Alumni Vignettes

Kate Dubickas

About my research

A project in the Kendra Daly Zooplankton Ecology Lab focuses on identifying changes to zooplankton ecology relative to the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill. I will be comparing historic pre-spill samples collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to post-spill samples collected by researchers here at USF. My research will establish a baseline of the natural spatial, seasonal, and interannual variation in zooplankton community structure prior to the DWH oil spill and subsequently compare it with post DWH zooplankton data. To process samples, our lab will be using a revolutionary piece of equipment in the zooplankton research field: Hydroptic Zooscan digital imaging system. The Zooscan overcomes traditionally time-consuming and difficult taxonomic techniques that have previously limited large-scale zooplankton analyses. I hypothesize that the DWH oil spill resulted in a significant shift in zooplankton abundance, distribution, and composition in the northeast Gulf of Mexico.

My results will provide important information on the environmental ramifications of oil spills, which can be used by state and federal agencies and emergency responders to help mitigate future events. Because of modern society’s continuous extraction, consumption, and reliance on oil, future oil spills are not only possible, but very likely to occur and possibly at a larger scale. Thus, it is crucial to determine the ecological consequences of oil spills for advising limits of future deep-water oil drilling development, guiding future cleanup efforts, and protecting coastal commerce.


Oil spills, including the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill, have a long-standing history of devastating ecosystems. As a Gulf Coast native, I was particularly affected by this disaster and it further motivated me to pursue graduate studies and a career that would have a positive impact on people and wildlife. The University of South Florida’s College of Marine Science (CMS) sits on the shores of Tampa Bay in close proximity to the Deepwater Horizon oilrig explosion. Due to field stations’ accessibility, university investigators have been at the forefront of spill-related research. The collaborative nature of CMS and the surrounding institutes (USGS, NOAA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, Florida Institute of Oceanography) made it the ideal academic institute to accomplish my research and career goals. Further, CMS doesn’t have any undergraduate courses, so the faculty here is predominantly research focused, something I enjoy. But of course, you can always walk the 100 yards next door to USF St. Petersburg if you’re looking for a library with waterfront views or TA opportunities.

As an added bonus to attending an exceptional research institute, St. Petersburg has proven to be an ideal location to live. Bike and dog friendly downtown St. Pete has a thriving waterfront, restaurant, and arts community, with a slew of boating types, trivia nights, and galleries to choose from. Nearly every weekend, there is an affordable, and more often than not, free activity to spend my time away from zooplankton.

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