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UF study hopes to create an app to help with adolescent asthma

11 Apr
Woody Joseph is  a third-year public relations student at the University of Florida who aspires to become a public relations practitioner in the political realm. His ultimate desire is to become an advocate for social justice and a promoter of equality on all levels of society.

Woody Joseph is a third-year public relations student at the University of Florida who aspires to become a public relations practitioner in the political realm. His ultimate desire is to become an advocate for social justice and a promoter of equality on all levels of society.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Woody Joseph

A recent study underway at the University of Florida is developing a mobile application, called Team Speak, that will attempt to help young individuals manage asthma. The project was funded by the National Institutes of Health earlier this year.

According to the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at UF, the Team Speak project uses mobile health technology that researchers hope will help adolescents and their caregivers identify asthma management goals, develop behavioral strategies to meet those goals and strengthen communication skills between adolescents and parents.

The study targets adolescents with asthma between the ages of 12 and 15 and their parents.

“The reason we picked this age range is this is an age when parents look to teenagers to take more responsibility for their care, but sometimes kids aren’t interested in doing that yet,” said David Fedele, the study’s lead investigator in a press release. “They aren’t prepared, or they don’t have the knowledge or skills to take on that increased responsibility, even though they may want to.”

The Team Speak project hopes to encourage interventions to help manage asthma within individual families by collecting data from a small chunk of time and then inform the families on the next possible steps in asthma management, Fedele said.

The project consists of two phases, said Andrew McConville, lab coordinator and research assistant for the Team Speak project.

Phase one of the project involves the creating the app. Using a pilot program, an advisory board consisting of the parents of the participants receives feedback from the target audience.

Phase two of the  project is compiling the feedback and then tailoring the final version of the application for a four-month randomized control group trial.

The trial will include two groups. One group would be assigned to simply use the application. The other group is a self-guided control group that is given a diary to document their symptoms and handouts to better manage their asthma.

“Creating an app that would target self-management in asthma is an important psychological domain for lots of different illnesses, especially chronic illness, McConville said.

A secondary function of this project is to help adolescents take charge of their illness.

We also hope to help adolescents make the transition to independently manage asthma so that later down the line they could prevent avoidable symptoms and possible emergency room visits, McConville said.

When asked about the Team Speak mobile application and how it can help with asthma students’ responses were positive.

“I have been dealing with asthma my entire life,” Denard Smith, a third-year criminal justice major. “When I was younger the resources available to me were limited but it is interesting to see how technology is advancing to the point where a mobile app can help with asthma.”

Sarah Bounaim, a third-year education major, also believes that the app would be effective.

“My younger brother has asthma and being that my parents have always desired to instill independence within us, this app can help him take control over his chronic illness,” she said.

The Team Speak project is currently seeking more participant. If you or a family member is interested in participating in the study and would like to see if you are eligible, contact the UF Youth Asthma Research Lab at 352-273-5124.

 

Future of technology may pose problems for health

23 Mar
Bailey Garner is a second-year student at the University of Florida studying along the Pre-PA track.  She decided to change her major from communications to psychology because of her desire to become a physician assistant.  Garner has a huge passion for fitness and nutrition, and she enjoys maintaining a healthy lifestyle and inspiring others to do so.  She hopes to one day attend the UF Physician Assistant program.

Bailey Garner is a second-year student at the University of Florida studying along the Pre-PA track. She decided to change her major from communications to psychology because of her desire to become a physician assistant. Garner has a huge passion for fitness and nutrition, and she enjoys maintaining a healthy lifestyle and inspiring others to do so. She hopes to one day attend the UF Physician Assistant program.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Bailey Garner

Though technology gives people the opportunity to improve their overall health, the rapid advance of this technology could jeopardize that possibility.

With tech gadgets and software constantly evolving, people are continuing to be consumed by the convenience of having everything at the palm of their hand.  This convenience could eventually lead to detrimental effects towards people’s health.

In 1990, 11.4 percent of Floridians were obese, according to the State of Obesity website.  In just 24 years, that statistic has more than doubled, and though the advancement of technology is not the only factor, it is one of the biggest.

“There are so many different factors that lead to obesity,” said Dr. Karla Pagan Shelnutt, associate professor and extension nutrition specialist at the University of Florida.  “The family and home environment is a big one, and if they’re spending a lot of time in front of the screen, they’re not being as active as they should be.”

This is why the general recommendation for children is less than two hours of screen time per day, Shelnutt said.

“There is definitely an association between screen time and food choices and not being active,” said Shelnutt.  “It’s like a double whammy when you’re sitting inside and watching TV all day. Not only are these kids not moving, but they’re being exposed to advertisements for unhealthy foods.”

“If they’re on their computer playing a game, there are always advertisements there for unhealthy items.”

