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The ocean continues to be a sink for microparticle (MP) pollution, which includes microplastics and other anthropogenic debris. While documentation of MP in marine systems is now common, we lack information on rates of MP ingestion by baleen whales and their prey. We collected and assessed MP loads in zooplankton prey and fecal samples of gray whales ( Eschrichtius robustus ) feeding in coastal Oregon, USA and produced the first estimates of baleen whale MP consumption rates from empirical data of zooplankton MP loads (i.e., not modeled). All zooplankton species examined were documented gray whale prey items ( Atylus tridens, Holmesimysis sculpta, Neomysis rayii ) and contained an average of 4 MP per gram of tissue, mostly of the microfiber morphotype. We extrapolated MP loads in zooplankton prey to estimate the daily MP consumption rates of pregnant and lactating gray whales, which ranged between 6.5 and 21 million MP/day. However, these estimates do not account for MP ingested from ambient water or benthic sediments, which may be high for gray whales given their benthic foraging strategy. We also assessed MP loads in fecal samples from gray whales feeding in the same spatio-temporal area and detected MP in all samples examined, which included microfibers and significantly larger morphotypes than in the zooplankton. We theorize that gray whales ingest MP via both indirect trophic transfer from their zooplankton prey and directly through indiscriminate consumption of ambient MPs when foraging benthically where they consume larger MP morphotypes that have sunk and accumulated on the seafloor. Hence, our estimated daily MP consumption rates for gray whales are likely conservative because they are only based on indirect MP ingestion via prey. Our results improve the understanding of MP loads in marine ecosystems and highlight the need to assess the health impacts of MP consumption on zooplankton and baleen whales, particularly due to the predominance of microfibers in samples, which may be more toxic and difficult to excrete than other MP types. Furthermore, the high estimated rates of MP consumption by gray whales highlights the need to assess health consequences to individuals and subsequent scaled-up effects on population vital rates.more » « lessFree, publicly-accessible full text available June 26, 2024
null (Ed.)A recently launched National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) aims to enhance graduate education by integrating research and professional skill development within a diverse, inclusive and supportive academy. This contribution will describe three initial interventions within this NRT, namely, an onboarding and orientation event, a career exploration symposium, and a multidisciplinary introductory course. In addition, the assessment of each of these interventions – and the outcomes thereof – will be presented and discussed. Prior to the onboarding and orientation event, trainees received the event’s agenda and checklists summarizing pre- and post-event assignments. Pre-event assignments were designed to familiarize trainees with the NRT, the process of drafting an individual development plan (IDP), and the consent form required for traineeship evaluation purposes. During the event – held online due to COVID-19 – and following introductions, trainees were given the opportunity to ask questions stemming from the pre-event assignments. Subsequently, trainees were introduced to several tools (e.g., checklists as well as sample developmental network maps and mentoring contracts) to guide and track their development and progression through the traineeship. The event concluded with a discussion on topics that also constituted post-event assignments, including registering and preparing for both the career exploration symposium and the multidisciplinary introductory course. Survey data collected after the event indicated that trainees valued the opportunity to learn more about the NRT, ask questions, and meet faculty who expressed a commitment to student success. Shortly thereafter, trainees attended a career exploration symposium and moderated sessions featuring speakers representing careers of interest. Indeed, the symposium was purposely designed to expose trainees to a wide range of career pathways. In addition, practical career tools and skills for STEM professionals were discussed in several breakout sessions. Finally, the symposium ended with a panel discussion comprising four diverse and accomplished recent Ph.D. graduates, who discussed mental health and communication issues prior to answering questions asked by trainees. Trainee responses to a post-symposium survey were also positive as trainees reported the following: an increase in knowledge of career paths and hiring sectors, an appreciation for the diversity of the presenters and career paths, and the attainment of at least one new skill or strategy they felt would aid in their graduate school success. In their first semester in the NRT, trainees take an interdisciplinary course covering the high priority convergent research topic targeted by the traineeship. This course is co-taught by faculty of seven different departments and is composed of four units, each focused on a research question requiring extensive interdisciplinary collaboration to be answered. Teams of at least three core faculty with the cumulative expertise needed to answer each question co-teach each unit, emphasizing concepts that students must understand to address the question at hand. During this course, four multi-departmental interdisciplinary student teams are formed, each focusing on – and conducting a critical review of the literature in – one of the research questions. Indeed, emphasis is placed on providing students with the knowledge and tools to find, critically evaluate, summarize, and present literature on the topic.more » « less