Alyssa Gehman, who is pursuing her Ph.D. in ecology at the University of Georgia Odum School of Ecology, is participating in the second round of the #SciFund Challenge, an experiment in crowdfunding for scientific research.
Gehman is seeking to raise $1,200 for equipment she will use in her study of an invasive parasite that infects and castrates mud crabs living on the oyster reefs along the Georgia coast.
The #SciFund Challenge was founded by two ecologists, Jai Ranganathan and Jarrett Byrnes, to explore the potential of crowdfunding—pooled donations from interested individuals, usually via the internet—to support scientific research and connect scientists more directly with the general public. The first round, which took place in November 2011, raised $75,000 for 49 projects. Seventy-four projects are included in the second round, which runs from May 1-31, 2012.
Gehman’s project, “A Climate for Castrators?” explores the interactions between the mud crab, Eurypanopeus depressus, and the parasite Loxothylacus panopeus, which first appeared in Georgia coastal waters around 2004.
“This parasite can invade crabs’ bodies and basically take over, using the crab as a baby parasite-producing machine,” Gehman wrote in her SciFund Challenge project description. Male crabs are just as vulnerable as females. When the parasite infects a male crab, it castrates the crab and changes the shape of its body to accommodate parasite babies. “My lab-mates and I have dubbed it ‘the Neuterator,’ ” Gehman said.
Gehman will be looking at the impact of drought on the interaction between parasite and host. She explained that the parasite larvae, which are released into the ocean as free swimming organisms, can’t survive in fresh or low-salinity water. That means that estuaries, where river and ocean waters meet and mix, can serve as refuges for the crabs. During droughts, however, estuaries are receiving less fresh water and becoming saltier. “In a nutshell, are we going to see increased occurrence of this parasite in the estuary as drought becomes more and more common?” she said.
“Understanding the environmental determinants of disease is a growing area of research,” said Gehman’s advisor, Associate Professor Jeb Byers. “It’s particularly understudied in marine ecosystems, which makes Alyssa’s work all the more important.”
Gehman’s #SciFund Challenge proposal is online at