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During summer semester, the campus is almost deserted in comparison to its usual crowded state during the fall and spring semesters. However, a certain lab in the Engineering Technology building was occupied daily by researchers looking at brine shrimp.
“We are on campus every day, all day,” Weber State University Professor Nicole Berthelemy said. Berthelemy has been a professor at Weber State since 2004, teaching human biology, anatomy and soon endocrinology in the zoology department.
Stella Redon Calvillo of the University of Valencia in Spain traveled to Utah this summer to research brine shrimp parasites. She is working on her doctorate in aquaculture and this project is her dissertation research. Redon is also a member of the Spanish Research Council (CSIC).
Berthelemy refers to Redon as the “shrimp expert”. The two met in Salt Lake City through an adviser of Redon’s, who mentioned she wanted to study brine shrimp in the Great Salt Lake so she could observe and compare them with those in Europe.
Redon first came to Utah in 2009 to identify the site and worked with Weber State on a study. In 2010, she traveled here again to work with Westminster University. This year, she hopes to finish the project. She has published an article concerning her past work with brine shrimp in “Natural Resources and Environmental Issues.”
Redon’s research focuses on brine shrimp parasites. She tried to identify the species of parasite and the effect it has on the American shrimp here.
The parasites are tapeworms which turn the shrimp a darker shade of red. Infected shrimp begin to swim closer to the surface and are picked up and eaten by predator birds. The tapeworms continue their life course there, then travel back into the water through the bird’s waste.
In Spain, they have the same American shrimp species because it is invasive. American brine shrimp eggs from the Great Salt Lake are sold by millions per can to be fed to fish and larger shrimp.
Because the invasive organisms spread rapidly, the American brine shrimp are even competing with native species in Spain and beginning to take over.
Redon and Berthelemy are not working to stop the spread of American brine shrimp. They say it is too late and the shrimp are needed in aquaculture to keep the ecosystem running. Also, selling the eggs is a good industry for the Great Salt Lake.
Redon has studied the effect of the parasites on both the American species in Spain and the native species there. She has looked at the morphology, life cycle and fertility of the shrimp among other things. This has led her to discover the native species are getting sicker than the American shrimp. Redon came to study the American shrimp in their native environment, the Great Salt Lake, to determine their response to infection here. This may lead to insight as to why the American species are not as strongly affected.
Redon said her research will hopefully be done in a few months. Molecular studies of the shrimp may be in her future.