Principal Investigator:

IMG_2299Dr. Suzanne M. Gray

Associate Professor, Aquatic Physiological Ecology

Gray, Suzanne_CV_Full_April 2023

My research integrates physiological and behavioral ecology to advance our understanding of the generation, maintenance, and conservation of aquatic biodiversity. Fundamentally, I am interested in understanding why (and how) some animals can rapidly respond to human-induced environmental shifts while others cannot. I use freshwater fish as a model organism for elucidating these mechanisms because they are (i) currently experiencing severe and rapid environmental change due to human activities from local to global scales, and (ii) are amenable to manipulative field and laboratory studies. My research integrates lab and field studies with theory from physiological and behavioral ecology to examine the responses of freshwater fishes to rapid and severe environmental change. Specifically, I address the following broad questions:

  1. How do fish respond to multiple environmental stressors?
  2. Do ecological and evolutionary responses to natural vs. human-induced variation in environmental stressors differ?
  3. How will human-induced environmental change influence aquatic biodiversity?

Graduate Students:

Jai Tiarks, PhD Candidate

Broadly, their research interests focus on how sensory systems in organisms change in response to climate change. Their PhD work is on visual sensitivity (e.g. detecting contrast) in an African cichlid fish. Jai is also interested in science communication and is involved with various mentoring programs in Columbus. Outside of the lab, Jai is a hiker, backpacker, boulderer, drag king, reader, and poet.



Noel Schmitz, MS Student (co-advised by Dr. Lauren Pintor)

My research focuses on predator-prey interactions between native Smallmouth Bass and invasive Round Goby in Lake Erie when influenced by hypoxic conditions, elevated temperatures, and turbidity. These conditions, which are greatly attributed by anthropogenic activities associated with eutrophication and climate change, impact the behavioral and physiological traits of fish which may translate into altering their interactions. Due to the rapidly changing environment of Lake Erie, it is important to study how climate change may affect trophic interactions and possibly influence the stability of the Smallmouth Bass fishery. Before pursuing my master’s, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in biology, specializing in marine and freshwater ecology. Outside of the lab, I enjoy outdoor activities, including hiking and kayaking, as well as spending quality time with my pets, family, and friends.


Victoria Drumm, MS Student

My research investigates how freshwater fishes respond behaviorally to intermittent exposures of artificial light at night (ALAN), with a goal of better understanding the adverse impacts of light pollution from roadways. I am broadly interested in exploring how fish behavior and sensory biology can be used to inform management efforts. Prior to joining the Gray Lab, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Neuroscience from Brandeis University, and most recently worked several seasons as a field assistant with the Diadromous Inland Fisheries Program of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. In my free time, I enjoy hiking, kayaking, thrifting, and science fiction (reading it, watching it, and working on writing projects of my own).


Aaron Giganti, MS Student

Broadly, my research interests focus on how altered visual environments impact visually-mediated behaviors in fish. I have a strong interest in social and reproductive behaviors, particularly when it comes to mate choice, alternative reproduction strategies, and decisions about parental investment in offspring care. Before my time in the lab, I was a student technician with the Columbus branch of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, conducting research on stream metabolism in agricultural headwaters. In my free time, I enjoy spending time outside, going to the gym, cooking and trying new foods, reading, and spending time with my pets and family.





Undergraduate Research Students:



 Amber Morera, BS Environmental Science (Specialization in Ecosystem Restoration)

I’m a fifth-year undergraduate student studying Environmental Science with a specialization in Ecosystem Restoration. I’ve had the chance to work as a research assistant in the Gray Lab for the past few years. In my time here I’ve worked closely with Jai on their rearing and turbidity experiments. I’ve enjoyed learning the process of research from start to to finish, while expanding my skill set in lab and the field. The Gray Lab has helped me so much in building my confidence as a scientist and informing where I’d like to take my career. I’ll be graduating in December of this year and will be pivoting my career toward Marine Ecology/Biology. I’ve had the opportunity to do coral reef ecological research as an REU with Mote Marine Laboratory. I’d love to explore more research in the marine biology field. I’ll be taking a gap year after graduation to gain more marine specific experience and then applying to graduate programs! In my free time I enjoy rock climbing, playing the guitar, concerts and watching a good movie or show! I’m also a tour guide here at Ohio State so if you ever see me on campus feel free to shout “O-H”.


