Principal Investigator:

IMG_2299Dr. Suzanne M. Gray

Assistant Professor, Aquatic Physiological Ecology

Curriculum Vitae

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:


filet o fishChelsey Nieman, PhD Candidate

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.


Bethany Williams, PhD Student

I am generally interested in the physiological mechanisms used by vertebrates to survive in extreme environments. For my master’s project, I utilized the wood frog, a freeze-tolerant amphibian, to assess how freezing and hypoxia affects the production of nitric oxide, a multifaceted molecule that can be protective against various stresses. My Ph.D. project, co-supervised in the Gray and Pintor Labs, will entail lab-based experiments and field work located in Uganda. The aim of this project is to understand the physiological and behavioral traits used by a species of African cichlid, Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor, to tolerate varying combinations of hypoxia and turbidity.


IMG_0918Tiffany Atkinson, MS Student

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.


Jeremy Evans, MS Student

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 Student

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.


R. Chase Novello, MS Student

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.



Undergraduate Research Students:

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

I am currently a third-year undergraduate student studying Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife with a specialization in Fisheries and Aquatic Science. This past summer, I spent time at Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie studying how increasing turbidity could alter the visual ecology of the Lake Erie Walleye (Sander vitreus). My main objective was to determine visual detection thresholds for Walleye under varying levels and types of turbidity. Results revealed that visual detection thresholds were higher in sedimentary treatments than in combination and algal treatments. This indicates that algae may cause disruptions to vision at much lower turbidity than suspended sediment, allowing us to understand the dynamics of how the Walleye population may behaviorally respond to increasing anthropogenic turbidity. Walleye remain an important species in the Lake Erie sport fishing industry, as well as an ecological top predator, thus understanding these responses are vital to future management practices. I look forward to formulating a new research project for next summer and continuing my work in the Gray lab!

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

I am a third year majoring in Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife with a specialization in Fisheries and Wildlife.  I have loved wildlife ever since I was a little kid but over recent years I have developed a newfound interest in fish and their environment. This past summer I was an intern at Hammocks Beach State Park in Swansboro, North Carolina. As an intern, I tagged and collected data on nesting Loggerhead sea turtles throughout the night. I am so excited to work in the Gray Lab this semester, develop my own research project, and continue to pursue my passion in this field.


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

I’m a third-year Natural Resource Management student specializing in Fisheries & Wildlife. I spent last summer teaching watershed ecology and marine science at a summer camp in coastal Maine. In fall 2018 I was able to work in Discovery Reef at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium with sharks, fish and marine macroinvertebrates. In the future, I am planning to pursue an advanced degree in marine science and coastal management. For the last year, I have worked as a Research Assistant in the lab, helping Tiffany and Chelsey with their projects. I’m really excited to begin my own Research with Distinction project with the Gray Lab this year!



Harrison Fried, Honors, BS Environmental Policy & Decision Making

I am a second-year undergraduate student majoring in Environmental Policy & Decision Making with an Environmental Science minor. I’ve been working in Dr. Gray’s lab for a little less than a year- first assisting Richard with fish care, and then working over this past summer on my own research project. The goal of my study was to determine whether parasites affect the visual sensitivity of a cichlid fish (Pseudocrenilabrus multicolor victoriae). I found that there is no difference in visual ability between parasitized and non-parasitized fish. Through my data, I discovered that there is a relation between the standard length of Lwamunda fish and visual sensitivity; that is, smaller fish exhibited greater visual capability than did larger fish. I’ve always been interested in fish at a broad level, as I’ve grown up with fish tanks and environmental background. Dr. Gray’s lab has allowed me to pursue my academic interests in a practical and authentic manner. I am excited to both expand upon my preliminary research on visual sensitivity as well as pursue a separate research topic within the lab for my honors thesis.

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

I am a sophomore majoring in Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife, with a minor in Ceramics. I recently joined Dr. Gray’s lab to assist with the fish care and data entry of Tiffany’s MS thesis research. Last summer I vacationed in Hawaii and took a shelter dog on a field trip (The dog in the picture, her name is Carmela). I love fish and animals and I am excited to narrow down my focus over the coming years with my experiences in Dr. Gray’s lab.




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

I am currently a third-year undergraduate student studying Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife with a specialization in Fisheries and Wildlife Science. Last summer I worked as a researcher conducting a genetic survey of topminnows in Missouri through the National Great Rivers Research and Education Center. I have been working in Dr. Gray’s lab for over a year helping with dissections of African cichlids and fish care. I hope to continue to learn even more and gain valuable experience in Dr. Gray’s Aquatic Physiological Ecology Lab!


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

I am a third-year undergraduate pursuing a Forestry, Fisheries, & Wildlife major, specializing in Fisheries & Wildlife. Being a recent addition to the lab, I am excited in developing and conducting my own research project focusing on Lake Erie fisheries in the upcoming years. Growing up, I have been interested in pursuing a career in environmental studies, specifically in studying organisms and the impact that anthropogenic activity has on the surrounding natural environment. I am looking forward to the experience, along with working with and getting to know everybody in the lab.

 Lab Technician:

Brynne Drohan

I graduated from Ohio State University in December 2017 with a BS in Environmental Science with a specialization in Water Science. During my undergrad, I did research for Dr. Pintor’s lab at OSU where I discovered my passion for aquatic macroinvertebrates and food webs. From the start, being able to determine stream health through macroinvertebrates, sparked my fascination with them. From there I saw the importance of certain taxa, community interactions, and the key role they play in food webs and the anthropogenic effects that plague them. I completed an internship at Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve in Huron, Ohio, where I conducted an independent research project studying spatial electivity of macroinvertebrate consuming fish throughout the estuary using gastric lavage and observing gut contents. I am looking to attend graduate school and expand my interest and research on anthropogenic actions that affect aquatic food webs.

Previously advised graduate students:


 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

Current: Lab Manager for Gray Lab

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:


Nicole Episcopo, Research with Distinction, BS Zoology


Jai Tiarks– BS Independent Research, Environmental Science

Katarina Funk- BS Research with Distinction; Environmental ScienceKatarina Website Photo

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


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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