University of California, Santa Barbara, U.S.A.


Recipient of Best Student Poster Award (with Jade Hiraki Morris)


A novel copepod egg predator infesting commercially important yellow rock crabs in Santa Barbara, CA [poster with lightning talk]

My name is Sophia Lecuona and I am a fourth year student at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I have been honored to work with Armand Kuris’s Parasite Ecology Lab, where I study a novel copepod egg predator present on Cancer crabs in the Santa Barbara area. Rock crabs are an economically and ecologically important species along the west coast, especially in the local area of Santa Barbara. From an exterior perspective, the high-yielding Southern California rock crab fishery is booming, producing to a level that its lucrative nature seems impenetrable. And yet, from an interior view, cavities of mismanagement threaten to dismantle the entire system. The majority of the crabs caught for the experiment have been yellow rock crabs, which are not heavily studied nor understood. Their lifespan itself is not known, but estimated to be short-lived. There is relative uncertainty of how the fishery may respond should there be further external antagonistic elements, such as a newly introduced egg predator. This is potentially alarming, considering the fact that a crash to the rock crab population would leave many fishermen vulnerable to financial stress.

I am interested in determining the crab egg mortality rate induced by the presence of these novel copepod nicothoids, describing the species, understanding the natural history life cycle of the species, and determining whether rock crabs experience auto-infection of the copepods. Our team has been working hard on learning more about the egg predator, as perhaps with a better understanding of the species, a plan can be developed to conserve the important rock crab population in Southern California.

As I move into graduate school, I plan to pursue a Master’s degree in Environmental Science and Management at the UCSB Bren School, where I will learn more applied skills to find a solution to this issue. I am grateful for WAC and their acknowledgement of our project, as there is much to be done and having connections with scientists around the world to keep an eye out for the egg predators is essential to saving crab populations.