Student Vignettes

Kelly Vasbinder

About my research

I work in the Fisheries and Ecosystem Ecology Lab, and my advisor is Dr. Cameron Ainsworth. The focus of our lab is ecosystem modeling, and I will be working in an Atlantis model for the Gulf of Mexico. My research investigates how assumptions on larval transport affect spatial stock assessment and ecosystem models. I’m working on mapping the dispersal of the larvae of commercial and recreational fish species in the Gulf of Mexico in order to investigate placement sites for Marine Protected Areas. This research can help to determine where and how to best protect their young. It is immediately relevant to our local ecosystem, and will provide information that can help us to better understand the movements of larvae. I’m currently working on using statistical models to determine the probability of finding fish larvae of different species at different depths, which will allow me to build and expand on previous work on larval trajectories by adding larval depth as a consideration.


The research atmosphere here at USF College of Marine Science is exceptionally cooperative. I’m able to ask people from many different scientific backgrounds for input or advice on my project, and have the opportunity to collaborate with people outside of my field. USF provides a unique opportunity for me, a student in the Marine Resource Assessment program, to work with both biological and physical oceanographers to build the best model possible. USF is also situated near multiple government agencies and marine science institutes, which gives students the opportunity to collaborate with scientists at these agencies and to attend workshops and events there. For me, this means that I’ve been able to attend a stock assessment workshop nearby and learn skills that I will continue using into my career. Finally, I chose USF because I have a personal connection here. When I was 14, I attended USF’s Oceanography Camp for Girls, which gives girls the chance to experience what it’s like to be a marine scientist in many different disciplines by working with USF Graduate students in the lab and in the field, including on a one day research cruise on a USF vessel! I decided that summer that I wanted to be in marine science, and it’s been amazing to see that dream come full circle and as I came back to work and study here at USF CMS as a PhD student.

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