Jessica Feickert is working towards her Master of Science (MSc) at Leigh Marine Laboratory, working in the field of marine science. Her research looks at the life cycle of the New Zealand pea crab, which lives inside green-lipped mussels.

Job

Jessica has been studying the larvae of the pea crab, which float freely in the sea. Pea crab larvae go through several stages before metamorphosing into their adult form, but little was known about these stages before Jessica started her work.

Jessica was able to identify all the larval stages of the pea crab, including those that had not been seen before. She did this by growing the larvae in seawater in the laboratory. She tested different conditions (different food sources, different periods of light and dark and so on) to see which ones would help the larvae to move towards adulthood. She looked at the larvae under the light microscope to see whether they had grown or changed in shape.

Jessica has also been studying the settlement cues of pea crab larvae – the signals they use to help them find a mussel to settle in for the adult stage of their life cycle. She has shown that pea crabs do not settle in response to underwater sounds. This means that pea crabs behave differently to many other crabs, which use the sounds of the reef as a signal to settle.

Career pathway

Jessica has always loved nature and the outdoors, but she first got into biology in high school. She says she loved learning about animals and evolution so much that she went to the University of Auckland to study for a bachelor’s degree in biology.

Throughout her studies, Jessica has had a part-time job working in the fish department of Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium. She really enjoys it, and it helped her decide what to do next – a master’s degree in marine science at Auckland University’s Leigh Marine Laboratory.

To complete a master’s degree in science, you need to carry out an individual research project. Jessica got in contact with Professor Andrew Jeffs, a researcher at the Leigh

Marine Laboratory, to discuss possible projects. Together, they agreed that Jessica would study the life cycle of the pea crab. The ultimate aim of the project was to explore ways to stop pea crabs from settling in mussels on mussel farms.

Personal interests

Along with nature and biology, Jessica loves design. Ideally, she’d like to combine these interests in innovative ways to solve real-world problems. Jessica’s free time is spent drawing, hiking and reading.

This article is based on information current in 2013.

Published 14 June 2013