Heck Lab Manager Dottie Byron didn't begin her college career with marine science in mind, but a marine biology class changed her plans.
"I grew up on the edge of the Everglades and had planned on working in that system. In a random set of circumstances, I ended up in the marine biology class and was hooked," Byron explained. "I mentored under the marine biology professor, helping/volunteering with her and her grad students and never looked back. I've always preferred plants to animals and found seagrasses and algae fascinating."
An internship brought the Parkland, Florida native to the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in the fall of 1999. Byron interned with Dr. Ken Heck in his lab. Byron's work in Heck's lab and his need for a tech brought the pair back together in 2004.
Today, Byron keeps the Heck Lab projects on track and manages the Alabama Center for Ecological Resilience which is one of the GoMRI consortium grants.
"ACER, for the past 2 years has provided me the opportunity to learn a new set of skills in management," Byron said.
Along with ACER, other projects include seagrass monitoring for the National Park System's Gulf Islands National Seashore and a Bio-Optical Model for Seagrass Restoration.
"We look at the water quality factors in our area (the Lower Perdido Bay system and the Mobile-Tensaw Delta) that most impact the amount of light reaching seagrass," Byron shared. "Once we know which factors have the most impact, we can set limits that are favorable to seagrasses and other SAV to help resource managers and restoration activities."
With Byron's work on marine plants, it's not surprising her favorite marine creature is the calcareous algae named Halimeda. Byron had the chance to study Halimeda while diving on the coral reefs in the Florida Keys.
"This algae is cool because it doesn't have the typical plant cell like we've all learned about in biology class," Byron explained. "The whole plant is basically one cell with a bunch of nuclei and chloroplast floating around in cytoplasm. They can regrow a whole plant from fragments and they also have really cool sexual reproduction where all of the contents of the plant turn into gametes which are clustered along the edge of the thallus (algal body), leaving the thallus white. The gametes are then released into the water column, kind of like coral spawning."
Byron graduated from the University of Central Florida and moved on for her M.S. at Florida International University. All of her degrees are biological science, but her career focuses on marine ecology.