Next Generation: Katie Hornick

April 1, 2019

Katie Hornick

Advisor: Louis Plough, Horn Point Laboratory

What is the focus of your research? My research examines the genetic impact of hatchery-based oyster restoration in Maryland with a focus in Harris Creek, the largest oyster sanctuary in the world. My research focuses on genetic diversity metrics, which are a measure of a population’s health and resilience. Using molecular tools, I measure genetic diversity metrics of both hatchery-produced and wild oysters. I am specifically looking at the diversity in restored reefs in Harris Creek and compare them to other wild populations in the Chesapeake Bay that have not experienced large-scale hatchery-based restoration. I am also building a computer model to forecast the genetic impacts of hatchery-based restoration and potentially inform responsible restoration strategies.

How will it make a difference? Hatchery-based restoration is occurring worldwide and increasing, but the genetic impacts of these practices are rarely monitored, so my research will add to that knowledge base. In addition, diversity metrics are important for guiding decisions related to oyster restoration in the Chesapeake Bay and beyond. For example, if we find that specific practices lead to increases in genetic diversity, we can work with the oyster hatchery at the Horn Point Laboratory to implement those protocols in their restoration practices, as well as provide useful information to new hatchery managers in starting their programs.

The computer model I am developing will help further the understanding of genetic impacts of hatchery-based restoration and will be useful for making decisions about which actions will be most effective within the Chesapeake Bay and for future restoration programs.  We can use the model to test realistic scenarios. For example, what does genetic diversity look like if one year there is a bad disease episode that wipes out a large proportion of restored oyster reefs? What if we don’t have many wild oysters to use for hatchery-based restoration?  Working to understand specific impacts and integrating realistic problems into the model will provide useful information to managers and policy makers.

“The computer model I am developing will help further the understanding of genetic impacts of hatchery-based restoration and will be useful for making decisions about which actions will be most effective within the Chesapeake Bay and for future restoration programs.”

What influenced your career path in science? I grew up in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio, and spent a lot of time outside and on the water with my family, so I’ve always been inspired and fascinated by the natural world. In college I learned about human-induced changes to the environment and became particularly motivated to pursue integrative research geared towards understanding and potentially mitigating those changes to preserve species. I wanted to do research with the potential to inform policy related to conservation.

Why did you choose to study with your mentor at UMCES? I met my advisor, Louis Plough, through the head of the oyster hatchery at the Horn Point Laboratory and became his first student. I liked that he was young and had ample experience using cutting-edge genomic methods. Our research interests aligned as we are both interested in using these highly technical genomic tools to answer applied questions related to marine species conservation..

What is an experience that stands out most to you about your time at UMCES? It’s been an amazing privilege to do my experiments in one of the largest restoration hatcheries in the world. There is no place like the Horn Point Oyster Hatchery and those that work there are full of knowledge related to oysters and restoration. It’s really amazing what they are doing to restore oysters in the Bay.

What is the most important thing people can do to help the environment? The most important thing people can do to help the environment is educating people on issues that are globally, nationally, and locally relevant. Education can provide people with the necessary knowledge, behavior changes, and skills to carry out sustainable solutions that will have impacts on all these levels. I believe people are motivated to learn and act when they can become change agents in their backyard.

Do you have advice for kids in the next generation who are interested in STEM fields? Science is a complex, creative process that involves critical thinking. It’s not simply regurgitation of facts or memorizing taxa and mathematical equations. It’s a process where challenges are to be expected and more questions arise from asking questions. Don’t beat yourself up over these challenges, and try to embrace them. Having a strong support system or a mentor to help you through those challenges and obstacles in order to see the bigger picture is something that has helped me grow throughout my scientific career.

Have you received a scholarship, grant, travel award or gift from a donor? What did it allow you to do and why was that important? I have received a number of scholarships, grants, and travel awards that have helped me tremendously. In particular, I received the Coastal Resiliency and Sustainability Fellowship from Maryland Sea Grant that allowed me to continue my research and pursue a Ph.D. (I was initially a Master’s student and this money made it possible to continue). Maryland Sea Grant has also provided me with valuable professional development opportunities in communicating my research to diverse audiences such as middle school students and stakeholders.

What are your future plans? After I finish my degree at UMCES by early 2020, I hope to work in the government or with conservation agencies to develop better methods for monitoring, managing, and conserving marine species.