 Mike Penka, BS Environmental Science (Water Science Specialization), Honors Research Distinction 

I am currently a second-year honors student pursuing a BS in environmental science with a water science specialization. During the 2022 field season, I worked with MS Noel Schmitz conducting research on the influence of hypoxia and elevated temperatures on predator-prey interactions between invasive Round Gobies (Neogobius melanostomus) and Smallmouth Bass (Micropterus dolomieu) at Ohio Sea Grant’s F.T. Stone Laboratory in Lake Erie. I also conducted a pilot study on the effectiveness of underwater cameras in capturing interactions between fish and lures of different colors over the course of multiple research-based fishing excursions. This pilot study relates to my current independent research pursuits, focusing on the effects of algal and sedimentary turbidity on Walleye (Sander vitreus) vision and lure choice in Lake Erie. Outside of the lab, I enjoy going to the gym, honing my softball skills, and enjoying a good movie. 


Blair Wilse, BS Environmental Science (Molecular Science Specialization)

I am a third-year environmental science major with a specialization in environmental molecular science and currently pursuing a marine science certificate. I am excited to begin working in The Gray Lab this year and gain hands on research experience while enhancing my understanding for aquatic ecology.  Growing up on the coast of Lake Erie, aquatic ecosystems have had a significant impact on my life and is a strong reason I enrolled at Ohio State and am working towards this career path. I am also currently a student assistant for the Intro to Environmental Science course through the School of Environment and Natural Resources and assist with student’s research poster projects throughout each semester. In my free time, I enjoy going to concerts, paddle boarding, drinking coffee, cooking, and traveling!


Lydia Schiopota, BS Environmental Science (Water Science Specialization)

I am a second-year undergraduate environment and natural resources scholar studying environmental science specializing in water science. This is my first year working in the Gray Lab and I look forward to all the research and experience opportunities. I hope to gain all the research experience I can to understand the process and find what area in water sciences engages me the most. In the coming summer(s) I plan to go to Stone Lab to have more fieldwork experience and complete courses. Additionally, I am a SENR Ambassador and Residential Advisor, and in my free time, I enjoy baking, reading, running, and swimming.




Previously advised graduate students:


Bethany Williams, PhD (co-advised by Dr. Lauren Pintor)

Overall, I’m interested in how animals respond to multiple stressors. In my master’s program at Miami University, I investigated the role of nitric oxide in promoting freezing and hypoxia tolerance in wood frogs, Rana sylvatica. Currently, my dissertation integrates physiological and behavioral techniques to understand how animals survive and reproduce in extreme environments. I am currently testing how hypoxia and turbidity affect reproductive hormones, reproductive behavior, carotenoid use, and male nuptial coloration in the African cichlid, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor, using a combination of lab and field approaches.


Jeremy Evans, MS Environment and Natural Resources

My research consists of monitoring ecological aspects of ponds and the potential effects management has on the physical conditions, macroinvertebrate community, and fish populations. Pond owners in Ohio have different expectations for their ponds. Some owners desire a productive Fishery, while their neighbors are utilizing their pond for agricultural purposes. This project aims to help advise pond owners on active management practices.  Prior to starting this grad program, I graduated with a Biology degree from Southern Utah University, worked two field seasons as a Fisheries Technician for the Dixie and Fishlake National Forests, and volunteered as a Sea Turtle Biologist in Costa Rica. I am grateful that my professional opportunities are able to take me to so many exciting places. The Ohio State University is another stop along my journey as a Biologist.


Susanna Harrison, MS Environment and Natural Resources

My research examines the effects of artificial lighting at night (ALAN) on the nighttime feeding behavior, diet, and community composition of freshwater fishes in Central Ohio. This study will help to inform roadway lighting management decisions that ensure the safety of drivers and protect Ohio’s sensitive aquatic ecosystems. Before beginning my career in fish and wildlife science, I served for 8 years in the United States Coast Guard as an Operations Specialist. I went on to earn my Bachelor of Science at The University of Texas at San Antonio, where I had the opportunity to work alongside Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Inland Fisheries Division to study the reproductive characteristics of reservoir populations of Alligator Gar in South Texas.


filet o fishChelsey Nieman- PhD Environment and Natural Resources

I am interested in how environmental factors affect fitness in fish populations. My research focuses on the effects of different types of turbidity on the visual ecology in Lake Erie fish. I work with individual Emerald Shiner and Walleye, in order to better understand how environmental stressors such as sedimentary and algal turbidity can affect the visual environment of these fishes. I am also interested in answering questions about the compounding effects of stressors on fish physiology. I am working with anglers on Lake Erie to better understand the relationship between Emerald Shiners, Walleye, algal blooms and angling success, in order to understand how algal turbidity can affect fish at the population level. I have a background in marine biology and fisheries management, with a Master’s degree from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. My work there focused on how changing climate regimes influences the recruitment of fish into populations, and how to incorporate these changes into stock assessment models.


