Kristina Cammen

Assistant Professor of
Marine Mammal Science

kristina.cammen@maine.edu   
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I approach marine mammal science with a broad focus on ocean health that incorporates interconnected components of animal, human, and ecosystem health. My research program utilizes genetic and genomic techniques to study evolutionary adaptation, population ecology, and conservation biology. I am driven by questions of how individuals have adapted to survive threats in their environment over evolutionary and ecological timescales, and how genetic variation (or lack thereof) affects resistance to these threats in the face of rapid environmental change. My research focuses primarily on marine mammals that are sentinels of ocean health and species of conservation concern, though I have also investigated questions of adaptation to natural and anthropogenic stressors in estuarine fish and saltmarsh birds.

Current Lab Members

Graduate Students

Alice Hotopp

Ph.D. Candidate, Ecology and Environmental Sciences

Alice Hotopp is a PhD student in Ecology and Environmental Sciences, co-advised by Kristina Cammen and Brian Olsen. Alice is part of the Genomic Ecology of Coastal Organisms (GECO) research group, which studies the genomic basis of adaptation in sparrow species inhabiting tidal salt marshes along the Atlantic coast of North America. Alice’s research focuses on plumage melanism in tidal marsh sparrows.

Christina McCosker

Ph.D. Candidate, Marine Biology

My dissertation focuses on using a One Health perspective to investigate drivers of disease outbreaks in two Northwest Atlantic pinnipeds: gray and harbor seals. I am interested in using molecular and genomic techniques to elucidate mechanisms that influence disease susceptibility in pinnipeds, and understand why gray seals are more resistant to viral diseases than harbor seals. Additionally, I am interested in learning how environmental factors, such as environmental contaminants, may contribute to increased disease prevalence and exploring the link between humans and pinnipeds in coastal ecosystems. I am part of the first cohort of UMaine’s One Health & the Environment National Science Foundation Research Traineeship program, through which I am engaged in training focused on using an interdisciplinary approach to solve emerging, complex issues at the intersection of animal, human, and environmental health.

Julia Sunnarborg

Ph.D. Candidate, Marine Biology

My dissertation research focuses on developing and applying environmental DNA (eDNA) tools for studying river herring and seal ecology as these populations recover due to ongoing protection and restoration efforts. I am particularly interested in validating eDNA against traditional research and monitoring methods to improve sampling capacity, minimize disruption to animals and the environment, and maximize cost-effectiveness. I’m also interested in patterns of fish and mammal community composition, phenology, and trophic relationships, as well as how eDNA can help us monitor and understand changes in these patterns. My research involves the collection of water samples all across the Maine coast, with an additional focus in the Penobscot River Estuary, as well as at seal haul-out sites in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I am fortunate to work with a variety of collaborators at Maine SeaGrant, Maine DMR, NOAA NEFSC, and the Center for Coastal Studies, as well as other researchers and students within the Maine-eDNA program.

Dara Yiu

Ph.D. Student, Marine Biology

Dara is a PhD student in Marine Biology, co-advised by Doug Rasher and Kristina Cammen, and based at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences. Dara’s dissertation is supported by ME-eDNA, a multi-institution collaborative NSF grant that seeks to improve our understanding of coastal ecology and sustainability using environmental DNA (eDNA) tools.

Undergraduate Students

Sarah Jones

Undergraduate Honors Student, Marine Sciences

Sarah Jones is completing her Honors thesis in the Cammen lab, investigating changes in diagnostic blood parameters throughout pinniped rehabilitation.  Her research contributes to a larger research project that aims to assess trends in pinniped health in Maine throughout recent disease outbreaks.

Zoe Reed

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Marine Sciences

Zoe Reed is currently a senior majoring in Marine Sciences.  In the Cammen Lab, she works to support ongoing laboratory and data analysis projects that aim to improve our understanding of marine mammal health.

Sydney Avena

Undergraduate Honors Student, Marine Biology

I am currently a senior marine science major with a concentration in marine biology. I am originally from East Lyme, Connecticut and came to the University of Maine to pursue my interests in marine ecosystems and fish biology. My undergraduate Honors thesis is co-advised by Kristina Cammen and Nishad Jayasundara, and my research is looking at the differences in mitochondrial and nuclear DNA in aquacultured California yellowtail fish to determine if there is functional variation in different stocks of yellowtail. In the future, I hope to continue studying fish aquaculture and the impacts that genetic variation can have on fish production.