When it comes to health, people need to keep in mind that there are multiple aspects including physical, mental, emotional and social, Shelnutt said.  With technology continuously becoming a barrier between person-to-person interactions, emotional and social health fall short, she added.

As technology rises, physical health has been put at risk as well.  Although many phone applications have been created to promote a healthier lifestyle, people are constantly distracted by the entertainment technology provides.

“I see people at the gym with their phones every day, every hour and every minute,” said Nikko Tan, fitness associate at UF RecSports.  “Some people like to use it for music, and other people use their phone for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in between sets or even when they’re walking from the treadmill to the water fountain.”

IMG_3060

Jackie Carranza, first-year UF Pharmacy student, ditches technology during her workout at Southwest Recreation Center on a Saturday morning. Carranza says she tries to stay away from her phone while at the gym so she can have effective workouts. Photo by Bailey Garner.

Students even go to the extent of taking pictures of themselves while working out, Tan said.

“You have a rest period, you don’t really know what you’re doing, you don’t want to seem awkward and just stand there so the easiest thing for people to do is go on their phone,” said Hakeem White, CEO and founder of  fitness and nutrition company, Hakeem Getz You Gainz.

Being thoroughly dedicated to his health and well being, White is able to see the negatives and positives of technology.

“It’s a 50-50 honestly,” said White, who is also a nutrition major at UF and a UF RecSports personal trainer.  “You have apps nowadays and programs that can help you track what you eat and can help you with your workout or show you proper form.”

However, there is also an overabundance of social media that can distract people who are working towards their fitness goals, White said.

One glance at a college campus can give anyone an idea of what the future of technology may be like.  With fancy gadgets emerging such as the hover board, even walking may eventually become a thing of the past.

“Society as a whole is losing traction on their health and their fitness, and that’s definitely in decline,” said White.  “At the rate we’re going, technology is just making life a lot easier.”

However, technology continues to give people the opportunity to lead a healthy lifestyle.  Shelnutt uses her Fitbit to track her steps as she participates in the Walk Challenge at UF, Shelnutt said.  Tan has recorded over 600 miles on his Nike+ Running app, Tan said.  White continues to track his food intake and how effective his workouts are through his use of technology, White said.

“I think if we don’t get a grasp on how we use technology, it can get out of hand,” White said.  “But if you use the aspects of technology that are around properly to aid in your fitness, it can be very beneficial.”

Teaching Science Communication through Blogging and Twitter

8 May

Professor of Journalism Julie Dodd and master’s graduates Hannah O. Brown (MAMC 2014) and Rebecca Burton (MAMC 2014) presented a poster at UF’s first annual Social Media and Sustainability Conference on April 17, at the Marin H. Levin Advocacy Center at the UF College of Law. The conference was hosted by the UF Center for Adaptive Innovation, Resilience, Ethics, and Science (CAIRES).

“Teaching Science Communication through Blogging and Twitter” examined a science writing project in Multimedia Writing (JOU3109). Students had to report and write stories with an environmental, health, science or technology angle and then work toward getting their stories published. Dodd is the instructor for the 150-student course, and Brown was one of the lab instructors.

One of the publication outlets for the students’ stories was Layman’s Terms Media, Burton’s blog that covers science, health and environmental issues. Burton and her blog were recognized by Scientific American’s The SA Incubator, which recognizes the next generation of science writers and journalists. Several students in Multimedia Writing worked with Burton to have their stories published on her blog.

In addition to reading the poster, conference participants could view the blog on an iPad and listen to audio interviews with students who published on the blog. The audio interviews are posted on the blog.

Burton, who created the blog while she was a marine biology and journalism major at Florida International University, is Communications Coordinator for UF’s Florida Sea Grant. Brown taught Multimedia Writing for four semesters while a master’s student. She is Leadership Director at UF Hillel. Dodd and the Multimedia Writing lab instructors received the 2012 UF Office of Sustainability Award for Academic Programs for the EHST project.

 

Future of global water conservation: sewage to treatment to tap

11 Jun
Lana Nasser is a junior studying public relations student at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing personality profiles, feature articles, blogging about skincare and beauty, and learning about the field of sociology.

Lana Nasser is a junior studying public relations student at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing personality profiles, feature articles, blogging about skincare and beauty, and learning about the field of sociology.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Lana Nasser

The idea of drinking reclaimed wastewater may be off-putting to some, but as technology sophistication increases, people might not be able to tell the difference.

Due to the growing necessity for water in the United States and around the world, scientists are considering alternative and more sustainable methods of providing drinkable water, like reclaimed wastewater. Reclaimed wastewater is water that has undergone extensive treatment through advanced water technologies like reverse osmosis and multi-step filtration.

“Psychologically, a human being says, ‘Yuck! I don’t want to drink treated sewage,’” said Joseph Delfino, professor in the department of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida. “In most places where they get water out of a river, they’re already drinking water that has been through industries, people, animals, but we tend to disregard it.”

