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Thesis Spotlight: Abbey Hotard

This week we’re featuring Ogden Honors student and coastal environmental science major Abbey Hotard in our thesis spotlight project. She’s working with Giulio Mariotti, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, on a project that tests the effect of microbes on carbon production and storage in estuarine sediments.

Tell us about your thesis project. 

This project is a laboratory analysis of benthic biofilm subjected to different rates of periodic sedimentation attempting to quantify carbon storage and growth of the biofilm. Biofilm is a term used to describe microorganisms, mostly diatoms, and their secretions. We wanted to see how well these microbes could survive being buried with new sediments and if they could contribute to long-term carbon sequestration. We sampled some biofilm from a salt marsh in Cocodrie, Louisiana, and then used that sample to grow biofilm in jars in the laboratory under ideal conditions. Every week I would measure the growth of the microbes add a certain amount of sediment to the surface of each jar. After a few months, we extracted the sediment layers with biofilm to quantify factors such as the amount of organic carbon, chlorophyll content, and nutrient ratios for each rate of sedimentation over the biofilm. We expect to see different results between different sedimentation rates.  

How did you come up with the idea?

My thesis advisor ultimately proposed the idea. I had been working with biofilm in the lab for almost a year and I enjoyed the idea of working with something we could sample from a marsh.    

How did you find your thesis advisor?

My thesis advisor is Dr. Giulio Mariotti from the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences.  I started working with Dr. Mariotti during my junior year to get some research experience. I found him after spending time reading about the research done by the professors in my major college. I started off just helping a graduate student with her projects and cleaning up around the lab, but I eventually got to start working on my own experiments. It’s been a lot of fun learning how to use different instruments in the lab and how to collect data from field sites.   

What do you think makes the project important? 

Salt marshes ecosystems, such as those found along coastal Louisiana, are dynamic environments with seasonally fluctuating sediment and water supplies. These marshes may then create areas that are under or un-vegetated due to local subsidence or high rates of sediment accretion. Areas with little vegetation allow for microbial mats, or biofilms, to quickly colonize the area. Depending on local factors such as nutrient supply, predation, and flooding, these microbial communities may persist in the sediments and continue to produce organic carbon containing biomass. This thesis project is attempting to quantify the ability of benthic microbial communities to fix atmospheric carbon into organic carbon under varying conditions of nutrient supply and sediment flux for considerations for predicting long-term carbon sequestration.

Why did you decide to write a thesis?

I decided to write a thesis because it is an opportunity to showcase everything that I have learned so far.  It’s been both challenging and exciting and I know it will be worthwhile when I have a finished product of original research that I can reference as I apply to graduate school and jobs in the future.  

Do you have any advice for Honors students thinking about writing one?

I would recommend getting involved with research as soon as possible.  Talk to professors about their research and try to find something that interests you. The thesis project is much less intimidating when you’re interested in the work and have a good relationship with your thesis advisor. 

It’s no secret that we want every Ogden Honors student to write a thesis. It’s hard to overstate the value of embarking on a long-term project—whether it’s a research paper, scholarly paper, business plan, portfolio, design project, or performance—with an experienced faculty member. It’s not just practical to write a thesis (students have a finished product they can show off to employers, graduate schools, or professional schools), it also gives students essential experience for post-graduate success. That’s why we’ve started a series highlighting our thesis writers with unique projects that, we hope, will change the way you see the Honors Thesis.