Billfish Studies

A USF Biology PhD student is awarded a coveted Guy Harvey Scholarship to continue her research.

 

By Florida Sea Grant

Special to USF News

 

TAMPA, Fla. (Feb. 9, 2012) – University of South Florida biology doctoral student Laura Habegger has won one of five Guy Harvey Scholarships to continue her research on how the principles of physics and engineering might explain how fish and sharks function and lead to better management strategies.

The $5,000 scholarship, established in 2010 through a partnership between Florida Sea Grant and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, recognizes students at Florida universities whose research focuses on novel strategies for improving sustainable management of large marine fish and sharks.

A native of Argentina, Habegger hold a bachelor’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires. She completed her master’s degree at USF studying the bite force mechanics of top predators such as bull sharks and great barracuda. Her doctoral work at USF is the first ever to study the bill mechanics and feeding adaptations in marlin, swordfish, sailfish and other pelagic predators

Habegger is researching how the principles of physics and engineering can be used to understand the role of the bill when billfishes feed in hopes of discovering practical management strategies, such as specialized fishing gear that reduces by-catch in commercial fisheries, or reduces stress on billfish caught in recreational tournaments.

 

The bill is the most prominent feature of billfish, but there are competing explanations for its function. Habegger’s interdisciplinary approach to finding the answer incorporates elements of engineering, anatomy and physiology mixed with materials testing, high-speed photography and digital x-ray imaging.

 

“All conservation efforts start with an understanding of the basic biology of a species,” Habegger wrote in her scholarship application. “By the combination of anatomy, biomechanics and the use of innovative techniques, this project will contribute to the description of the feeding behavior and ecology in billfishes.”

 

Habegger is a member of the research team led by noted USF shark researcher Philip Motta. More on her research at the USF Ichthyology Lab can be found here.

 

Since the Guy Harvey Scholarship was established three years ago, $24,000 in scholarships has been given to six students at Florida universities. Recipients also receive a certificate designed and signed by well-known marine wildlife artist and conservationist Guy Harvey.

 

The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation is an organization of philanthropists, conservationists, scientists and educators that emphasizes sensible strategies for promoting ocean conservation and the development of the next generation of marine scientists. The foundation funds research and educational programs developed by universities, colleges, institutes and nonprofit organizations.

 

“Originally, the Guy Harvey Foundation had planned on providing two scholarships,” says Florida Sea Grant director Karl Havens. “However, when they saw the high quality of applicants, the foundation was tremendously generous in deciding to support the research of five students.

 

“Clearly the innovative work proposed by these students will have major impacts in regard to meeting the objective of the award.”