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Shedd Aquarium New Hires Expand Capacity for Research and Applied Conservation Science

Aquarium Additions will Amplify Marine and Freshwater Research Locally, Nationally and Internationally

September 28, 2023

Dr. Yasmín Quintana stands in front of the Shedd Entrance for a headshot, and Dr. Shayle Matsuda stands in front of a body of water for a headshot.

Photo by: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez

Shedd Aquarium adds two new positions within the Daniel P. Haerther Center for Conservation and Research. The addition of these two full-time scientists will magnify Shedd’s ability to advance and apply important conservation research here in Chicago, across the country, and with partners globally.

Dr. Yasmín Quintana joins Shedd as the aquarium’s Manager for the Center for Species Survival: Freshwater – a brand new position at the aquarium. Centers for Species Survival are partnerships between leading conservation institutions and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC). This designation, recognized earlier this year, expands Shedd’s efforts to advance freshwater conservation by assessing conservation needs, developing science-driven conservation plans, and acting for aquatic species in need.

In this role, Quintana will work alongside local stakeholders to identify conservation gaps for freshwater systems in Central America, develop conservation plans, and expand capacity-building efforts in the region. Quintana joins Shedd after 10 years working with government, non-government, and international development organizations such as the National Council of Protected Areas in Guatemala, the Nature Coast Biological Station-University of Florida, and Chemonics International-USAID. She has extensive field research experience in marine and continental ecosystems in Guatemala, Equatorial Guinea, Florida, and Texas.

Quintana holds a Master of Science degree in Interdisciplinary Ecology-Fisheries from the University of Florida and recently completed her Ph.D. in Ecology and Conservation Biology, with an emphasis on aquatic ecology at Texas A&M University.

“Aside from being a brilliant and passionate scientist, Dr. Quintana brings with her a deep connection to community outreach that helps translate research into action,” said Dr. Chuck Knapp, vice president of conservation research at Shedd Aquarium. “We know so little about the aquatic inhabitants of freshwater systems in Central America, and Dr. Quintana will be instrumental in building local partnerships to help us survey and safeguard the endemic freshwater species we discover through our work as a Center for Species Survival.”

Dr. Shayle Matsuda, who has conducted coral research for Shedd as part of his 2-year Smith Conservation Fellowship, will transition to a full-time research biologist at the end of the year. During his fellowship, Matsuda focused on the effects of climate change on reef-building corals and the role of coral microbial communities (symbiotic algae and bacteria) in stress resilience and recovery to inform conservation intervention strategies.

In Matsuda’s new role, he will continue his coral research efforts while also formalizing a program that examines the role of microorganisms in the health and survival of species and ecosystems (both marine and freshwater), with the goal of developing novel and innovative conservation solutions that underscore and leverage the power of microorganisms. Matsuda grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and dreamed of one day working with Shedd when he was young. The aquarium was the first place he saw living coral, which sparked his introduction to, and passion for, the ocean.

Matsuda holds a Master of Science in Biology: Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology from San Francisco State University and the California Academy of Sciences, as well as a Ph.D. in Marine Biology from University of Hawaiʻi Mānoa and the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology.

“We are at a time of great concern for the health and future of our planet, but I am excited about the novel approaches that Dr. Matsuda’s brings to understanding how environmental threats impact less conspicuous yet important contributors to our environments, and how we can manage for healthier ecosystems,” said Dr. Knapp. “I have had the pleasure to witness Dr. Matsuda’s work firsthand as a postdoctoral fellow, and I look forward to supporting his ongoing efforts to find real-time solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing wildlife both in Chicago and well beyond.”

Shedd’s Conservation Research team is comprised of 11 expert scientists who leverage their vast knowledge in both marine and freshwater environments to better understand wild animals and their habitats to inform management strategies meant to protect them. The aquarium’s conservation and sustainability programs also invite guests and community scientists from all walks of life to get informed and involved to make a difference for animals. The team’s research projects span the Great Lakes to The Bahamas and include understanding how policy and habitat enhancements affect water quality and fish in the Chicago waterways, identifying and studying impacts of shifting migratory patterns of Midwestern fishes, quantifying the efficacy of habitat restoration for amphibians, investigating best management practices for Queen conch, identifying climate-resistant coral, and more.

Last year, Shedd Aquarium announced a new strategic plan – its Centennial Commitment – which accelerates access and connection to nature for all and amplifies ways to care, conserve and act to ensure an equitable, sustainable, and thriving future for people and aquatic life. This wide-ranging vision includes an emphasis on accelerated aquatic research and science to address the largest threats to biodiversity and species extinction. The addition of Quintana’s leadership and Matsuda’s continued research in the field supports Shedd’s deep investment in preserving, sustaining, and conserving critical biodiverse environments globally.

VISUALS: Photos of both Yasmin Quintana and Shayle Matsuda can be viewed and downloaded here:

Photo credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez