Next Generation: Olivia Pares on viruses in blue crabs

January 3, 2022

Advisor: Dr. Eric Schott, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology

What is the focus of your research?
My research focuses on the disease ecology of a pathogen called Callinectes sapidus reovirus I that infects blue crabs. 

Specifically, I’m working to understand how it impacts the life history of the crab, including the timing and size of offspring and growth rates, and the host range. To understand these different aspects of the species and to understand how different climates affect blue crabs, I am studying blue crabs in Puerto Rico.

The reovirus Callinectes sapidus reovirus I, or CsRV1, only infects the Chesapeake blue crab, which belongs to the Callinectes genus. I’m also testing whether other crabs from the Callinectes genus can be experimentally infected with the virus. 

The other factor I’m studying is whether blue crab prey species are reservoirs for the virus. Reservoirs can be organisms that can be infected with the virus, replicate, and transmit the virus, but do not die from the virus.

How will it make a difference?
Research on the dynamics of these pathogens is vital because the reovirus causes mortality to an economically and ecologically important species. In addition, understanding the factors that influence the prevalence of the pathogen can help with management and biosecurity strategies for the blue crab fishery.

What influenced your career path in science?
The self-reliance of my grandparents in Puerto Rico influenced my career in science. They taught me how to grow plants, care for animals, and build things necessary for daily life. Being exposed to this lifestyle gave me insight into the importance of conserving and understanding the environment that allowed us to thrive. 

Why did you choose to study with your mentor at UMCES? 
I chose to work with Dr. Eric Schott because he provided an opportunity to research Puerto Rico, which offered me with a chance to provide helpful information to people from my community. 

What is an experience that stands out most to you about your time at UMCES?
Even during the height of the pandemic, there was still a sense of community within UMCES that stands out to most. There was an openness that felt safe and inclusive to talk about issues going on in the U.S.

What is the most important thing people can do to help the environment?
The most important thing is to stay informed. If you are informed about all the little things you can do to help the environment, it will have a significant impact on the long road. Everyone’s situation is different, and everyone can do things to help the environment. 

Do you have advice for kids in the next generation who are interested in STEM fields?
My advice would be that mistakes help you grow, and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s better to do something badly and learn than not do it at all. 

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 received funding from the NOAA Living Marine Resource Cooperative Science Center ( LMRCSC). They are funding my education, research, and travel. It has allowed me to be a candidate in a highly competitive field and has provided me with connections from different universities and NOAA.

When do you anticipate earning your degree?
I plan on graduating in the Spring of 2024.

What are your future plans?
This degree has opened so many opportunities. For now, I plan to work in NOAA in fisheries management.