Currently, many scientists are studying public perception of recycled water.  Shane Snyder, professor of environmental engineering at the University of Arizona said that if people trusted the treatment process, they might understand that recycling water is unavoidable.

Professionals in the field, like Snyder, hope that public opinion will begin to change.

John Million, an environmental engineering graduate from the University of Florida agreed.

“There are technologies and practices that can take wastewater and treat it to be used again by humans,” he said.

How does wastewater become drinking water?

First, water undergoes advanced primary treatment, where it is separated from large particles. The water then goes into sedimentation tanks where chemicals are used to make scum rise to the top and primary sludge fall to the bottom. Once 80 percent of the solids have been removed and the water is separated, the wastewater is clean enough to be released into the ocean.

The second step is extensive filtration. During this step, bacteria are added to the primary treated wastewater. These bacteria help ingest organic chemicals.

Finally, the water is filtered again to remove any other remaining solids.  It is then disinfected with chlorine.

It is no secret that there are readily available technologies able to make reclaimed water drinkable through various procedures, but this expensive and energy intensive process raises questions of sustainability.

“If we throw enough money at it, we can treat anything to better water to drinking water quality. The issue is, is there a sustainable way to do it?” said Paul Chadik, associate professor in the department of environmental engineering at the University of Florida.

Due to the current need for diverse sources of potable water, some states around the nation are already drinking reclaimed water. The Orange County Water District in California opened a $480 million state-of-the art water reclamation facility in 2008. This facility is claimed to be the largest in the United States, and costs about $29 million a year to operate.

Resources that treat wastewater also require extensive backup systems in case of emergency.

“In our current system, if the plant were to break down, you would be able to drink it without having an adverse reaction. But if you drink wastewater that is improperly treated because the plant has broken down, it would be detrimental,” Chadik said.

In terms of reliability, Chadik believes that large numbers of efficient and readily available backup systems would be needed to take effect without delay in times of crisis.

In many places around the nation, precious resources like groundwater are being used for purposes in which treated wastewater could be used instead.

“Most of the drinking water we have is used to water lawns and flush toilets,” Chadik said. “That water doesn’t need to be very pure. It would be more sustainable to take our wastewater and use it to irrigate land that needs it.”

Americans spend billions of dollars every year treating water to drinking water quality when only about 10 percent of it is used for drinking or cooking. The rest of it is flushed down the toilet or drain.

The growing use of recycled wastewater for purposes such as irrigation, landscaping, industry and toilet flushing is an efficient way to conserve the fresh water resources we have left.

“Nature has done its thing historically for as long as the planets been around so things go up and down, but of course we’re here and we’re the one animals species that pays attention to things,” Delfino said.

Related links:

UF Water Reclamation Facility

A Day in the Life of a Sea Turtle Biologist

29 Apr
Kristina Orrego is a  third-year journalism student at the University of Florida. Her interest in writing a feature story about a sea turtle biologist comes from having a passion and love for animals. Her career goal is to become a journalist at an online publication and write about important social issues and economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and cooking.

Kristina Orrego is a third-year journalism student at the University of Florida. Her interest in writing a feature story about a sea turtle biologist comes from having a passion and love for animals. Her career goal is to become a journalist at an online publication and write about important social issues and economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and cooking.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By: Kristina Orrego

For Blair Witherington, the beach is more than just a place where you can lay out a blanket and soak up some sun. It is in his field where he has the privilege and opportunity to interact with the animals he considers the most fascinating.

Witherington, a researcher with over 24 years of experience as a sea turtle biologist, worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute since 1992. He recently accepted a new position as part of the faculty at the University of Florida, where he will be working for the Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research.

This job will have him mostly stationed at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Orlando, where he will be a part of the Kingdom’s conservation team continuing to research and do hands-on work with sea turtles.

His work as a researcher has allowed him to travel all over the world, participating in projects in the Atlantic Sea, the Florida Keys, the Sargasso Sea, located in the middle of the north Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico.

I recently caught up with Blair to learn more about his daily work as a sea turtle biologist and also what kind of advice he’d offer anyone who is thinking about entering this line of research.

Q. What is a regular day of work for you as a sea turtle biologist?

A. “A regular day isn’t always as exciting as one might think,” he said with a laugh. “A regular day is probably me sitting in front of the computer, trying to make sense of the data we’ve collected in the field. But every once in a while we have days in the field where we’re collecting that information and we’re out with the animals themselves. That’s always pretty exciting. But to tell you the truth, the times of discovery, when you’re really finding something out that is interesting to you or to anyone else… those are the times in front of the computer, as odd as it may seem. We go out into the field and we catch sea turtles in a lot of different ways and we see what they do, but it’s only after you sit down and try to make sense of the data that you really discover what’s going on, where you really find out how sea turtles live their lives, how many there are, and what their threats are.”

