With her feet in the sea and her heart in the conservation of sea life, Iris Segura-García, Ph.D., said she decided to become a postdoctoral fellow at FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute to pursue her interests in the sustainability of South Florida’s marine ecosystems.
“I was born and raised in Mexico City, and my mom always admired but feared the sea, so we never got to see marine animals,” said Segura-García, who is also a postdoctoral researcher at FAU’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College. “Once I started majoring in biology, I became fascinated about learning about marine species. I was intrigued to know where species lived.
Specifically, Segura-García studies molecular ecology, which is understanding how animals structure ecosystems and respond to changes in their environment based on their genetic traits. She’s worked on everything from the connectivity of populations in the Caribbean spiny lobster to the evolution of wild dolphin populations and how they become distinct species. “Molecular genetics helps me find these answers in ecology.” Segura-García started her third postdoctoral fellowship at FAU’s Harbor Branch after meeting her current supervisor, Andia Chaves Fonnegra, Ph.D., during a workshop about genomics libraries in California and offered her the opportunity to collaborate on their similar research interests in ecology.
Currently, Segura-García is researching how extreme hurricanes affect the ecology of marine sponges in the US Virgin Islands and biodiversity of sponges in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). She shares her expertise on sponge biodiversity. “Unveiling the sponge biodiversity at IRL is very fascinating and beautiful to see the different species of sponges under the microscope and see the great variety they have in shape and color,” Segura-García said.
Here’s a look at Segura-García’s journey to FAU:
Why do you consider FAU the best place to carry out your research?
My research projects have focused on understanding the ecology, existence and persistence of various marine taxa in response to environmental variability and anthropogenic stressors to promote science-based conservation and management plans. I believe my research interests, skills and relevant experience in local marine ecosystems at the Virgin Islands, Florida Keys and IRL, are a good fit at FAU and could enable me to collaborate and build upon ongoing research.
When did you develop an interest in marine ecology?
My research interest started early during my undergraduate studies. I began volunteering in several projects and oceanographic campaigns when on the third year of my bachelor’s degree in biology, which allowed me to acquire additional skills and knowledge. I learned that by continuing my post-graduate studies, I could become a professional scientist. I feel fortunate that my qualifications allowed me to obtain funding for my graduate studies and to support my research.
What was your journey like coming to FAU?
Scientific networking has been key to develop my professional career. I met my current FAU supervisor in California a couple of years ago while attending a workshop on genomics. In this workshop we learned how to prepare genomic libraries and realized that our research interests were similar. At the time, I was a postdoctoral fellow at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce, Florida, before coming to FAU. Coincidentally, Fonnegra joined FAU’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute as an assistant professor and offered me the opportunity to collaborate with her at her new lab.
What has been a meaningful project throughout your research career?
I developed the first Marine Fisheries DNA-barcode project for Myanmar small-scale fisheries, which laid the foundation for ongoing and future conservation genomics studies in the country. These genomics studies will strengthen and advance sustainable fisheries management plans for one of the planet’s most biodiverse yet understudied seas.
To accomplish this, I collected more than 1,000 tissue samples in fishing communities of south Myanmar to identify harvested organisms at the species taxonomic level. I also generated genome-wide genotypes to explore the impacts of fisheries activity on the genetic diversity and resilience of unregulated species under heavy fishing pressure.
What are your future plans?
I foresee my professional development including a strong research component focused on the IRL, which stretches 156 miles along Florida’s east coast.
I want to continue building on my research in evolutionary ecology and conservation genetics. My research will focus on using genomic approaches to understand how species and communities respond to the pressures of rapidly changing environmental conditions. I would like to expand on my ongoing research in the IRL to include fish and crustacean species of commercial interest. I am interested in studying the effects of extreme events, such as habitat degradation and recurrent harmful algal blooms, on the genetic diversity and resilience of natural fish populations. These disruptive events can also have a significant impact on local recreational and commercial fishing. I plan to continue working and collaborating on studies in ecosystems around Florida and will incorporate other geographies where I have worked and established a valuable sample set and strong network of collaborators. I also wish to eventually mentor my own students and nurture their interest in and enthusiasm for science.