Laura Koehn

Graduate Student

I first became interested in penguins when my mother gave me a stuffed animal penguin for my 7th birthday. When I first came to the University of Washington (UW) as an undergrad, I saw on the university homepage that a professor named Dee Boersma was studying Magellanic penguins in Argentina. I emailed Prof. Boersma, started going to lab meetings, began conducting my own research with data from the database, and eventually got the opportunity to go to Argentina to participate in fieldwork with the project. My penguin research, which I began as an undergraduate, is centered on the inheritance of morphological traits from parents to offspring. Inheritance, or heritability, is key to understanding the potential of these traits to evolve overtime.

I’m now a graduate student at UW in the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. While in Argentina for field work, I was exposed to the complicated relationships between top predators (like penguins) and fisheries for small marine species that penguins rely on for food.  These middle-of-the-food-web prey species include sardines, anchovies, and squid, which are termed “forage fish”. Forage fish species are commonly caught and processed into fishmeal to feed farmed fish and agriculture animals like pigs and chickens. Today, I’ve changed ecosystems and now study the interactions between forage fish, predators, and forage fisheries in the California Current ecosystem. There are many seabird predators in the California Current that rely on forage fish, like rhinoceros auklets, tufted puffins, marbled murrelets, and common murres. I’m also interested in management and policy and how to actually incorporate predator-prey interactions into fisheries management plans.

Interests: Seabirds, forage fish, ecosystem modeling, ecology, conservation, fisheries management, mathematical biology/biological modeling.