Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration: Kate Hubbard

Kate loves going to sea to research harmful algal blooms and their interactions with the environment.

Kate Hubbard

Kate Hubbard, PhD
Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration
Harmful Algal Bloomss
FWRI Saint Petersburg

BA, Biology, New College of Florida
MS, Biological Oceanography, University of Washington
PhD, Biological Oceanography, University of Washington 

I first started working on harmful algae as an undergraduate intern at Mote Marine laboratory, nearly 15 years ago. My graduate and postdoctoral research focused on understanding how genetic, environmental, and physical factors drive changes in phytoplankton communities over space and time. Through this work, I have developed and used genetic tools to rapidly identify toxic species, especially those that are difficult to identify with microscopy, in samples from all over the world.

What are you working on now? 
Florida has more than 50 species of harmful algae, and my lab groups have been working on merging microscopy and genetic identification approaches to facilitate routine identification of bloom species. We are using these approaches to better understand when and why communities change in Florida’s marine and estuarine ecosystems, and have focused studies in several regions across the state, including Florida Bay, Saint Joe Bay, and the Indian River Lagoon.

How is this information beneficial? 
Many toxic species that are morphologically similar to non-toxic species can be readily identified using genetic tools, but cannot be distinguished using light microscopy. During blooms, it is therefore sometimes necessary to use genetic characterization to identify a species to help inform management action. We are also trying to adapt several genetic approaches so that they can be incorporated into existing sampling platforms in the field to enhance early, remote detection of known toxic species like Karenia brevis.    

What is your typical work day like? 
I don’t really have a typical work day! I spend time in the field, the genetics lab, at the microscope, at meetings, and at my desk. We often conduct rapid response to fishkills and/or algae blooms, which can occur without warning and often add an element of surprise to one’s day… or month!

What is your greatest career accomplishment? 
I have had the opportunity to work with a number of bright, curious, and engaged junior scientists, and my greatest accomplishments include helping these scientists progress in their own careers. It feels great to see their own research interests take shape and to play a role in that process.   

What are some of your biggest challenges? 
I think that we have identified some of the major drivers of phytoplankton blooms, but recent work using proteomic and metagenomic approaches has really highlighted the varied interactions between individual algal cells (some positive, some negative) and among algae and bacteria or viruses. These relationships suggest that we have a long way to go in terms of fully understanding the numerous factors that shape blooms in the environment, which is both exciting and a bit daunting.   

What do you like most about your career? 
One of the best parts of my job is that every day (and every bloom) is different! I get to work with diverse groups of people, including scientists, managers, and citizens, to collectively improve our abilities to respond to algal blooms that have the potential to negatively impact ecosystem and human health. I also love going to sea, and feel that this time is especially important for developing new hypotheses about the links between biology and the environment.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not? 
I always knew that I wanted to focus on biology, but within an environmental context. While in college, my advisor suggested that oceanography might be a great way to do that, since it so interdisciplinary and considers the interactions of biology, chemistry, physics, and geology.                                                  

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science? 
Probably a farmer or a boat builder. Or both!   

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Work on something that you are passionate about, work with people that share your passion, and be respectful in your scientific practice.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time? 
I like to cook, hang out with my cats and fiance, play in the ocean, and read.

FWC Facts:
Seagrasses stabilize the sea bottom with their roots and rhizomes (underground stems) in much the same way that land grasses retard soil erosion.

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