The Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) Great Rivers Field Station welcomes postdoctoral research associate John Vincent Gatto.
A native of Louisiana, John attended the University of South Carolina-Columbia where he studied the interactions between mud crabs and oyster toadfish in oyster reefs. After graduating with an undergraduate degree in marine science in 2008, John studied great white sharks during a short internship in South Africa.
John went on to earn a PhD in biological sciences from Florida International University. For his dissertation, he studied small fish populations in the Florida Everglades to better understand recruitment dynamics in disturbed ecosystems. His research demonstrated that traditional fisheries models could be applied to a variety of ecological data to inform ecosystem restoration.
John hopes to continue his research on fish population dynamics and the influence of hydrologic variability on recruitment success in the Upper Mississippi River System.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
I am looking forward to continuing my education and professional training. The INHS has a large dataset that I am excited to take advantage of. My skills in data analysis will help me take full advantage of this dataset to answer some very important questions related to fish population and community dynamics. I am also looking forward to working in a completely different system than my previous research.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I was exposed to science at an early age by my parents. Science was always a huge part of my family because both of my parents have a PhD in Chemistry. I’m not sure when I first got interested in science though. I was always interested in everything that was underwater. I think my love of science just evolved from that.
Who or what drew you to study fish?
The movie Jaws inspired me to study fish after seeing the “you're gonna need a bigger boat” scene. I remember watching that movie with my family when I was a kid and being instantly inspired. Ever since then I would pick up every fish or shark book that I could find. I always had to go to the beach or aquarium when I was younger. I just could not get away from the water.
What are common misconceptions about your career?
I think an Auburn University recruiter sums it up nicely: “marine biology is more than just swimming with Flipper.” I was told that once when I was applying for colleges. Everyone seems to ask me if I study sharks, turtles, or dolphins when I say that I’m a fisheries biologist.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
My time in the Florida Everglades made me realize that working with nature is very difficult. You can spend weeks or months planning out your field season and nature suddenly turns its ugly head. Thunderstorms can easily ruin a day out in the field or even cancel a trip entirely. This makes collecting samples on schedule very difficult.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
I would tell future scientists not to be afraid of numbers. I never thought that I would become a quantitative guy until graduate school. Some of my favorite projects have been simply crunching the numbers of a large dataset. You do not have to be in the field all the time to do exciting science.