sabrina heiser Graduate Research Assistant

Sabrina grew up quite far from the ocean in Essen, Germany. Luckily her parents’ hobby was scuba diving and they took her and her younger brother on holidays to Norway every year. After she learned scuba diving when she was 8 years old and conducted her first (undocumented) study on seastar righting behavior in Norway – to her dads’ dismay, she included several replicates sitting on the bottom of the sea whilst he was eager to move on – it was only natural for her to pursue a degree in marine biology. Because her English was not very good and because she felt the need to broaden her horizon, she ventured to Plymouth, United Kingdom, to get her BSc (Hons) in Marine Biology.

During her studies in Plymouth, Sabrina gained her Health and Safety Professional Diving qualification which is required in the United Kingdom to work as a scientific diver. This opened the door to become a volunteer diver in the National Marine Aquarium taking part in shows as well as feeding animals and cleaning the tanks. Later on, she became a member of the voluntary husbandry team learning even more about animal husbandry and aquaristic. She also took part in a 7-week coral reef monitoring project in Egypt and helped out on several dissertation projects including scuba diving in and around Plymouth. For her own undergraduate dissertation project, she mapped the distribution of the non-native kelp species Undaria pinnatifida in Plymouth Sound. She is convinced that it was mainly all the hands-on experience which landed her a job with British Antarctic Survey as a Marine Assistant (similar to a technician job) for which she lived and worked at the British research station Rothera for nearly 2.5 years. After her time at Rothera, she fulfilled one of her biggest dreams and visited the Galapagos islands to defrost and dive with the local wildlife.Sabrina then moved to Chuck Amsler’s lab at UAB to continue combining her loves for seaweeds, scuba diving, and the frozen continent by pursuing a PhD investigating chemical defenses in the seaweed Plocamium cartilagineum. It is a delicate, finely-branched red seaweed which is very well defended against most grazers like snails, sea stars and amphipods which are little shrimp-like animals. To defend itself against the grazers, it produces a lot of different chemicals. However, different individuals are producing different chemicals (like you and me having different eye or hair color). The question is: Why?Sabrina is hoping to continue her career as a marine biologist researching and understanding why the ecosystem is structured the way it is with a focus on macroalgae. She wants to continue approaching these questions with ecological field studies as well as utilizing modern molecular techniques to link population genetics and mating systems of seaweeds to their role within the ecosystem. She would also like to improve her photography, videography and overall science communication skills in order to share with everyone the amazing world of algae in Antarctica.