IMG_0918Tiffany Atkinson- MS Environment and Natural Resources

I am specifically interested in research questions related to the effects of human-induced stressors on aquatic systems and the organisms that inhabit these degraded ecosystems. My undergraduate honors research project investigated the influence which turbidity has on the coloration of Ohio centrarchid fishes. The research that I am working on for my Master’s thesis is similar and focuses on the effects of turbidity and diet on reproductive traits of the African cichlid fish, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae. As aquatic ecosystems continue to change due to increased human development, I think that it is important to understand how these systems are changing and what consequences these changes can cause.  I think that outreach is an extremely important part of research, and after graduation, I would like to work to bridge the gap between the scientific community and the public.


R. Chase Novello

I am interested in the management and restoration of aquatic ecosystems, particularly as they relate to fish physiology and population distributions. My masters research, supervised by the Gray and STRIVE labs, investigates impacts of artificial light at night (ALAN) on fish vision, as well as relationships between ALAN and distributions of threatened and endangered fish species. My findings will help target lighting thresholds necessary to minimize disturbance to aquatic ecosystems and contribute to informing roadway-lighting management schemes. I graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in Biology in 2014; just prior to joining the Gray Lab, I collaborated with scientists from the U.S. Forest Service and two national labs to develop a decision-support system for wildfire management and salmonid habitat restoration in the Pacific Northwest.



 Jenna Odegard- MS Environment and Natural Resources

Co-Advisor, Dr. Lauren Pintor

Currently at MAD Scientist Associates, LLC.

I am interested in research questions related to community structure, biodiversity, and invasion ecology, specifically in aquatic ecosystems. These curiosities are driven by larger goals to maximize conservation of native species and quality habitat. My masters project is taking place in Lake Erie coastal wetlands in Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge where I have been evaluating taxonomic and functional diversity of fish and invertebrate communities. I plan to use the biotic data to investigate if diversity is correlated with biotic resistance of invasive species. This research will contribute to our understanding of the diversity-invasion theory and the invasion paradox.


IMG_0377Richard Oldham- MS Environment and Natural Resources

As aquatic environmental degradation increases through land use change and human activity, biota found within the perturbed systems cope with new and often rapid changes in environmental stressors. The main interests of my studies are how common environmental stressors, particularly dissolved oxygen and turbidity, affect behavioral responses and physiology of fishes. Currently, I am looking at how environmental stressors affect visual acuity. My field sites are located in Uganda, Africa, where I have traveled to survey habitat complexity and to collect and test the vision of wild populations of my species of interest. The focal fish for my studies is an African cichlid, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae, which can be found in a range of distinct habitats throughout water bodies surrounding Lake Victoria. My previous research experience includes a Bachelor of Science in Environment and Natural Resources, specializing in Fisheries and Aquatic Science from Ohio State University, where I participated in undergraduate research with distinction looking at behavioral syndromes of P. multicolor.


Previously advised undergraduate students:

Alex Kushnir, BS Environmental Science

Sydney Black, BS Environmental Science

Katherine Oriyo, BS Forestry, Fisheries, & Wildlife with Honors Thesis

Nicole Episcopo- Research with Distinction, BS Zoology

Jai Tiarks- BS Independent Research, Environmental Science

Katarina Funk- BS Research with Distinction; Environmental Science

Makayla McKinney- BS Independent Research; Forestry Fisheries, and Wildlife

Elizabeth Bertolini- BS Research with Distinction; Environmental Science

Caroline McElwain- BS Evolution and Ecology, Stone Laboratory REU student

Jake Wittman– BS Honors; Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife

Jeffrey Robbins- BS Research with Distinction; Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife

Brynne Drohan- BS in Environmental Science with a specialization in Water Science

Andy Oppliger- Research with Distinction, BS Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife

Taylor Hrabak- Research with Distinction, BS Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife

Rylie MacDonald- Research with Distinction, BS Natural Resource Management, Specialization: Fisheries & Wildlife

Harrison Fried- Honors, BS Environmental Policy & Decision Making

Brooke Tracy- Research Aid, BS Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife

Nate Steffensmeier- Research Aid, BS Forestry, Fisheries and Wildlife



2 thoughts on “People

  1. Some interesting research projects there. As an aquatic scientist myself it’s great to see the next generation of limnologists and aquatic biologists blossoming!

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