Past Research Projects
As part of the Braithwaite Research Group at Penn State, my Ph.D. concentrated on understanding how environmental stress leads to changes in the neurobiology, physiology and behavior of fish. I focused on three different biological systems, taking a comparative approach to explore this concept. For the first system, wild populations of a tropical fish were used to investigate the impact of predation stress on learning in a conditioning task. Within this natural ecosystem, I demonstrated that adaptive changes in behavior are selected by different ecological pressures. The second project worked with a common aquaculture species, Atlantic salmon, to determine how a chemical stressor, acid-Aluminum toxicity, affects the stress response, neural plasticity and behavior of fish. This project allowed me to investigate rapid changes in neurobiology and behavior in an applied setting. The results showed that acid-Aluminum increased stress level and decreased neural plasticity, thereby disrupting learning behavior of salmon. With the third system I evaluated how early experience affects the development of behavior by exposing young zebrafish to enrichment and mild repeated stress. The zebrafish brains were imaged with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to gain insight into differences in the development of the brain in a controlled laboratory setting.