Shannon Brown

Undergraduate Honors Student and Research Assistant, Marine Biology

I am currently a junior marine science major with a concentration in marine biology at the University of Maine. I am originally from the Boston area and I came to Maine to pursue my dream of being a marine biologist. In the Cammen lab, I have participated in data entry for an analysis of trends in marine mammal standings along the coast of Maine, and I have analyzed marine mammal bioacoustic data to detect baleeen whale presence in the Gulf of Maine. This past summer, I got hands-on experience in marine mammal rehabilitation and public education as an intern at National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, MA. In the future, I hope to either become an aquatic veterinarian or work in the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals.

Gabrianne McIntosh

Undergraduate Capstone Student, Marine Biology

Emma Newcomb

Undergraduate Honors Student and Research Assistant, Marine Biology

I am currently a sophomore marine science major with a double concentration in biology and oceanography. Originally from eastern Massachusetts, I came to Maine to pursue my dream of working with marine mammals. At the University of Maine I am a research assistant analyzing spatial and temporal relationships in mammal strandings in the Gulf of Maine and visually observing marine mammals in Western Passage. Working in the Cammen Lab, I have been given the opportunity to follow my passion and work on expanding my understanding of the oceans. I hope to go on and get my doctorate in marine biology to study the effects of anthropogenic factors such as noise on marine mammals.

Shannon Smith

Undergraduate Capstone Student, Marine Biology

Prior Lab Members

Graduate Students

Lauri Leach (MS, 2020)

M.S., Marine Biology

Lauri Leach completed her MS in Marine Biology in Fall 2020. Her Masters thesis was entitled, Assessing predator risk to diadromous fish conservation in the Penobscot River Estuary. The objectives of Lauri’s research thesis were: i) to assess the abundance and distribution of seals and their prey in the Penobscot River Estuary; ii) to test photo-identification as a tool to study Penobscot River pinnipeds; and iii) to assess trends in seal-induced injuries to Atlantic Salmon at dams in the Penobscot River. Lauri is currently working as a Policy Analyst for the Marine Mammal Commission.

Holland Haverkamp (MS, 2020)

M.S., Ecology & Environmental Sciences

Holland Haverkamp completed his MS in Ecology and Environmental Sciences in Summer 2020.  His Masters thesis entitled, Harp, harbor and gray seal strandings in the Gulf of Maine: A retrospective socio-ecological analysis, is currently in preparation for publication, in collaboration with local marine mammal stranding networks.  The focus of Holland’s research was to utilize marine mammal stranding data in the Gulf of Maine to 1) assess the abundance, distribution, and health of the marine mammals that make the Gulf home, and 2) analyze interactions between humans and marine mammals, specifically harassment.

 

Alayna Hawkins (MS, 2020)

M.S., Marine Biology

Alayna Hawkins completed her MS in Marine Biology in Summer 2020.  Her Masters thesis, entitled From Phocine Distemper to Avian Influenza: A Study of Immunogenetic Diversity in Two Sympatric Pinniped Species, is currently in preparation for publication. Alayna’s research interests include using genetic techniques to answer questions of marine mammal health and evolution in response to environmental issues. Her Master’s research involved analyzing genes within the Major Histocompatibility Complex in gray and harbor seals to investigate the evolution of immunity to viruses.

 

Emma Spies (BS, 2021)

B.S., Marine Sciences

Emma Spies completed her B.S. in Marine Sciences at the University of Maine in May 2021. During her undergraduate, she pursued her interests in ocean conservation and restoration, climate change sciences, marine ecosystems, and marine biology through multiple field and lab experiences, including a semester working in the molecular genetics Cammen lab. Emma also completed a Semester by the Sea at the Darling Marine Center and an Alaska Dive Semester,  where she earned her American Academy of Underwater Sciences scientific research diver certification. Emma hopes to pursue higher education within the field of marine sciences and to conduct underwater marine research.

 

Sarah Burton (BS, 2020)

B.S., Marine Sciences

Sarah Burton completed her Senior Capstone research project in the Cammen Lab in May 2020.  Her Capstone research, entitled Non-invasive Approaches to Marine Mammal Monitoring in Western Passage, was part of an interdisciplinary undergraduate research collaborative focused on studying the ecology of Western Passage, a tidally turbulent body of water between Eastport, Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. Sarah’s experience in the Cammen lab was diverse, including marine mammal visual surveys, collection and analysis of environmental DNA, and marine mammal stranding data entry.  As an undergraduate, Sarah also received hands-on training in marine mammal rehabilitation through an internship at the National Marine Life Center.  Moving forward, Sarah hopes to continue studying marine mammal health.

