New Faculty Hire: Erin Grey

Erin Grey is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maine in the School of Biology and Ecology. She has a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Chicago and more recently she was an Associate Professor of Biology at Governor State University. Grey came to UMaine to conduct research under Maine EPSCoR’s Maine-eDNA program as a new faculty hire in January 2021.

Portrait of Erin Grey
Erin Grey

Grey’s research looks into the application of environmental DNA (eDNA) within coastal regions, and focuses on how people are affecting the ecosystems. For example, she looks at how the use of shipping ports impact the environment around them as well as the species that call those waters home. Grey said, “I’m using eDNA to understand how coastal ecosystems are changing, and also developing new eDNA tools to increase the number of species that we can detect.”

Commercial ships are specifically important because they often travel far, sometimes even around the globe. This provides an ideal opportunity for species such as barnacles or green crabs to latch on and travel to a different ecosystem.

“We try to simulate how that process might happen on a global scale, but there’s a lot of uncertainty, so we want to see how our simulations may be right or wrong,” Grey mentioned. “We went to commercial ports and collected eDNA that would show us if we’re right to believe that two different ports connected by a lot of shipping traffic will share biodiversity characteristics.”

While most of the commercial ports that were studied were within the United States, Grey did gather data from ports in other countries like Belgium, Argentina, Australia, and Singapore, to name a few. This will allow researchers to not only find similarities in ecosystems in these far away ports, but to also keep track of possible invasive species.

While some of Grey’s work prioritizes the global application of eDNA, she also has an interest in applying eDNA techniques to crustaceans in the Gulf of Maine. For example, blue crabs from southern coastlines are moving up north due to Maine’s warming waters.

Harmful invasive species may be what comes to mind when discussing blue crab, but Grey suggests that assumption isn’t fully understood yet. Grey stated, “It could become an invasive species when the waters start warming up more, but right now we’re not sure if it’ll be harmful, or possibly even helpful.”

It is possible that there may be some positives that can result from this introduction of blue crab. Grey pointed out, “People do love to eat blue crab down south and in the Gulf of Mexico, so it could become a fishery species here in Maine. But we still need to focus on how big of an impact the crab itself will have.”