Dr. Peter Auster: Job Description
My job is focused on understanding the ecology of fishes and mostly just looking at the behavior of fishes in the environment in which they live. And we do this using scuba diving... snorkels and scuba diving, research submarines, remotely operated vehicles... actually getting into the environment where fish occur versus looking at the fish coming up in the net or in bottles back in the laboratory. Then after we go and collect this data mostly on video, we spend a lot of time in the laboratory analyzing the video to produce data that we use for conducting various statistical tests, writing papers for journals, writing proposals. I also help lead the undersea research center here at the university.
The national undersea research center, here at the University of Connecticut, is one of six undersea centers funded by the national undersea program and that's part of NOAA. What we do is provide advanced diving technologies to the regional science community. Here our region is the Southern New England Continental Shelf, Georgia's Bank, Gulf of Maine, and The United State's Great Lakes. And we use research submarines, remotely operating vehicles, and mixed gas diving to support research of many scientists. Some of my research is focused on the basic ecology of fishes. Fundamental research on how these animals evolve, how they interact with one another and their environment. That leads to two very applied areas. One is understanding the roles that fishing plays... the impacts of fishing on fish populations and communities. And then also, the potential role that marine reserves might play as a way to conserve and substantially use marine biological diversity.
Exploring seamounts in the North Atlantic has been an incredible opportunity and probably one of the best opportunities I've had in my 20 years conducting research because we get to go explore. Most research is very focused on testing a hypothesis and collecting data for particular theories and hypothesis where here our job is to go out and look and see who's there. We're the first group of people doing an ecology exploration of the seamounts in the North Atlantic.
The data that we are creating are focused on looking at where corals are in the environment and where the co-occurring fishes are. Fishes are generally much more spread out over the seamounts and looking for statistical associations between corals and fishes depends on how much coral there is that's available. If corals are important for fishes, we'll find many fishes clumped in aggregations of coral. If there are no associations, then they might be more widespread. Some individuals might be in coral, others not. But we need to create that matrix of data in order to be able to test that.