colonies of scleractinian corals’, published in JEB. Nina conducted the research described in this article while a Master's student in Dr Peter J. Edmunds's lab at California State University, Northridge, CA, USA. She is now a PhD candidate in the lab of Dr Jose Eirin-Lopez at Florida International University, North Miami, FL, USA, investigating epigenetics, ecophysiology, early life stages, life history, and the adaptation and acclimatization potential of reef-building corals.

Nina Bean

How did you become interested in biology?

I have always been fascinated with the natural world around us and I love learning how things work. I specifically became interested in marine biology after moving to Hawaiʻi and being able to explore the beautiful underwater world through snorkeling and SCUBA diving. I geeked out on taking photos of every organism I saw and learning more about them. In college, at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, I continued to be fascinated with biology through coursework and internships. I was specifically drawn to studying corals because of the critical role they play in ecosystem function and because they are complex even though they seem simple on the outside.

Describe your scientific journey and your current research focus

In high school, I worked as a lab assistant with the US Department of Agriculture Research Center exploring dung beetle taxonomy and the effectiveness of radiation in sterilizing small hive beetles. The following summer, my concern for the ocean and passion for conservation in Hawaiʻi led me to pursue an internship with a non-profit organization called Kupu, where I worked on habitat restoration at terrestrial and aquatic sites through several natural resource management agencies on the islands of Oʻahu and Kahoʻolawe. The summer of my sophomore year in college, I was awarded a competitive National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates position to work at Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida. At Mote, I conducted an independent research project on the effects of oxybenzone-based sunscreen on two coral species at the Coral Health and Disease Program with Dr Erinn Muller. The following summer, I began interning at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology in Dr Ruth Gates’ Coral Laboratory with Dr Crawford Drury, where I studied the adaptive potential of corals to increasing seawater temperature. After I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I completed my Master's degree at California State University, Northridge, under the advisement of Dr Peter Edmunds. I focused on the metabolic scaling of early life stages of corals and the scaling of competitive outcomes between corals and algae by conducting fieldwork in Moorea, French Polynesia, and St John, US Virgin Islands. From 2022 to the present, I have been a PhD student in Dr Jose Eirin-Lopez's Environmental Epigenetics Lab, where I am investigating the effects of environmental conditioning on the phenotypic performance and epigenetic patterns of reef-building corals. My dissertation is part of X-REEFS (neXt generation Reef Engineering to Enhance Future Structures), which is a large collaborative group funded by the US Department of Defense composed of 11 institutions focused on building a reef structure made of artificial and biological (i.e. reef-building corals) material to protect Florida's coastline.

How would you explain the main findings/message of your paper to a member of the public?

Does coral size matter? Are two small corals the same thing as one big coral? Or is the whole greater than the sum of its parts? To better predict the future of coral reef populations, we must differentiate the features of small and large corals across different species and life histories. In my study, I found that metabolism changed with coral size and this differed between life history strategies (i.e. internal versus external fertilization) and species at the juvenile stage. I also found that larger corals had relatively more tissue compared with smaller corals in one species (Porites spp.) but not in the other (Pocillopora spp.). The difference in metabolic efficiencies and tissue biomass among differently sized corals may reflect a difference in survival strategies. For instance, Porites spp. may have quick skeletal growth initially, but then slow down to invest in fat tissue storage. This might make them more resilient to temperature stress as they get bigger. Pocillopora spp., in contrast, might prioritize skeletal growth rate over tissue growth and may be more resilient to algal overgrowth.

Two Porites spp. juvenile colonies being measured for respiration rate over 20–60 min using Ocean Insight FOSPOR-R optical oxygen probes. The coral colonies are in cylindrical chambers filled with filtered seawater and surrounded by a water jacket to regulate the temperature.

Two Porites spp. juvenile colonies being measured for respiration rate over 20–60 min using Ocean Insight FOSPOR-R optical oxygen probes. The coral colonies are in cylindrical chambers filled with filtered seawater and surrounded by a water jacket to regulate the temperature.

What do you enjoy most about research, and why?

My favorite part about research is that I get to explore, ask interesting questions and discover new things. My curiosity begins with observing natural phenomena with my own eyes or learning about new things by digging in the literature. I then enjoy the creative and intellectually stimulating process of designing experiments that target specific questions and being able to explore the data to see if a pattern emerges. After discovering a pattern, I find it exciting to be able to share what I've found and talk to others to get their perspectives and, in turn, potentially spark new questions.

What is the most important lesson that you have learned from your career so far?

An important lesson I have learned (and continue to learn) is how to think on my feet when conducting an experiment. I can plan all I want, but biology can be unpredictable and things can go wrong. I found that it is incredibly important to have a finger on the pulse of the experiment as it is being conducted so that I am ready to pivot at any moment if needed. Sometimes experimental changes can lead to interesting results even though they were not initially planned!

What do you like to do in your free time?

My two passions outside of research are marine underwater photography and rock climbing. I love taking photos underwater because I feel more connected to our natural world and it encourages me to view things from different perspectives. I also think it is a great way to showcase the beauty that is out there, especially for those with limited access. I also love rock climbing because I get to express myself through movement that incorporates strength, flexibility, coordination and problem solving. The climbing community is so friendly and supportive, and I love being able to push myself in that atmosphere.

Nina Bean's contact details: Department of Biology, Florida International University, 3000 NE 151st St, North Miami, FL 33181, USA.

E-mail: [email protected]

Bean
,
N. K.
and
Edmunds
,
P. J.
(
2024
).
The scaling of metabolic traits differs among larvae and juvenile colonies of scleractinian corals
.
J. Exp. Biol
.
227
,
jeb246362
.