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Ph.D. Student Studies "Survivalist" Fish Species

January 15, 2010

Ph.D. Student Studies "Survivalist" Fish Species

Jason Baumsteiger is conducting some “fishy” research as a
doctoralstudent at UC Merced.

Baumsteiger, who is earning a doctorate in the
School of Natural Sciences’
Quantitative and Systems Biologyprogram, is studying a type of fish called sculpin.

A population geneticist and conservation biologist, he is focusing on the freshwater varieties of sculpin.

“Most sculpin are marine-based,” he said. “But there is a whole group that is found in freshwater. We’re finding these sculpin in a bunch of different environments along the West Coast, from Ventura to southern Alaska.”

One goal of his
researchis to study their genes and learn why certain species have been able thrive in fresh water environments.

“These fish appear to be doing fine and have adapted to modern conditions,” he said.  “So, instead of focusing on something that is disappearing, we’re looking at how these have evolved. We want to learn why it’s a good survivalist.”

Baumsteiger said learning how to protect and restore the diversity of life on Earth is one of the driving forces behind conservation biology.

Before he came to UC Merced in fall 2008, Baumsteiger earned a master’s degree in natural resources from Humboldt State University and worked in several related fields. He spent four years as a fishery biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, helped establish and manage genetics laboratories, and published several papers.

But Baumsteiger realized that in order for his career to advance as he envisioned, he needed to return to school to earn his Ph.D.  While doing research on universities and their programs of study, he contacted UC Merced Professor
Andres Aguilar. They had the same advisor at UCLA while he was an undergraduate and Aguilar was working on his doctorate.

Besides getting to work with Aguilar, Baumsteiger relished the chance to conduct innovative research at a new, up and coming university.

“I didn’t mind that start-up feel that I knew I would experience at UC Merced,” Baumsteiger said.

Having access to modern equipment and his prior experiences as a teaching assistant and laboratory manager would allow him to immediately begin his research. 

Baumsteiger says that UC Merced has been a good fit for him. The emphasis on interdisciplinary research has allowed him to explore a variety of interests.

But at UC Merced researching sculpin, he is not a fish out of water.