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  • richardmitnick 11:56 am on December 8, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ecology, , HSS-Smith; Hairston; and Slobodkin, , Robert Paine: "The Ecologist Who Threw Starfish", Sea otters, The HSS hypothesis was essentially a description of the natural world based on observation., There are ecological rules that regulate the numbers and kinds of animals and plants in a given place.   

    From Nautilus: “The Ecologist Who Threw Starfish” 


    From Nautilus

    March 10, 2016 [Just now in social media]
    By Sean B. Carroll
    Illustration by Aad Goudappel

    Illustration: Aad Goudappel

    Robert Paine showed us the surprising importance of predators.

    Even in 1963, one had to go pretty far to find places in the United States that were not disturbed by people. After a good deal of searching, Robert Paine, a newly appointed assistant professor of zoology at the University of Washington in Seattle, found a great prospect at the far northwestern corner of the lower 48 states.

    On a field trip with students to the Pacific Coast, Paine wound up at Mukkaw Bay, at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The curved bay’s sand and gravel beach faced west into the open ocean, and was dotted with large outcrops. Among the rocks, Paine discovered a thriving community. The tide pools were full of colorful creatures—green anemones, purple sea urchins, pink seaweed, bright red Pacific blood starfish, as well as sponges, limpets, and chitons. Along the rock faces, the low tide exposed bands of small acorn barnacles, and large, stalked goose barnacles, beds of black California mussels, and some very large, purple and orange starfish, called Pisaster ochraceus.

    “Wow, this is what I have been looking for,” he thought.

    Star hurler: Robert Paine at Mukkaw Bay, on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, in 1974, and again recently. To understand the role of predatory starfish he hurled them from an area and later returned to assess the sea life without them.
    Left: Bob Paine / Alamy.com ; Right: Kevin Schafer / Alamy Stock Photo

    The next month, June 1963, he made the four-hour journey back to Mukkaw from Seattle, first crossing Puget Sound by ferry, then driving along the coastline of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, then onto the lands of the Makah Nation, and out to the cove of Mukkaw Bay. At low tide, he scampered onto a rocky outcrop.

    With a crowbar in hand and mustering all of the leverage he could with his 6-foot, 6-inch frame, he pried loose every purple or orange starfish on the slab, grabbed them, and hurled them as far as he could out into the bay.

    So began one of the most important experiments in the history of ecology.

    The 1960s were a time of revolution, but it was not all just sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Inside laboratories across the world, scientists were plumbing the depths of the gene to decipher the genetic code and the molecular rules of life, sparking a revolution that would gather dozens of Nobel Prizes and ultimately transform medicine.

    But largely outside of this spotlight, a few other biologists had started asking some simple, seemingly naïve questions about the wider world: Why is the planet green? Why don’t the animals eat all of the food? And what happens when certain animals are removed from a place? These questions led to the discovery that, just as there are molecular rules that regulate the numbers of different kinds of molecules and cells in the body, there are ecological rules that regulate the numbers and kinds of animals and plants in a given place. And these rules may have as much or more to do with our future welfare than all the molecular rules we may ever discover.

    Why Is the Planet Green?

    Paine’s journey to Mukkaw Bay and its starfish was a circuitous one. Born and raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Paine’s interests in nature were fueled by exploring the New England woods. His first love was bird-watching, with butterflies and salamanders close seconds. Paine was inspired by the writings of prominent naturalists, who opened his eyes to the drama of wildlife. He was as enthralled by intimate accounts of spider behavior as by Jim Corbett’s hair-raising tales of tracking down tigers and leopards in rural India, in Man-Eaters of Kumaon.

    After enrolling at Harvard, and inspired by several famous paleontologists on the faculty, Paine developed an intense new interest in animal fossils. He was so fascinated by the marine animals that lived in the seas more than 400 million years ago that he decided to study geology and paleontology in graduate school at the University of Michigan.

    The course requirements entailed rather dry surveys of various animal “ologies”—ichthyology (fishes), herpetology (reptiles and amphibians), and so forth that Paine found very boring. One exception was a course on the natural history of freshwater invertebrates taught by ecologist Fred Smith. Paine appreciated how the professor provoked his students to think.

    One memorable spring day, the sort of day when professors don’t feel like teaching and students don’t want to be inside, Smith told the class, “We are going to stay in this room.” He looked outside at a tree that was just getting its leaves.

“Why is that tree green?” Smith asked, looking out the window.

    “Chlorophyll,” a student replied, correctly naming the leaf pigment, but Smith was heading down a different path.

    “Why isn’t all of its greenery eaten?” Smith continued. It was such a simple question, but Smith showed how even such basic things were not known. “There is a host of insects out there. Maybe something is controlling them?” he mused.

    At the end of his first year, Smith sensed Paine’s unhappiness with geology, and suggested that he consider ecology instead. “Why don’t you be my student?” he asked.

    It was a major change in direction, and there was a catch. Paine proposed to study some fossil animals from the Devonian period in nearby rocks. Smith said, “No way.” Paine had to study living, not extinct creatures. Paine agreed, and Smith became his adviser.

    Smith had long been interested in brachiopods or “lamp shells,” marine animals with an upper and lower shell, joined at a hinge. Paine knew about the animals because they were abundant in the fossil record, but their present-day ecology was not well known. Paine’s first task was to find living forms. Lacking a nearby ocean, Paine made scouting trips to Florida in 1957 and 1958, and found some promising locations. With Smith’s approval, he began what he called his “graduate-student sabbatical.” In June 1959, he drove back to Florida and began living out of his Volkswagen van. For 11 months he studied the range, habitat, and behavior of one species.

    It was the sort of work that provided a solid foundation to a naturalist-in-training, and it would earn Paine his Ph.D. But the filter-feeding brachiopods were not the most dynamic animals. And sifting large amounts of sand for the less than quarter-inch-long creatures was, well, just not very exciting.

    As Paine shoveled his way along the Gulf Coast, it was not Florida’s brachiopods that captured his imagination. On the Florida panhandle, Paine discovered the Alligator Harbor Marine Laboratory, and was given permission to stay there. At the tip of nearby Alligator Point, he noticed that for a few days each month, the low tide exposed an enormous gathering of large predatory snails, such as the horse conch, some more than a foot long. The mud and sawgrass of Alligator Point was not at all boring, quite the contrary—it was a battlefield.

    On top of his thesis work on brachiopods, Paine made a careful study of the snails. He counted eight abundant snail species, and took detailed notes on who ate whom. In this “gastropod eats gastropod” arena, Paine saw that without exception it was always a larger snail devouring a smaller one, but not everything that was smaller. The 11-pound horse conch, for example, dined almost exclusively on other snails, and paid little attention to smaller prey such as the clams that were the main fare for the smaller snails.

    While Paine was in Florida watching predators up close, his advisor Smith had kept thinking about those green trees and the roles of predators in nature. Smith was keenly interested in not just the structure of communities, but in the processes that shaped them. He often had bag lunches with two colleagues, Nelson Hairston Sr. and Lawrence Slobodkin, during which they had friendly arguments about major ideas in ecology. All three scientists were interested in the processes that control animal populations, and they debated explanations circulating at the time. One major school of thought was that population size was controlled by physical conditions such as the weather. Smith, Hairston, and Slobodkin (hereafter dubbed “HSS”) all doubted this idea because, if true, it meant that population sizes fluctuated randomly with the weather. Instead, the trio was convinced that biological processes must control the abundance of species in nature, at least to some degree.

    HSS pictured the food chain as subdivided into different levels according to the food each consumed (known as trophic levels). At the bottom were the decomposers that degrade organic debris; above them were the producers, the plants that relied on sunlight, rain, and soil nutrients; the next level were the consumers, the herbivores that ate plants; and above them the predators that ate the herbivores.

    The ecological community generally accepted that each level limited the next higher level; that is, populations were positively regulated from the “bottom up.” But Smith and his lunch buddies pondered the observation that seemed at odds with this view: The terrestrial world is green. They knew that herbivores generally do not completely consume all of the vegetation available. Indeed, most plant leaves only show signs of being partially eaten. To HSS, that meant that herbivores were not food-limited, and that something else was limiting herbivore populations. That something, they believed, were predators, negatively regulating herbivore populations from the “top-down” in the food chain. While predator-prey relationships had long been studied by ecologists, it was generally thought that the availability of prey regulated predator numbers and not vice-versa. The proposal that predators as a whole acted to regulate prey populations was a radical twist.

    To bolster their case, HSS noted instances where herbivore populations had exploded after the removal of predators, such as the Kaibab deer population in Northern Arizona that increased after decimation of local wolf and coyote populations. They assembled their observations and arguments in a paper entitled “Community Structure, Population Control, and Competition” and submitted it to the journal Ecology in May 1959.

    It was rejected. The article did not see the light of day until the year-end issue of the American Naturalist in 1960.

    The proposal that predators regulate herbivore populations is now widely known as the “HSS hypothesis” or “Green World Hypothesis.” While HSS declared, “The logic used is not easily refuted,” their ideas, like most that challenge the status quo, drew a lot of criticism. One legitimate critique was their claims needed testing and more evidence. And that was just what Smith’s former student set out to do on Mukkaw Bay in 1963.

    Ruler of the tidal zone: Starfish are opportunistic gourmands that eat barnacles, limpets, snails, and mussels. In this rocky intertidal zone on the Pacific coast, the starfish prey on mussels, which enables other species such as kelp and small animals to occupy the community. David Cowles, rosario.wallawalla.edu/inverts

    Kick It and See

    The HSS hypothesis was essentially a description of the natural world based on observation. Indeed, virtually all of ecology up to the 1960s had been based upon observation. The limitation of such observational biology was that it left itself open to alternative explanations and hypotheses. Paine realized that if he wanted to understand how nature worked—the rules that regulated animal populations—he would have to find situations where he could intervene and break them. In the specific case of the roles of predators, he needed a setting where he could remove predators and see what happened—what would later be described as “kick it and see” ecology. Hence, the starfish-hurling.

    Twice a month every spring and summer, and once a month in the winter, Paine kept returning to Mukkaw to repeat his starfish-throwing ritual. On a 25-feet long, 6-feet tall stretch of rock, he removed all of the starfish. On an adjacent stretch, he let nature take her course. On each plot, he counted the number and calculated the density of the inhabitants, tracking 15 species in all.

    To understand the structure of the Mukkaw food web, Paine paid close attention to what the predators were eating. The starfish has the neat trick of everting its stomach to consume prey. To see what they were feasting upon, Paine turned more than 1,000 starfish over and examined the animals held against their stomachs. He discovered that the starfish was an opportunistic gourmand that ate barnacles, chitons, limpets, snails, and mussels. While the small barnacles were the most numerous prey—the starfish was able to scarf up dozens of the little crustaceans at a time—they were not its primary source of calories. Mussels and chitons were the most important contributors to the starfish diet.

    By September, just three months after he began removing the starfish, Paine could already see that the community was changing. The acorn barnacles had spread out to occupy 60 to 80 percent of the available space. But by June of 1964, a year into the experiment, the acorn barnacles were in turn being crowded out by small, but rapidly growing goose barnacles and mussels. Moreover, four species of algae had largely disappeared, and the two limpet and two chiton species had abandoned the plot. While not preyed upon by the starfish, the anemone and sponges populations had also decreased. However, the population of one small predatory snail, Thais emarginata, increased 10- to 20-fold.

    Altogether, the removal of the predatory starfish had quickly reduced the diversity of the intertidal community from the original 15 species to eight.

    The results of this simple experiment were astonishing. They showed that one predator could control the composition of species in a community through its prey—affecting both animals it ate as well as animals and plants that it did not eat.

    As Paine continued the experiment over the next five years, the line of mussels advanced down the rock face by an average of almost 3 feet toward the low tide mark, monopolizing most of the available space and pushing all other species out completely. Paine realized that the starfish exerted their strong effects primarily by keeping the mussels in check. For the animals and algae of the intertidal zone, the important resource was real estate—space on the rocks. The mussels were very strong competitors for that space, and without the starfish, they took over and forced other species out. The predator stabilized the community by negatively regulating the population of the competitively dominant species.

    Paine’s starfish-tossing was strong confirmation of the HSS hypothesis that predators exerted control from the top down. But this was just one experiment with one predator in one spot on the Pacific Coast. If Paine was going to draw any generalities, it was important to test other sites and other predators. The dramatic results of the Mukkaw Bay experiments inspired a flurry of kick-it-and-see experiments.

    Paine discovered uninhabited Tatoosh Island when he was out on a salmon-fishing trip. On this small, storm-battered island, several miles up the coast from Mukkaw Bay and about half a mile offshore, Paine found many of the same species clinging to the rocks, including large Pisaster starfish. With the permission of the Makah tribe, Paine started tossing them back in the water. Within a few months, the mussels started spreading across the predator-free rocks.

    While on sabbatical in New Zealand, Paine investigated another intertidal community at the north end of a beach near Auckland. There, he found a different starfish species called Stichaster australis that preyed on the New Zealand green-lipped mussel, the same species exported to restaurants around the world. Over a period of nine months Paine removed all of the starfish from one 400-square-foot area, and left an adjacent, similar plot alone. He saw immediate and striking effects. The treated area quickly began to be dominated by mussels. Six of 20 other species initially present vanished in just eight months; within 15 months the majority of space was occupied solely by the mussels.

    To Paine, the predatory starfish of Washington and New Zealand were “keystones” in the structure of intertidal communities. Just as the stone at the apex of an arch is necessary for the stability of the structure, these apex predators at the top of the food web are critical to the diversity of an ecosystem. Dislodge them, and as Paine showed, the community falls apart. Paine’s pioneering experiments, and his coining of the term “keystone species” prompted the search for keystones in other communities, and would lead him to another seminal idea.

    Sea Otters and the Cascading Effect

    Paine’s kick-it-and-see experiments were not limited to manipulating predators. He was interested in understanding the rules that determined the overall make-up of coastal communities. Other prominent inhabitants of the tide pools and shallow waters included a great variety of algae, such as the large brown seaweed known as kelp. But their distribution was patchy—abundant and diverse in some places, nearly absent from others. One of the most prevalent grazers on the algae were sea urchins. Paine and zoologist Robert Vadas set out to find out what effect the urchins had on algal diversity.

    To do so, they removed all of the urchins by hand from some pools around Mukkaw Bay, or barred them from areas within Friday Harbor (near Bellingham) with wire cages. They left nearby pools and areas untouched as controls for their experiment. They observed dramatic effects of removing the sea urchins—several species of algae burst forth in the urchin-free zones. The control areas with large urchin populations contained very few algae.

    Paine also noticed that such urchin-dominated “barrens” were common in pools around Tatoosh Island. At first glance, the urchin barrens seemed to violate a key assertion of the HSS hypothesis that herbivores tended not to consume all of the vegetation available. But the explanation for why there were such barrens in Pacific waters would soon become clear—in the surprising discovery of another keystone species, an animal that had been removed from Washington’s coast long before Paine started tinkering with nature.

    Sea otters once ranged from Northern Japan to the Aleutian Islands and along the North American Pacific Coast as far south as Baja California. Coveted for their luxurious fur, the densest of all marine mammals, the animals were hunted so intensively in the 18th and 19th centuries that by the early 1900s only 2,000 or so animals remained of an original population of 150,000 to 300,000, and the species had disappeared from most of its range, including Washington state. The species gained protected status in 1911 under the terms of an international treaty. After their near-extermination from the Aleutian Islands, the animals rebounded to high densities in some locations.

    In 1971, Paine was offered a trip to one of those places—Amchitka Island, a treeless island in the western part of the Aleutians. Some students were working on the kelp communities there and Paine flew out to offer his advice. Jim Estes, a student from the University of Arizona, met with Paine and described his research plans. Estes was interested in sea otters, but he was not an ecologist. He explained to Paine that he was thinking about studying how the kelp forests supported the thriving sea otter populations.

    “Jim, you are asking the wrong questions,” Paine told him. “You want to look at the three trophic levels: sea otters eat urchins, sea urchins eat kelp.”

    The importance of being a sea otter: In the presence of sea otters, sea urchin populations are controlled, which allows for kelp forests to grow (left). In the absence of sea otters, urchins proliferate, forming “barrens” that lack kelp (right). Bob Steneck

    Estes had only seen Amchitka with its abundant otters and kelp forests. He quickly realized the opportunity to compare islands with and without otters. With fellow student John Palmisano, Estes traveled to Shemya Island, a 6-square-mile chunk of rock 200 miles to the west without otters. Their first hint that something was very different was when they walked down to the beach and saw huge sea urchin carcasses. But the real shock came when Estes dove under the water for the first time.

    “The most dramatic moment of learning in my life happened in less than a second. And that was sticking my head in the water at Shemya Island,” Estes recalled. “We were in this sea of just sea urchins. And there was no kelp anywhere. Any fool would have been able to figure out what was going on.”

    Estes and Palmisano saw other striking differences between the two communities around each island: Colorful rockfish, harbor seals, and bald eagles were abundant around Amchitka, but not around otter-less Shemya. They proposed that the vast differences between the two communities were driven by sea otters, which were voracious predators of sea urchins. They suggested that sea otters were keystone species whose negative regulation of sea urchin populations was key to the structure and diversity of the coastal marine community.

    Estes’ and Palmisano’s observations suggested that the reintroduction of sea otters would lead to a dramatic restructuring of coastal ecosystems. Shortly after their pioneering study, the opportunity arose to test the impact of sea otters as they spread along the Alaskan coast and re-colonized various communities. In 1975, sea otters were absent from Deer Harbor in southeast Alaska. But by 1978, the animals had established themselves there, sea urchins were small and scarce, the sea bottom was littered with their remains, and tall, dense stands of kelp had sprung up.

    The presence of the otters had suppressed the urchins, which had otherwise suppressed the growth of kelp. This kind of double negative logic is widespread in biology. In this instance, otters “induce” the growth of kelp by repressing the population of sea urchins. The discovery of the regulation of kelp forest by sea otter predation on herbivorous urchins was very strong support for the HSS hypothesis and for Paine’s keystone species concept.

    In ecological terms, the predatory sea otters have a cascading effect on multiple trophic levels below them. Paine coined a new term to describe the strong, top-down effects that he and others had discovered upon the removal or reintroduction of species: He called them trophic cascades.

    The discovery of trophic cascades was exciting. The many indirect effects caused by the presence or absence of predators (starfish, sea otters) were surprising because they revealed previously unsuspected, indeed unimagined, connections among creatures. Who would have thought that the growth of kelp forests depended on the presence of sea otters? These dramatic and unexpected effects raised the possibility that, unbeknownst to biologists, trophic cascades were operating elsewhere to shape other kinds of communities. And if they were, then keystone species and trophic cascades might be general features of ecosystems—rules of regulation that governed the numbers and kinds of creatures in a community.

    Indeed, trophic cascades have been discovered across the globe, where keystone predators such as wolves, lions, sharks, coyotes, starfish, and spiders shape communities. And because of their newly appreciated regulatory roles, the loss of large predators over the past century has Estes, Paine, and many other biologists deeply concerned.

    Today, of course, one predator has more influence than any other. We have created the extraordinary ecological situation where we are the top predator and the top consumer in all habitats. “Humans are certainly the overdominant keystones and will be the ultimate losers if the rules are not understood and global ecosystems continue to deteriorate,” Paine says. The only species that can regulate us is us.

    See the full article here .

    Lauren Eiseley has a story of another starthrower (The Starthrower, Harcourt BraceJanovich, 1978, ©Estate of Loren C. Eiseley, pg 169. “The Starthrower”, a man (unnamed) who said he threw the starfish back because one never knew where the next important DNA might originate.


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    Welcome to Nautilus. We are delighted you joined us. We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.

  • richardmitnick 11:59 am on October 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Ecology,   

    From CSIROscope: “Home and array: Investigator shedding light on the EAC” 

    CSIRO bloc

    From CSIROscope

    1 October 2019
    Dr Thomas Moore

    CSIRO RV Investigator. CSIRO Australia

    Our RV Investigator leaves the shelter of Moreton Bay, steaming for the core of the East Australian Current. Photo: Dr Thomas Moore

    Australia is an ocean nation – we’re girt by 10 million square kilometres of water. Whether you live near the coast or far from the shore, there’s no doubt the oceans are central to your life. From our weather and climate, to our food and energy, right down to our overall lifestyle and wellbeing.

    But much of our surrounding ocean and our four major currents, including the East Australian Current (EAC) remain a mystery. Therefore, scientists are getting out there to see what it’s all about.

    Deepening our understanding of these colossal currents is core business for the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) and its Deep Water Moorings Facility, led by our very own Dr Bernadette Sloyan.

    Wait – what exactly is the EAC?

    Bernadette and her science and engineering team have been continuously observing a key slice of the EAC since 2015. We chatted to the Bernadette to break down what the EAC is all about. She’s just returned from a three-week voyage aboard our research vessel Investigator in the Coral Sea.

    “The EAC is the largest ocean feature off Australia’s east coast,” Bernadette said.

    “Changes in the EAC just beyond our beaches impact our coastal industries and communities. Over in Australia’s regional and rural centres, life beats to a drum of climate conditions that is partly influenced by our dynamic ocean and its relationship with the atmosphere.”

    From Queensland to Tasmania, the powerful EAC is up to 100 kilometres wide, 1.5 kilometres deep. And it can carry up to 40 million cubic metres of water each second. That’s 70 billion pint glasses, refilled at sixty times a minute – it’s HUGE!

    Bernadette explained that the EAC serves an important role beyond its powerful flow.

    “It also acts as a kind of salty delivery van. Transporting warm water and nutrients that fertilise our ocean ecosystems,” she said.

    “The EAC is also very fickle, hugging the coast one day and then flowing hundreds of kilometres out to sea the next. This unstable behaviour renews fish stocks, impacts water quality and weather, and sets the water temperature for swimmers and surfers.”

    Dr Bernadette Sloyan, a Chief Research Scientist with our Oceans and Atmosphere team and leader of the IMOS Australian Bluewater Observing System facility, explains her voyage plans to Drs Océane Richet and Violaine Pellichero. Photo: Dr Thomas Moore

    Keeping tabs on the EAC

    In order to monitor how the EAC is changing over time, we use an array of deep-water moorings.

    Deep water mooring at Totten Glacier. Image credit: Steve Rintoul, CSIRO and ACE CRC.

    Consequently, IMOS has established a network of advanced marine equipment that tracks changes in the EAC. It’s currently lined up, across and down the slope of seabed near Moreton Bay, Queensland. This underwater observatory continuously monitors the EAC’s complex and highly energetic nature, discovering links to changes in our climate and coastal ecosystems.

    But, nothing lasts forever. Like a new smartphone, their advanced sensors and tiny computers working away under the waves need to be recharged. As a result, the mooring’s “batteries” go flat about every year and a half.

    The good news is that Bernadette and her team recovered the six deep-water moorings on this latest voyage. They boosted their batteries, downloaded their data, and have put the gear back to work for Australian science.

    Blue-water deck work is a unique and critical capability of CSIRO’s Mooring Sensor Systems team. Jamie Derrick directs the winch driver as a syntactic float with current sensor is recovered from the ocean. Photo: Dr Thomas Moore

    Biologists and oceanographers, unite!

    Our oceanographers were also accompanied on board by biological specialists – collaborators from both University of New South Wales and Griffith University.

    The ecologists were exploring how the EAC and ocean eddies (big ocean whirlpools) that weave their way through it can support abundant and diverse communities of larval fish and sea jellies.

    Paloma, one of the ecologists, examines larval fish. The IMOS Larval Fish & Deep Water Mooring programs link ocean physics to ecosystems driven by a dynamic East Australian Current.

    The voyagers deployed scientific equipment and net systems off Investigator in order to sample the ecology of this ever-changing region off the shore of Brisbane.

    This cooperation between ocean physics and marine biology boffins will help connect the dots between the apparent chaos of a mammoth ocean current and its often-unappreciated impact on our lives.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

    Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

    Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

    With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 7:54 am on August 14, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "About last night: multiple coral spawning in the Great Barrier Reef", , , Coral biology, Coral spawning- which is when corals release tiny egg and sperm bundles into the water., , Did you know that the Great Barrier Reef is made up of more than 3800 coral reefs?, Ecology, It generally happens only once a year after a full moon for a few hours over one to two nights., , Spawning over successive months helps corals synchronise their reproduction to the best environmental conditions., When coral colonies spawn more than once a year it can lead to better health for our coral reefs.   

    From CSIROscope: “About last night: multiple coral spawning in the Great Barrier Reef” 

    CSIRO bloc

    From CSIROscope

    14 August 2019
    Natalie Kikken

    Did you know that the Great Barrier Reef is made up of more than 3,800 coral reefs? New research on coral spawning could help coral health, particularly in areas that have suffered coral disturbances. Credit: Shella Dee

    It’s been described as “the most spectacular events in our oceans.” And no, it’s not the gnarly waves you caught surfing on the weekend.

    It’s coral spawning, which is when corals release tiny egg and sperm bundles into the water. It generally happens only once a year, after a full moon, for a few hours, over one to two nights.

    But our scientists along with the University of Queensland have discovered something for the first time. When coral colonies spawn more than once a year, it can lead to better health for our coral reefs. The more larvae that set off into the water, the more chances they have to find new homes to help establish coral recovery. This even includes travelling to neighbouring reefs hundreds of kilometres away. This is good news for strengthening the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef.

    Multiple coral spawning: Larvae in numbers

    The corals that spawned over multiple months were successful in spreading their offspring across different parts of the Great Barrier Reef. This is exciting news for Dr Christopher Doropoulos, from our Oceans and Atmosphere team. He’s been studying coral spawning events, and what drives the successful recruitment of coral larvae, for the last 10 years.

    “Spawning over successive months helps corals synchronise their reproduction to the best environmental conditions,” he said.

    “Reproductive success during split spawning may be lower than usual, because it can lead to reduced fertilisation. But we found that the release of eggs in two separate smaller events gives the corals a second and improved chance of finding a new home reef. We call this ‘split spawning’ and it could help the coral communities of the Great Barrier Reef.”

    Larvae larvae! Coral spawning is when coral release egg and sperm bundles into the water.

    Multi-skills for a mega-reef

    To understand the impacts of this spawning, we applied modelling, coral biology, ecology, and oceanography. This meant we could simulate the dispersal of coral larvae during these split spawning events across the whole of the Great Barrier Reef. That’s more than 3800 individual reefs!

    To do this we enlisted the expertise of our researchers Rebecca Gorton and Scott Condie, who have developed online tools such as eReefs and CONNIE. eReefs provides a picture of what is currently happening on the reef and what will likely happen in the future. CONNIE is used to calculate the movement and dispersal of almost any substance or planktonic organism in the ocean.

    The team looked at whether the split spawning events were more reliable at supplying larvae to the reefs. They also looked at whether connectivity (the ability to exchange larvae) among the reefs was improving.

    About last night: corals release egg and sperm bundles into the water, at the same time! They can then be fertilised and will turn into larvae.

    Reef recovery and resilience

    The results showed an increase in diversity of larvae, and better reliability for the larvae to reach different areas of the Reef.

    These findings explain the higher chances of recovery for reefs in the region during split-spawning years. The extra spawning events provide a more robust supply of coral larvae to reefs. This is particularly important for areas of the reef that have suffered disturbances, such as coral bleaching and unpredictable environmental conditions.

    The Great Barrier Reef providing ecosystem services worth more than $6 billion per year in Australia alone. So, this research highlights the importance of coral recovery to sustainably manage the Reef.

    This research was published in Nature Communications and was a collaborative project with University of Queensland and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

    See the full article here .


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    SKA/ASKAP radio telescope at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO) in Mid West region of Western Australia

    So what can we expect these new radio projects to discover? We have no idea, but history tells us that they are almost certain to deliver some major surprises.

    Making these new discoveries may not be so simple. Gone are the days when astronomers could just notice something odd as they browse their tables and graphs.

    Nowadays, astronomers are more likely to be distilling their answers from carefully-posed queries to databases containing petabytes of data. Human brains are just not up to the job of making unexpected discoveries in these circumstances, and instead we will need to develop “learning machines” to help us discover the unexpected.

    With the right tools and careful insight, who knows what we might find.

    CSIRO campus

    CSIRO, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, is Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse research agencies in the world.

  • richardmitnick 1:35 pm on May 12, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ayla Gizlice-thesis project combining environmental science and studio art., , Ecology, Gizlice hopes that including actual bones and carcasses will send a stronger message than abstract depictions., Jordan Lake - the New Hope Project, Over the past six months Gizlice has spent hours at the lake and surrounding streams collecting materials., , The man-made lake was created in the wake of several flooding disasters. The goal was to build a dam and create a reservoir that would prevent future flooding.,   

    From University of North Carolina Endeavors: “Artifacts of Alteration” A Photo Study 

    From University of North Carolina

    UNC Endeavors

    May 9th, 2019
    Megan May

    Ayla Gizlice looks for physical materials to include in her thesis project.

    Walking along the elevated shoreline of Jordan Lake, something catches Ayla Gizlice’s eye. She slides down the eroded bank, crouching with her weight on her heels, and navigates over a massive tangle of tree roots. Delicately picking up a large piece of clay, she inspects its texture and color. After putting a few hunks of the sediment into a bag, she stands and scans the shoreline ahead. The search continues.

    Last year, Gizlice studied the history and environmental issues of Jordan Lake during a capstone course. Since then, she has returned to the reservoir countless times to find objects to incorporate into her senior thesis art project.

    “I feel like, with environmental issues, there’s a tendency to either deny or disassociate,” she says. “I want people to look at the problems head on and consider how they might play a role in the environment and how the environment might affect them.”

    Gizlice untangles a plastic bag from a tree branch along the shore of Jordan Lake. With a plant pathologist as a mom, a dad with a PhD in plant genetics, and multiple extended family members who are artists, Gizlice’s choice to double-major in both environmental science and studio art was almost a given. “I came into the environmental science major most excited about advocacy,” she says. “I think that’s something I can definitely pursue through the lens of art.”

    Over the past six months, Gizlice has spent hours at the lake and surrounding streams collecting materials like clay, fish bones and carcasses, plastic bags, and large rocks.

    Development of Jordan Lake began in 1963. Called the New Hope Project, the man-made lake was created in the wake of several flooding disasters. The goal was to build a dam and create a reservoir that would prevent future flooding — a controversial decision that required the movement of entire communities. These days, scuba divers can still explore structural remains of the towns that once existed there, including the foundations of former homes and barns.

    Gizlice uses a ribbon tool to create a clay vessel to hold her accumulated fish bones and carcasses. In total, she made 27 vessels for the project. “I realized how uniquely pliable the clay around the lake is, and I kind of wanted to put those two things together — the fish bodies and the clay,” she says.

    A fish spine sits on Gizlice’s work table in her studio. Although litter is a big issue at Jordan Lake, Gizlice thinks the more troubling concern is water pollution. For decades, excessive discharge of nitrates into the water has caused algal blooms that lead to low oxygen levels and poor water quality, according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality.

    Gizlice hopes that including actual bones and carcasses will send a stronger message than abstract depictions of dead fish. “I think there is a degree of separation that happens when you have a representation of an object or an issue,” she says. “By having the actual bodies that resulted from these environmental issues there’s a more immediate reaction.”

    Sticking to the organic nature of her project, Gizlice shaped the clay vessels according to the natural shape of the fish bones and carcasses, but sometimes branched out from this idea. “If the fish body wasn’t really apparent, I tried to take it in the direction of letter forms so that when it’s all laid out in a line its sort of like a hieroglyphic or cryptic text,” she says.

    Gizlice prepares to weld a flag stand for the plastic she found at the lake and surrounding streams. She calls her approach a “performative ecological proposition.”

    “It’s really wordy,” she says while laughing. “But it means forcing me to work a lot harder for the materials. Rather than creating something from materials that don’t really hold meaning on their own, these objects had meaning and existed perfectly outside of my project.”

    Gizlice welds a metal rod around a rock as the base of a flag pole.

    For the project, Gizlice specifically honed in on white plastic bags. Gathering them not only served as a functional component, she says, but the act of collecting the litter was also a way for her to undo negative human impact on the local environment. “It’s a white flag which seems a little bit like a surrender,” she says. “It’s the environment surrendering to human intervention.”

    Gizlice named her piece “Natura Naturans” — a Latin term that roughly translates as “to nature,” implying that the environment is always in flux. “I wanted to focus on the prospect of change,” she says. “I think that’s much more hopeful.”

    A large part of Gizlice’s research looked at the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental impact statements and letters from concerned citizens prior to the lake’s development. “It seemed like a really good primary source to draw inspiration from, but it was also just interesting to me because of how different their predictions about the lake were from reality,” she says. One of those predictions stated that the reservoir’s water level would only vary by about three feet — but after the 2018 hurricane season, the water level was about 16 feet higher than normal.

    Gizlice chats with guests during a reception for her project. Having just graduated with her bachelor’s degree, she strives to continue her education and advocacy — potentially through a combined art and ecology grad program.

    Ayla Gizlice is a senior double-majoring in environmental science and studio art within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences.

    See the full article here .


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    U NC bloc

    U NC campus

    UNC-University of North Carolina

    Carolina’s vibrant people and programs attest to the University’s long-standing place among leaders in higher education since it was chartered in 1789 and opened its doors for students in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. Situated in the beautiful college town of Chapel Hill, N.C., UNC has earned a reputation as one of the best universities in the world. Carolina prides itself on a strong, diverse student body, academic opportunities not found anywhere else, and a value unmatched by any public university in the nation.

  • richardmitnick 6:14 pm on December 15, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Beth Shapiro, CALeDNA project, Ecology, eDNA-Environmental DNA, Erika Zavaleta, eSIE- Environmental DNA for Science Investigation and Education, , Two UCSC biologists receive Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor awards, UC Conservation Genomics Consortium,   

    From UCSC: “Two UCSC biologists receive Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor awards” 

    UC Santa Cruz

    UC Santa Cruz

    December 13, 2017
    Tim Stephens

    Beth Shapiro (photo by C. Lagattuta)

    Erika Zavaleta (photo by Matt Kroll)

    With funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), biologists at UC Santa Cruz will be using biodiversity surveys and field research to get more students engaged in science.

    Beth Shapiro and Erika Zavaleta, both professors of ecology and evolutionary biology, are among a select group of innovators in science education chosen this year for funding through the HHMI Professors Program.

    Zavaleta’s proposal won her a five-year, $1 million grant to create an inclusive and coordinated pathway that will engage students in ecology and conservation biology and support them all the way through to graduation. The program will provide increased access to research-based field courses and internships, along with sustained mentoring and a supportive community.

    “We have so many awesome field courses at UCSC, and I want to make sure they’re accessible to a full range of students and link them together into a pathway that will launch a diverse new generation of conservation leaders,” Zavaleta said.

    Environmental DNA

    Shapiro teamed up with Robert Wayne, a molecular ecologist at UCLA, to win a collaborative award of $1.5 million for a program to get large numbers of students involved in biodiversity surveys using environmental DNA. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a highly sensitive molecular approach for cataloging biodiversity in any ecosystem by analyzing the DNA fragments found in soil and other environmental samples.

    “Environmental DNA is both a powerful tool for doing cutting-edge science and a great way to get people interested in science,” Shapiro said. “It’s fairly easy for a first experience, and yet the range of questions you can address is incredibly broad. It’s a gateway to all kinds of different science.”

    Shapiro and Wayne spearheaded the UC Conservation Genomics Consortium, which Wayne directs, and their HHMI project builds on the consortium’s work. Called Environmental DNA for Science Investigation and Education (eSIE), the three-tiered program starts with getting thousands of students involved in initial sampling efforts, either independently, with guidance from online instruction modules and mobile apps, or through organized sampling campaigns called “bioblitzes” at UC Natural Reserves and other sites throughout California. The consortium has been running bioblitzes through its CALeDNA project, and recruitment efforts are already under way to broaden the participation of students, including under-represented groups.

    “We want them to go out and have a positive first experience participating in actual field work and collecting samples and data that will be used by scientists, including themselves if they want to keep doing it,” Shapiro said.

    The second tier of the program will be a biodiversity course designed for both science majors and non-majors, using eDNA as a springboard for increasing science literacy and introducing students to some of the many ways science is relevant to important issues in society. Finally, the program includes funding to support students who want to do independent research projects with faculty mentors.

    Field courses

    Zavaleta’s program aims to build existing field research courses into a more coherent pathway that will guide students interested in ecology and conservation from their freshman or transfer year to graduation. Large introductory lecture courses required early in science majors are often blamed for attrition, and under-represented groups and disadvantaged students drop science majors at much higher rates than other students. Zavaleta said inquiry-based field courses and research opportunities provide experiences that can keep students engaged and inspired.

    “By combining the emotional rewards of nature and friendship, shared experience and co-creation, field courses provide the kind of experience that led many, including me, to careers in ecology and conservation biology,” she said. “They also create the kind of immersive experience that is so important to learning and is a big part of forming an understanding of the natural world.”

    Zavaleta wants to lower the barriers that can keep some students from participating in field courses by offering scholarships to cover course fees and building more capacity and diversity among the faculty and graduate students who teach the courses. She also wants to increase opportunities for undergraduates to get research experience through paid internships. A new staff mentorship position will help students take advantage of opportunities such as scholarships and research internships and will provide guidance throughout the program. These efforts will be coordinated and funded through a new Center to Advance Mentored, Inquiry-based Opportunities (CAMINO).

    “The idea is to provide wraparound support and build a community for all kinds of students, so we avoid the situation where they get inspired by a great course and then fall of a cliff when they face the big lecture courses required before they can move on,” Zavaleta said. “It’s also important that we measure and communicate the outcomes of this effort so that we understand what works and can sustain it and scale it up.”

    The HHMI Professors Program began in 2002, and Manuel Ares, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UCSC, was among that first cohort of HHMI Professors. This year, out of 177 proposals, only 12 were chosen for funding. In addition to producing two of the funded proposals, UC Santa Cruz submitted four of the 26 finalist proposals that made it through the first two rounds of peer review.

    See the full article here .

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    UCO Lick Shane Telescope
    UCO Lick Shane Telescope interior
    Shane Telescope at UCO Lick Observatory, UCSC

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    Lick Automated Planet Finder telescope, Mount Hamilton, CA, USA

    UC Santa Cruz campus
    The University of California, Santa Cruz, opened in 1965 and grew, one college at a time, to its current (2008-09) enrollment of more than 16,000 students. Undergraduates pursue more than 60 majors supervised by divisional deans of humanities, physical & biological sciences, social sciences, and arts. Graduate students work toward graduate certificates, master’s degrees, or doctoral degrees in more than 30 academic fields under the supervision of the divisional and graduate deans. The dean of the Jack Baskin School of Engineering oversees the campus’s undergraduate and graduate engineering programs.

    UCSC is the home base for the Lick Observatory.

    Lick Observatory's Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building
    Lick Observatory’s Great Lick 91-centimeter (36-inch) telescope housed in the South (large) Dome of main building

    Search for extraterrestrial intelligence expands at Lick Observatory
    New instrument scans the sky for pulses of infrared light
    March 23, 2015
    By Hilary Lebow
    The NIROSETI instrument saw first light on the Nickel 1-meter Telescope at Lick Observatory on March 15, 2015. (Photo by Laurie Hatch) UCSC Lick Nickel telescope

    Astronomers are expanding the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm with detectors tuned to infrared light at UC’s Lick Observatory. A new instrument, called NIROSETI, will soon scour the sky for messages from other worlds.

    “Infrared light would be an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics.

    Wright worked on an earlier SETI project at Lick Observatory as a UC Santa Cruz undergraduate, when she built an optical instrument designed by UC Berkeley researchers. The infrared project takes advantage of new technology not available for that first optical search.

    Infrared light would be a good way for extraterrestrials to get our attention here on Earth, since pulses from a powerful infrared laser could outshine a star, if only for a billionth of a second. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances. It also takes less energy to send information using infrared signals than with visible light.

    UCSC alumna Shelley Wright, now an assistant professor of physics at UC San Diego, discusses the dichroic filter of the NIROSETI instrument. (Photo by Laurie Hatch)

    Frank Drake, professor emeritus of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz and director emeritus of the SETI Institute, said there are several additional advantages to a search in the infrared realm.

    “The signals are so strong that we only need a small telescope to receive them. Smaller telescopes can offer more observational time, and that is good because we need to search many stars for a chance of success,” said Drake.

    The only downside is that extraterrestrials would need to be transmitting their signals in our direction, Drake said, though he sees this as a positive side to that limitation. “If we get a signal from someone who’s aiming for us, it could mean there’s altruism in the universe. I like that idea. If they want to be friendly, that’s who we will find.”

    Scientists have searched the skies for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search into the optical realm more than a decade ago. The idea of searching in the infrared is not a new one, but instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light only recently became available.

    “We had to wait,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

    Now that technology has caught up, the search will extend to stars thousands of light years away, rather than just hundreds. NIROSETI, or Near-Infrared Optical Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, could also uncover new information about the physical universe.

    “This is the first time Earthlings have looked at the universe at infrared wavelengths with nanosecond time scales,” said Dan Werthimer, UC Berkeley SETI Project Director. “The instrument could discover new astrophysical phenomena, or perhaps answer the question of whether we are alone.”

    NIROSETI will also gather more information than previous optical detectors by recording levels of light over time so that patterns can be analyzed for potential signs of other civilizations.

    “Searching for intelligent life in the universe is both thrilling and somewhat unorthodox,” said Claire Max, director of UC Observatories and professor of astronomy and astrophysics at UC Santa Cruz. “Lick Observatory has already been the site of several previous SETI searches, so this is a very exciting addition to the current research taking place.”

    NIROSETI will be fully operational by early summer and will scan the skies several times a week on the Nickel 1-meter telescope at Lick Observatory, located on Mt. Hamilton east of San Jose.

    The NIROSETI team also includes Geoffrey Marcy and Andrew Siemion from UC Berkeley; Patrick Dorval, a Dunlap undergraduate, and Elliot Meyer, a Dunlap graduate student; and Richard Treffers of Starman Systems. Funding for the project comes from the generous support of Bill and Susan Bloomfield.

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  • richardmitnick 7:16 pm on August 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, ,   

    From NSF: “NSF selects first Long-Term Ecological Research network communications office” 

    National Science Foundation

    August 4, 2015
    Media Contacts
    Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, cdybas@nsf.gov
    Julie Cohen, UCSB, (805) 893-3071, julie.cohen@ucsb.edu

    Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis receives $3.5 million award for support of multi-site efforts

    Scuba diver measures giant kelp biomass at the NSF Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site. Credit: NSF SBC LTER Site

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) has selected the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) as the site for the first national Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) network communications office.

    The largest and longest-lived network in the U.S. that focuses on ecological research, LTER scientists conduct studies that can continue for decades and span extensive geographic areas.

    The communications office will be operated by UCSB’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS).

    New challenges, new opportunities

    “The LTER program faces new challenges as it enters its fourth decade: the increasing multi-disciplinarity of ecological research, increased value of synthesizing heterogeneous data, and rapid changes in the needs for, and modes of, science communication, among others,” said James Olds, NSF assistant director for Biological Sciences.

    “The Biological Sciences Directorate welcomes a new office that brings an international reputation in ecological synthesis, strong partnerships with programs for science communication and outreach, and a dedication to consolidating education programs across the network.”

    Added Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director for Geosciences, “The NSF Directorate for Geosciences, which supports the LTER program through its Ocean Sciences and Polar Programs Divisions, is excited about the synergies that will arise from linking the LTER team with an experienced NCEAS team.

    “This aligns well with our commitment to long-term environmental and ecological observations, and we expect the new communications office to advance internal and external synthesis as well as education efforts.”

    Building on experience

    The new office will take advantage of NCEAS’ experience in supporting multi-site collaboration and synthetic research, graduate training and environmental science communication.

    “We want the communications office to be the linchpin that nourishes and strengthens the LTER network both nationally and internationally,” said NCEAS Director Frank Davis, principal investigator for the $3.5 million NSF grant.

    Established in 1980, the NSF LTER program currently supports 25 sites representing ecosystems from deserts to forests to coral reefs, urban areas to the open sea to the polar regions, in the continental U.S., Alaska, islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific, and Antarctica.

    UCSB’s Marine Science Institute has led the Santa Barbara Coastal LTER site since 2000, and the Moorea Coral Reef LTER site since 2004.

    “Over the past 20 years, NCEAS has had a transformative effect on the way ecological information is organized, synthesized and applied,” said Peter Groffman, chair of the LTER Science Council and Executive Board. “It is exciting to apply that experience and expertise to the LTER network.”

    Office supports network across sites

    The LTER network includes research on population and community ecology, ecosystem science, evolutionary biology, phylogenetic systematics, social and economic sciences, urban ecology, oceanography, mathematics, computer science and science education.

    A network across sites allows for continental-scale questions to be addressed, while enabling sharing of ideas and information to facilitate integrative scientific insights. Thousands of scientists and graduate students work through LTER sites to pursue research in diverse topics and disciplines.

    “These sites are doing important work that’s relevant for natural resource management, environmental restoration, climate change adaptation, public health and many other important areas,” said Davis.

    The value of long-term data extends beyond use at any individual site, so the LTER Network makes data collected by all LTER sites accessible to other investigators.

    “The new communications office will build awareness and participation in the network by developing an effective and engaging web presence,” Davis said. “We will offer such tools and services as virtual collaboration, training in data synthesis and open science, online research forums and multimedia research highlights.”

    The communications office will also support new programs and activities that encourage and promote diversity in education and training to enhance communication and outreach to the public and to local, regional and federal agencies as well as non-governmental and non-profit organizations.

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


  • richardmitnick 1:36 pm on July 17, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology,   

    From NSF: “The ecology of the future and the future of ecology” 

    National Science Foundation

    July 17, 2015
    No Writer Credit
    Research credits Below

    Researchers working with underrepresented groups to study the ecological impact of climate change and to craft citizen science tools, aim to explore pressing scientific questions while recruiting a new generation of ecology researchers.

    Shaliek Morgan, an REU student from Shaw University, checks on an ant colony. Credit: Lauren Nichols, Dunn Lab, NC State University

    Biologists in North Carolina are trying to get a glimpse of the future through a project designed to shed light on how rising temperatures will affect the insects and microbial life that play critical roles in the environment. But the researchers are also hoping to shape the future, working with college students from underrepresented groups and designing citizen science tools to give middle-school students everywhere the chance to be involved in scientific discovery.

    The research revolves around a patch of forest in North Carolina. Scattered among the trees are a dozen rooms with neither roofs nor floors. Ringed with plastic ductwork that pumps warm air, these “warming chambers” allow the researchers to manipulate the temperature of small sections of forest. And for the past five years, with support from National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Dimensions of Biodiversity program, researchers have been studying those patches of forest to see how life has responded to slight increases in temperature.

    The goal of the study was to get insights into how forest ecosystems will change as a result of global climate change. And in 2014, the researchers took on a new goal: to help shape the future of ecology research itself.

    Rob Dunn, a professor at North Carolina (NC) State University and primary investigator on the project, worked with two postdoctoral researchers in his lab to get a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant from NSF. NC State undergraduates were already involved in the warming chambers research project, but the REU was designed to be a collaboration between NC State and Shaw University–a historically black university in Raleigh, N.C.–for the express purpose of engaging African-American undergrads in ecological research.

    The funding, which supplemented the original biodiversity grant, allowed the NC State research team to support two Shaw undergraduates to do fieldwork on the warming chambers project during the summer of 2014.

    The REU focused on a specific research question: what impact do warming temperatures have on ant immune function? The goal was to determine how insect-disease interactions may change as a result of climate change.

    “We found that behavioral aspects of immunity in ants did change in warmer environments,” says Mary Jane Epps, one of the postdoctoral researchers in Dunn’s lab who collaborated on the REU. “For example, we found that ants spent more time grooming themselves and each other at higher temperatures. There are two papers coming out of that 2014 REU, and each of the students will be a co-author on one of them.”

    But the results of that REU extend beyond the scientific findings.

    “One of the reasons I pursued this REU is because African Americans are not well represented in the field of ecology–which is ironic, since it’s a field that studies diversity,” says DeAnna Beasley, another of the Dunn’s postdocs who collaborated on the REU.

    “Many students have a very narrow view of what science is; they think it’s something you only do in a laboratory,” Beasley says. “We were able to expose these students to wildlife ecology, and now one of them is considering graduate studies in ecology–based on his experiences with us and with Eric Butler, his mentor at Shaw.”

    The project was so successful that Dunn, Beasley and Epps were awarded a new REU for 2015, this time focusing on how insect pathogens respond to warmer temperatures. Specifically, the researchers are evaluating soil samples from the warming chambers to determine the presence and prevalence of fungal pathogens that attack insects and how that prevalence changes based on environmental temperatures.

    “One Shaw student from 2014 returned this summer, and we’re working with a new Shaw student as well,” Epps says. The researchers also plan to extend the REU project into the fall semester so that another Shaw student can be involved.

    “It’s important to note that these projects are not only about giving students from underrepresented groups a chance to get hands-on experience, or to get them excited about science. These projects are also about addressing significant questions about our environment.”

    “And we expect to get another paper out of this summer’s work,” Beasley says.

    In addition, Beasley, Dunn and the Shaw students will be working with three middle school teachers who are part of NC State’s Kenan Fellows Program to use the insect pathogens project as the basis for new teaching tools.

    The teachers are working with Beasley and the Shaw students in field and lab research looking at ant immunity and insect pathogens at both urban and forest sites. Based on this experience, the teachers will develop a project-based science lesson plan to engage middle school students in authentic scientific research.

    “We’ll work together throughout the school year to refine the curriculum, and next summer the teachers will teach the new lesson plan to 40 teachers at a professional development workshop hosted by NC State’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation,” Beasley says.

    This work, which is funded by a grant from NSF’s Division of Research on Learning, will allow middle school teachers and students anywhere in the country (or abroad) to collect and analyze soil samples for pathogens that harm insects. Ultimately, the goal is for those middle school classrooms to plug their findings into a national database that can track the diversity of pathogens in different environments.

    “This project is not only creating opportunities for the undergrads at Shaw, but giving middle school students everywhere the chance to be part of a meaningful scientific inquiry,” Beasley says. “We’re talking about contributing to our understanding of the world around us, and hopefully inspiring future scientists while we’re at it.”

    Research Experiences for Undergraduates projects take place each summer at universities around the country. Students interested in learning more about the program can find information on the REU website.
    — Matt Shipman, North Carolina State University
    — Maria C. Zacharias, (703) 292-8454 mzachari@nsf.gov

    Robert Dunn
    Julie Urban
    Jenifer Corn
    Angela Duncan
    Ashlie Thompson
    Margaret Lowman

    Related Institutions/Organizations
    North Carolina State University

    Raleigh , North Carolina

    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


  • richardmitnick 9:05 am on February 10, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Atlantic Coral, Ecology,   

    From NYT: “Atlantic Corals: Colorful and Vulnerable” 

    New York Times

    The New York Times

    FEB. 9, 2015

    Ecosystems of deep sea corals of various shapes and hues can be compromised by bottom-fishing. Squid fishing may be regulated in the mid-Atlantic.

    A council that sets regulations for fishing off the mid-Atlantic coast will meet on Wednesday to consider protections for little known and fragile ecosystems of deep sea corals in and around 15 ocean sites.

    Environmental groups and sport fishermen are pushing for protection of these canyons and other sites, which run from Block Canyon off New York to Norfolk Canyon off Virginia, from squid fishing. They also are lobbying for other restrictions on fishing in a much broader zone.

    The squid-fishing industry is opposed to the broader restrictions and has proposed further study and more limited boundaries on four of the canyons, as well as further discussion on the other canyons.

    Some of the corals could also be affected by oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, after President Obama said last month that he would open up the region to oil and gas leases. However, different agencies are involved in that process.

    The canyons are distributed from New York to Virginia, while the drilling leases would be granted from Virginia on south, an area that would include Norfolk Canyon, and perhaps part of another.

    Temp 0 West Atlantic Stony Corals
    West Atlantic Stony Corals

    Temp 1 Atlantic and Eastern Pacific
    Atlantic and Eastern Pacific Corals

    Temp 2 Tropical West Atlantic
    Tropical West Atlantic Corals

    Temp 3 South Atlantic
    South Atlantic Corals

    Scientists and fishermen have known about the corals for at least a century. They live hundreds of yards below the ocean surface and support diverse communities of life. The areas attract all sorts of marine animals at different times of year, including squid.

    Researchers and the fishing industry have steadily learned more about the corals since the 1950s, and particularly in the last decade or so as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has used submersibles and remotely operated vehicles to probe the depths and capture new information, images and video.

    Peter J. Auster, a marine biologist who is an emeritus professor at the University of Connecticut and senior research scientist at Mystic Aquarium, has studied the corals for 30 years and said that they had been found on steep slopes of seamounts and in canyons that were cut into the continental shelf.

    “These are incredible landscapes,” he said.

    Because the corals grow slowly, bottom-fishing for squid and fish could knock them over and the communities would not recover for many years. The canyons that are being considered for protection are, Dr. Auster said, refuges for organisms that used to be more widespread. “The choices are what we do with what’s left,” he added.

    The group that makes the choices is the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. It is meeting in Raleigh, N.C., and the amendment under discussion would affect its regulations for mackerel, butterfish and squid fishing.

    The amendment includes a complex variety of provisions that cover depth, type of fishing and boundaries, but the main items for discussion are protection of the canyons and a set of restrictions for a broader zone.

    Brad Sewell, a senior lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council’s oceans program, said, “If both of these protection zones are approved and go into effect, it would be the largest protected area on the Atlantic Seaboard.”

    Squid fishermen say the restrictions would damage an industry that has been responsible and is sustainable. Greg DiDomenico, the executive director of Garden State Seafood Association, which represents New Jersey commercial fishing businesses, said his group supported protecting the corals. “There’s no denying that these creatures are extremely important,” he said.

    But he argued that the proposed amendment was not based on sound evidence. “We don’t really know what’s down there,” he said. And so he is asking for further study, and his group has recently submitted new proposals.

    The prospect of a delay disturbs some of the advocates for strong protection, including John McMurray, a sport fisherman who is a member of the fisheries council.

    The council has been working on the amendment for almost three years, he said, adding: “We’ve had multiple comment periods. The public clearly wants these corals protected.”

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 4:34 pm on January 21, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Ecology, Ice studies,   

    From NSF: “NSF-funded Antarctic drilling team is first to bore through hundreds of meters of ice to where ice sheet, ocean and land converge” 

    National Science Foundation

    January 21, 2015
    Media Contacts
    Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7530, pwest@nsf.gov
    Tom Parisi, Northern Illinois University, (815) 762-7464, tparisi@niu.edu
    Susan Kelly, WISSARD Education and Public Outreach Officer, sbkelly2@illinois.edu
    Leslie Reed, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, (402) 472-2059, lreed5@unl.edu

    Principal Investigators
    Ross Powell, Northern Illinois University, powellro@imcs1.usap.gov
    Frank Rack, University of Nebraska, Frack2@unl.edu
    John Priscu, Montana State University, priscujo@imcs1.usap.gov
    Slawek Tulaczyk, University of California, Santa Cruz, tulaczsl@imcs1.usap.gov

    “Grounding Zones” are key to regulating ice-sheet movement and sea-level rise, but also, surprisingly, home to an apparently thriving ecosystem

    A fish swims through the “grounding zone.”
    Credit: WISSARD / NSF

    Using a specially designed hot-water drill to cleanly bore through a half mile of ice, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded team of researchers has become the first ever to reach and sample the “grounding zone,” where Antarctic ice, land and sea all converge. Data gathered from samples of sediment taken in the grounding zone will provide clues about the mechanics of ice sheets and their potential effects on sea-level rise.

    Cameras sent down the drilling hole also revealed an unsuspected population of fish and invertebrates living beneath the ice sheet, the farthest south that fish have ever been found. The surprising discovery of fish in waters that are extremely cold at -2 Celsius (28 degrees Fahrenheit) and perpetually dark poses new questions about the ability of life to thrive in extreme environments.

    “I have been investigating these types of environments for much of my career, and although I knew it would be difficult, I had been wanting to access this system for years because of its scientific importance,” said Ross Powell, a chief scientist with the Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project and a researcher at Northern Illinois University.

    “Findings such as these–gaining an understanding of the ice sheet dynamics and its interaction with ocean and sediment, as well as establishing the structure of its ecosystem–are especially rewarding. It’s a big pay-off in delayed gratification.”

    The newest discoveries stem from the WISSARD project’s investigation of the grounding zone of Whillans Ice Stream of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), roughly 850 kilometers (530 miles) from the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica’s Ross Sea.

    West Antarctic Ice Sheet

    WISSARD is funded by NSF’s Division of Polar Programs, which also provided the logistical support needed to succeed in the challenging Antarctic conditions. The division manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which coordinates all U.S. scientific research on the continent.

    Using the hot-water drill developed and built by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, researchers punched through nearly 740 meters (nearly 2,500 feet) of the Ross Ice Shelf on Jan. 8, 2015 local time. (U.S. researchers in Antarctica keep New Zealand time.)

    On Jan. 16, as more than 40 scientists, technicians and camp staff were working around-the-clock to collect as many samples and data as they could while the borehole remained open, the WISSARD team deployed a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) called “Deep SCINI”–(Submersible Capable of under Ice Navigation and Imaging)–to explore about 400 square meters (4,300 square feet) of the marine cavity around the borehole. The ROV was developed at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

    The ROV discovered a variety of fish and invertebrates including numerous amphipods, or marine crustaceans, components of an ecosystem that may provide new insights into how creatures survive and even thrive in one of the world’s most extreme environments.

    “Finding fish, or any other type of life, under an ice shelf is by itself not novel,” said John Priscu, a WISSARD chief scientist and a professor of land resources and environmental sciences at Montana State University, who has studied life in and under Antarctic ice for more than 30 years.

    “However, our WISSARD data will establish for the first time sources of carbon and energy for higher trophic levels in this most southerly marine ecosystem. Our data will also provide important information on the connectivity between subglacial environments and ice-shelf productivity, allowing us to predict first responders to a warming climate,” Priscu added.

    After the initial Deep SCINI deployment, a package of oceanographic instruments, developed at Northern Illinois University, including a downward-looking camera, recorded data in the cavity over a tidal cycle and also observed many fish swimming by.

    Although life has been found previously under the Ross Ice Shelf, this site is the closest to the South Pole where such marine life has been documented. The southernmost ocean waters in the world are only 70 kilometers (43 miles) south, under the Ross Ice Shelf at about 85 degrees South latitude.

    “It is fascinating to see so much marine vertebrate and invertebrate life so far away from the open ocean and right where the West Antarctic Ice Sheet goes afloat,” said Slawek Tulaczyk, a chief scientist on the WISSARD project and a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz. “I have spent my scientific career studying how this ice sheet may contribute to future global sea level rise. However, I now realize that retreat of the ice sheet may also impact a unique ecosystem.”

    The grounding zone is also extremely important for the stability of the ice sheet and ice shelf. The Texas-sized Ross Ice Shelf is the world’s largest floating slab of ice. Numerous streams of ice in WAIS feed into the ice shelf, like rivers flowing into a lake.

    Scientists are particularly interested in the dynamics between the ice, glacial sediments and water in order to understand how the system may respond to future changes in climate. Some climate models predict warmer seawater may intrude into grounding zones and cause melting at the base of the ice shelf.

    A weakening or collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf would allow ice streams of WAIS to flow more rapidly into the ocean, which would raise global sea level.

    “This season we accessed another critical polar environment, which has never been directly sampled by scientists before: the grounding zone of the Antarctic ice sheet,” noted Tulaczyk. “Nobody has ever actually done direct measurements in an environment like this.”

    While going down the borehole, cameras observed rich sedimentary debris in the ice. These observations, combined with data from cores of sediment collected from the sea floor and water from the marine cavity, will add significant information to the scientific questions about how the ice sheet works and interacts with sediment and ocean waters in these settings. They can perhaps provide answers to the recent past and possible future behavior of the massive West Antarctic Ice sheet.

    This part of the Antarctic continent includes Subglacial Lake Whillans, a shallow body of water located about 800 meters (2,600 feet) below the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which periodically fills and drains upstream from this grounding zone.The WISSARD team investigated the lake two seasons ago.

    Fresh water from the lake is thought to eventually reach the seawater cavity at the present study site through a subglacial waterworks that may be similar to a coastal wetlands ecosystem–think an estuary and its surrounding salt marshes, but one that is covered by ice, and missing all the marsh grasses. The ice sheet also delivers sediment called till, to the grounding zone to perhaps influence ice dynamics and provide nutrients to this ecosystem.


    See the full article here.

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    The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 “to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…we are the funding source for approximately 24 percent of all federally supported basic research conducted by America’s colleges and universities. In many fields such as mathematics, computer science and the social sciences, NSF is the major source of federal backing.


  • richardmitnick 12:48 pm on January 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , Ecology,   

    From Brown: “Researchers study marine ecological changes at Easter Island” 

    Brown University
    Brown University

    January 13, 2015
    David Orenstein

    Late last year, Jon Witman and Robert Lamb spent three weeks studying coral and other marine life in the waters around Easter Island, part of a research project led by Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Chile. Unlike most of the world, the coral around Easter Island appears to be increasing.

    Easter Island Coral reefs

    Despite its isolation, there has been profound change in recent decades. In the 1980s, fishermen and recreational divers reported a major regime shift from an algae-dominated state (primarily Sargassum) to a coral-dominated state.

    “It is unclear what prompted this shift,” said Robert Lamb, an ecology and evolutionary biology graduate student at Brown. “A change in oceanographic conditions facilitating coral recruitment and growth? A change in coral larval supply? A change in consumer pressures?”

    Jon Witman, professor ecology and evolutionary biology, added that he sought to determine how the small regional species pool and isolated oceanographic position of Easter Island might influence these changes. “This was a central focus of our research, since coral reefs around the world are currently in decline, whereas reefs at Easter Island appear to have been increasing in coral cover for the last several decades.”

    To try to answer these questions Witman and Lamb traveled to Easter Island from Nov. 15 through Dec. 5, 2014, on a research project led by professor Evie Wieters of the Universidad Catolica de Santiago de Chile. Witman sampled the diversity of coral-dominated communities on vertical walls to place the marine biodiversity of Easter Island in a global context and to begin studying the local (urchin grazing) and regional (number of species in the biogeographic region) processes responsible for low diversity there.

    The isolated ecosystem is susceptible to extreme events such as El Niño, as well as human impacts such as over-fishing. Importantly, Lamb said, there are no connected populations to revitalize the community after a decline.

    Witman said he has never seen so much open space (bare rock) in this type of community, which could reflect either the low number of invertebrate species in the region or intense grazing from sea urchins.

    Some of the evidence Witman and Lamb saw suggested that the urchins, voracious herbivores and grazers, are largely responsible for the predominance of bare rock where corals are absent. They eat the algae that might otherwise compete with coral.

    They observed that the urchins appear to line up like soldiers on the front of a battlefield, advancing into the algal bed. “If we imagine their slow movements sped up hundreds of times, we would see the line advancing into the algal bed,” Lamb said. “Urchins don’t appear to cross the algal line, perhaps because they can become dislodged by waves if their flimsy tube feet are attached to slippery substrates such as algae and sand. Thus, the front advances slowly, allowing corals to colonize the bare rock left behind.”

    The Witman lab assisted Weiters’ team to test this idea with experiments in which they set up the interaction to see what would happen. By their design they could examine the relative importance of structure (corals vs. no corals) and substrate (algae/sand vs. bare rock) in determining urchin feeding behavior, and they could see whether or not new feeding fronts can be established inside of algal-dominated areas, Lamb said.

    Their research will help explain how the marine communities of this remote and famous island will respond to changes in climate and diversity.

    See the full article here.

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    Welcome to Brown

    Brown U Robinson Hall

    Located in historic Providence, Rhode Island and founded in 1764, Brown University is the seventh-oldest college in the United States. Brown is an independent, coeducational Ivy League institution comprising undergraduate and graduate programs, plus the Alpert Medical School, School of Public Health, School of Engineering, and the School of Professional Studies.

    With its talented and motivated student body and accomplished faculty, Brown is a leading research university that maintains a particular commitment to exceptional undergraduate instruction.

    Brown’s vibrant, diverse community consists of 6,000 undergraduates, 2,000 graduate students, 400 medical school students, more than 5,000 summer, visiting and online students, and nearly 700 faculty members. Brown students come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.

    Undergraduates pursue bachelor’s degrees in more than 70 concentrations, ranging from Egyptology to cognitive neuroscience. Anything’s possible at Brown—the university’s commitment to undergraduate freedom means students must take responsibility as architects of their courses of study.

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