Coastal Disease Ecology
Principal Investigator


Research in the Coastal Disease Ecology Laboratory at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center includes a wide range of topics related to parasite and infectious disease ecology in coastal aquatic ecosystems. This research examines the diversity, abundance, and host specificity of both micro- and macroparasites that infect a range of marine hosts, from crustaceans to seagrasses. Fieldwork for collecting host samples utilizes kayaking, seining, trawling, sediment cores, and water samples. Laboratory techniques typically include dissections and genetic methods.

All interns will explore the disease systems in the Rhode River and develop sampling and processing protocols that can be incorporated into the MarineGEO network. Researchers at SERC have been conducting long-term monitoring of communities in the Rhode River, including benthic surveys, monitoring oyster beds, and nearshore surveys. Interns participate in these surveys, dissect the animals collected, and record the prevalence, diversity, and abundance of parasites found in each host. 

Additionally, all interns and volunteers have the opportunity to conduct independent research projects that are within the scope of the Coastal Disease Ecology lab, the focus of which varies depending on available funding.

For more information about our research projects, check out our Coastal Disease Research Projects.
For more information on how to apply for an internship at SERC, visit the Internships page.

Intern applications for 2022 summer season are due Feb. 15, 2022. This year due to COVID safety precautions on-site housing will not be available, however we are interested in providing a virtual internship or an on-site internship for those who live more locally with the ability to commute to campus. Both virtual and on-site projects this year will focus on an aspect of the Rhode River Parasite Surveys. Virtual projects this year will help expand our knowledge of river otters in the bay area by processing game camera footage and analyzing disease datasets. On-site projects for local interns include sampling otter scat for parasites, in addition to collecting and processing other host taxa for parasites!

  • Intern Tillie presents research at CERF 2019

    Matilda Newcomb (right), mentored by Dr. Sarah Gignoux-Wolfsohn (left), presents her summer research at CERF 2019.

  • Intern Annette collects shrimp in the field

    Former intern, Annette Curry, collects shrimp from the field for lab research.

  • Intern Alicia extracts DNA

    Former intern, Alicia Flores, extracts DNA from seagrasses in search of Labyrinthula infected blades.

  • Interns visit GCREW

    Interns visit GCREW to learn about marsh research and collect snails for parasite surveys.

Learning Objectives for Internships

Interns interact with research scientists, technicians, and postdocs across a variety of labs at SERC including the Coastal Disease Ecology Lab, Marine Invasions Research Lab, MarineGEO, Ecosystem Conservation Lab, and Fisheries Conservation Lab. 

  • Training in field and lab techniques related to their project including field sampling design and methods, data management, data collection, data entry and verification, dissections, and sample preservation.
  • Summarize his/her accomplishments in a public seminar at the end of the project period under the supervision of lab scientists.
  • Work in a collaborative setting, across research groups.
  • Write specific sampling and laboratory protocols.
  • Find and identify a variety of aquatic parasites from a wide range of hosts.

Intern Alumns:

Undergraduate Interns: Diana Portugal Barron (2021), Monserrat García Ruiz (2021), Alexis Betancourt (2021), Chloé Lo Faro (2021), Jaeda Robers (2020-2021), Matilda Newcomb (2018, 2019), Annette Curry (2018), Miguel Aguirre Morales (2018), Madison Miller (2017), Nancy Sealover (2016), Emily Bulger (2014)
Post-Baccalaureate Interns: Alicia Flores (2019)
High School Interns: Caroline Connolly (2020), Jesse Paige (2021), Augusta Quilliam (2021)