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Kaycee Morra

Postdoctoral Scholar

Ph.D. Zoology, Michigan State University, 2018
B.S. Zoology, Michigan State University, 2012
Curriculum Vitae

My name is Kaycee Morra (she/her); I am a stable isotope biogeochemist and the current postdoctoral fellow of Maggie Osburn. I am dedicated to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusivity in higher education, STEM and the geosciences. As such, I am a grateful participant of the WHOI- and NSF-funded national initiative devoted to Unlearning Racism in Geoscience (URGE). When I’m not in the lab, I enjoy crocheting, eating delicious plant-based foods, hiking, kayaking, and spending time with my dogs.

During my Ph.D. at Michigan State, I applied amino acid-specific nitrogen isotope analysis to the study of Hawaiian seabird foraging ecology in order to investigate how these wide-ranging apex predators have altered their foraging habits and trophic dynamics in response to anthropogenic effects like climate change and industrial fishing. I broadened the scope of this project during my three years as a postdoctoral scholar in Marilyn Fogel’s lab at the University of California Riverside by incorporating amino acid-specific carbon and hydrogen isotope analyses. This triple isotope approach enables me to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how seabird diet and nutrition, physiology, and foraging location have changed within the past century, providing critical insight into Pacific Ocean food webs.

More recently, my research interests have turned toward holometabolous insect physiology and the refinement of isotope techniques for tracing terrestrial animal migrations, microbial ecology, and applications of amino acid-specific isotope analyses to human health and diet, particularly pertaining to vulnerable populations like low-income food desert residents and people with eating disorders. Additionally, I am developing analytical methodology for position-specific isotope analysis, which is an exciting new frontier in stable isotope biogeochemistry! This technique will allow me to track the fate of isotopically labeled dietary molecules, identify the biochemical origin of amino acids in animal tissues, and estimate the relative importance of amino acid incorporation via direct dietary routing versus biosynthesis by either the host or their microbiota.

Selected Publications

Morra, K., Chikaraishi, Y., James, H., Rossman, S., Wiley, A. and Ostrom, P. (2020). Seasonality of decadal-scale trophic declines and nutrient regime shifts in the Laysan albatross and Newell’s shearwater. Marine Ecology Progress Series 654.

Morra, K., Chikaraishi, Y., Gandhi, H., James, H., Rossman, S., Wiley, A., Raine, A., Beck, J. and Ostrom, P. (2019). Trophic declines and decadal-scale foraging segregation in three pelagic seabirds. Oecologia 189(2).

Morra, K., Ostrom, P., Wiley, A. and James, H. (2018). Influence of feather selection and sampling protocol on interpretations of Hawaiian petrel (Pterodroma sandwichensis) nonbreeding season foraging habits from stable isotope analysis. Waterbirds 41(1).

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