In her Ph.D. research, Gina examined how abiotic conditions relate to trait diversity and their ecological consequences. Trait diversity can have broad ecological effects; however, the study of the ecological importance of trait diversity is still growing and has yet to gain footing in the marine realm. In her research, she examined intraspecific trait variation in the intertidal predator Nucella ostrina-emarginata. These dogwhelks prey on California mussels that form expansive beds, supporting a huge diversity of organisms. She studied the feeding traits of Nucella—size selectivity and consumption rate—in order to understand how they alter the mussel bed physical structure and change the community of species within the bed. Her research showed that warmer, less acidic, and more stable temperature and pH regimes were correlated with Nucella populations that consume larger mussels. She also found that the degree to which feeding rates were affected by ocean acidification differed among Nucella populations, and Nucella from sites that naturally experienced lower pH were least negatively affected. Finally, using a field experiment, she found that Nucella from populations with different prey size selectivities differentially altered species that live within the mussel bed matrix. Overall, her research showed that trait variation in a marine predator can have broad ecological effects that restructure habitat and alter communities.
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