CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Receiving her dive certification at just 11 years old, Dr. Avery Scherer has been exploring the depths of the ocean and its inhabitants since childhood. Now as a Fulbright Scholar, Scherer is ready to once again dive into her research, this time on one of the most recent species threatening the wellbeing of coastal waters, the lionfish. As a recipient of the Fulbright Garcia-Robles Postdoctoral Scholar Award and a recent alumna of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, Scherer will voyage across borders, traveling to Chetumal, Mexico to begin a nine-month journey researching the invasive red lionfish.
“Applying for the fellowship was a process all its own, but I am so grateful to have been chosen for this experience,” said Scherer, who received her Ph.D. in Marine Biology at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “I’ve always wanted to travel outside the country and this is the perfect opportunity to experience a new culture but to also have a chance to develop sufficient findings and research on this particular invasive species.”
With cost of travel and living expenses covered, the Garcia-Robles Postdoctoral Scholar Award invites early career scientists to not only conduct research but to take full grasp of their cultural surroundings and network with scholars in other countries. It also allows recent graduates to gain international experience, operating in more than 140 countries world-wide. Scherer will be spending her time at El Colegio De La Frontera Sur (ECOSUR) alongside Dr. Yann Henaut, Ethologist in the Department of Biodiversity Conservation.
“Lionfish hold the highest record for any invasive species in terms of their ability to spread. The problem is they are a voracious predator, meaning they eat anything and everything they can get their fins on,” said Scherer. “Until we understand how lionfish interact with other species outside their native waters, it can be difficult to figure out what we can do to help the issue of changes in fish populations and its effect on the ecosystem as a whole.”
Although there are multiple ongoing studies of the lionfish, there are few findings that describe the ecology of lionfish interacting with local species. As lionfish are not native to the Gulf Coast, they have very few predators in the area; this is one of several factors which allows them to invade local waters, where they prey on important commercial species like snapper and grouper, with little struggle. With no signs of slowing down, the invasive species is likely to affect local fishing economies, as well as native ecosystems.
When asked who inspired her to take this opportunity, Scherer credits her family along with research advisor, Dr. Lee Smee, Associate Professor in the Department of Life Sciences at A&M-Corpus Christi.
“When Avery first started as an undergraduate, I couldn’t help but be impressed by her motivation and work ethic – she was very mature,” said Smee. “The summer my daughter was born, I had Avery in my class, so I was out quite a lot and she was still able to continue working on her own. I know through this fellowship she is going to be successful. I couldn’t be more proud.”
To learn more about the Fulbright Garcia-Robles Fellowship, click here, or search #StandForFulbright on Twitter and Instagram.