 

Madalyn Jorge (BS, 2020)

B.S., Marine Biology

Maddie Jorge completed her Senior Capstone research project in the Cammen Lab in May 2020.  Her Capstone research, entitled Non-invasive Approaches to Marine Mammal Monitoring in Western Passage, was part of an interdisciplinary undergraduate research collaborative focused on exploring the biological, physical, and social dimensions of Western Passage, a tidally turbulent body of water between Eastport, Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. As part of this research collaborative, Maddie gained experience with marine mammal visual surveys, collection and analysis of environmental DNA, and statistical data analysis.  During her undergraduate, Maddie also gained teaching experience as a Maine Learning Assistant for a Conservation and Ecology of Marine Mammals (SMS 308) course.

Maddie is currently a marine mammal training intern at the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, FL, where she is working with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, Asian small-clawed otters, California sea lions, harbor seals, African black-footed penguins, and several species of birds/parrots. Maddie hopes to continue to pursue a career in marine mammal training.

 

Kai LaSpina (BS, 2019)

B.S., Ecology & Environmental Sciences

Kai LaSpina completed her Senior Capstone research in the Cammen Lab in May 2019. Her Capstone research, entitled Genetic relatedness of mass stranded Atlantic white-sided dolphins, is currently undergoing review for publication in a scientific journal.

Kai is currently pursuing a Masters of Marine Management at Dalhousie University.  She is interested in understanding how anthropogenic noise pollution affects marine mammals and helping to shape public policies addressing this ocean health issue.

Elizabeth Piotrowski (BS, 2019)

B.S., Marine Biology

Liz Piotrowski completed her Senior Capstone research in the Cammen Lab in May 2019. Her Capstone research poster, entitled Estimating Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) abundance and distribution through use of various survey methods, won an award at the School of Marine Sciences Senior Capstone Symposium. Liz was also integral to the establishment of an environmental DNA research program in the Cammen Lab.  She presented her research on Developing eDNA sampling as a mechanism for improving marine mammal conservation at the University of Maine Student Research Symposium.

Liz is currently pursuing a Masters of Science at University of the Pacific, where she is interested in applying molecular approaches to the study of marine mammal physiology and behavior.

Faythe Goins (BS, 2018)

B.S., Marine Sciences

Faythe completed her Honors thesis project in the Cammen lab in May 2018. For her research project, entitled The effect of temperature on the incubation period of loggerhead sea turtles in Edisto Beach, South Carolina, Faythe was awarded Highest Honors. Her primarily data analysis-driven research project followed four years of volunteer work with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources on Edisto Beach Sea Turtle Patrol.

Faythe is currently pursuing her veterinary degree at the University of Georgia, aiming to specialize in marine animal medicine and continue to contribute to sea turtle conservation.

Sarah Vincze (BS, 2018)

B.S., Marine Sciences

Sarah Vincze completed her Senior Capstone research in the Cammen Lab in May 2018. Her Capstone paper was entitled Analysis of factors influencing the ongoing occurrence of brevetoxin-associated mass mortality events of bottlenose dolphin populations in the coastal waters along Florida. Sarah was also an active member of our marine mammal genetics research lab, participating in population genetic studies of gray and harbor seals.

Sarah is currently a research assistant at the Center for Molecular Oncology at UCONN Health.  She is also enrolled in a Clinical Genetics and Genomics Grad Certificate Program, working towards her masters in Genetic Counseling.

Collaborators

Our research is more productive, effective, and fun because of the amazing collaborators we work with. Our lab has ongoing collaborations with the following research groups:

Maine’s marine mammal stranding research collaborative. (left to right) Lynda Doughty (MMoME), Katie Gilbert (MMoME), Emma Newcomb (UMaine), Sarah Burton (UMaine), Holland Haverkamp (UMaine), Kristina Cammen (UMaine) Shannon Brown (UMaine), Lindsey Jones (Allied Whale), Sean Todd (Allied Whale), Dominique Walk (MMoME)

Interested in joining our lab?

Funding dependent, we welcome new undergraduate and graduate students to our lab each year. Graduate students can join our lab through the School of Marine Sciences M.S. in Marine Biology, dual M.S. in Marine Biology/Policy (requires a Marine Policy co-advisor), and Ph.D. in Marine Biology programs, as well as through the Ecology and Environmental Sciences M.S. and Ph.D. programs. If you are interested in joining our lab, please send me an email outlining your research interests and future career goals. A resume and summary of academic history, including GPA and GRE scores, are also helpful.

Undergraduate students in our lab receive training in molecular lab techniques, data analysis, and scientific writing. If you are interested in completing an independent study, senior Capstone project, or Honors thesis research with our lab group, please send me an email with a brief description of your academic and research interests, and what you hope to gain from an experience with our lab.

If you’re interested in finding ways to collaborate with our research group, please send me an email – I’d be excited to hear from you!

Contact the lab