 Q. What are your favorite aspects of your job as a sea turtle biologist? What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

A. “I enjoy discovery, as I was talking about. I certainly like going out in the field. It’s nice to, sort of, reinforce what you learn back in the lab and in front of the computer with what you see out in the real world with turtles. We test them in lots of different ways, and it’s kind of fun, really. It’s a challenge. We go offshore for 50 to 100 miles and catch young Yearling turtles out in the Sargasso out on the surface of the open sea. We also go to places like Florida Bay and catch much larger turtles. We catch them by hand… and these are 250-pound turtles. We follow them in boats and then jump into the water and grab them ‘and take them in for questioning’ so to speak. So that’s a challenge and interesting. I’d say probably my favorite part of the job is interpreting science for other people. I really like sharing stories about findings, sharing stories about sea turtles, because that’s the way that we save them. We get people to understand sea turtles. We get people to follow-up with them, and to know what each one of us needs to do in order to have sea turtles around in the future. It’s one thing for us to understand sea turtles, but if we don’t share that with anyone else, they’re not going to get saved.

 Q. How would you compare yourself now to when you first started out as a sea turtle biologist?

A. “I think, as is the case of most students, when I first began I thought I knew a lot. Now as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I don’t know very much at all. I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot, but the more I learn, the less I realize I really know. I’ve come to realize that the world is a very large and complex place, and it’s a struggle to really make sense of it. There are a lot of mysteries still [when it comes to sea turtles] and every other thing Earth. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about sea turtles, their environment, the people who affect their environment and who can help save sea turtles. It’s a very complex relationship. The more I learn, the more complex it seems.”

 Q. So, you’d say that the connection between sea turtles and human beings is the most important thing you’ve learned over the years?

A. “Yes I think so. It’s easy to get discouraged about environmental issues sometimes. When I was young I was very optimistic and that’s one of the most important things about youth–youthful people are very optimistic and idealistic. I’d like to think I’m still that way. I struggle to be that way. You know, the more you learn the ugly truth, the more you can get discouraged, but you shouldn’t be. You should stay optimistic, idealistic, aim high, try to do the very best you can and solve problems. Even though there are very big problems there are solutions to them. And those solutions are going to come about with a whole lot of hard work. You’ve got to keep pressing ahead. I’ve tried to gain wisdom and not be discouraged by it. Tried to stay optimistic.”

Q. What sort of key advice would you give to someone who aspires to also become a sea turtle biologist?

A. “I would say to be optimistic, but don’t have such high expectations that you become discouraged when the going gets tough. Everyday is not out in the field, with the wind blowing through your hair and having fun with the animals that you find interesting. Sometimes it’s very mundane stuff– it’s entering data and doing analyses. You have to love all of that to persevere. Don’t have expectations that you’re going to be out in the sea every single day, that’s not going to be the case. You have to love every aspect of the work, including the mundane stuff– sitting back in front of the computer, trying to make sense of it all.”

Sweet success: UF researchers find key to sweeter, healthier strawberries

6 Apr
Paige Levin is a freshman journalism and political science student at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing opinion pieces and in-depth feature articles, and loves to discover people’s stories. Levin hopes to one day combine her passions for writing, government and politics to work in the nation’s capitol and bring the political information needed back to the people. Paige has been writing for about five years now, she is currently an intern for the Pledge 5 Foundation, and was previously the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper.

Paige Levin is a freshman journalism and political science student at the University of Florida. She enjoys writing opinion pieces and in-depth feature articles, and loves to discover people’s stories. Levin hopes to one day combine her passions for writing, government and politics to work in the nation’s capitol and bring the political information needed back to the people. Paige has been writing for about five years now, she is currently an intern for the Pledge 5 Foundation, and was previously the editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper.

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Paige Levin

Whether they are tucked into a shortcake, whipped into a smoothie or sitting atop a yogurt parfait, there is nothing more enticing than a scoopful of juicy, red strawberries. But how many times have you bitten into a berry-laden treat, only to be left grimacing by a less than satisfying bitter burst?

You might be tempted to reach for the sugar to help sweeten your snack, which while tasty, isn’t beneficial to the waistline. Now, researchers at the University of Florida say they have found the compounds that promise a sweeter and healthier berry.

The study, conducted by the University of Florida’s Plant Innovation Program entitled “Strawberry Flavor: Diverse Chemical Compositions, a Seasonal Influence, and Effects on Sensory Perception,” identifies the 30 compounds in strawberries that give the fruit its distinctive flavor. This allows breeders to now create better tasting and possibly healthier varieties of strawberries.

One of the team members, Thomas Colquhoun said in the long term, six of the compounds discovered by Michael Schwieterman and his colleagues may allow scientists to create processed foods that taste sweeter while using less sugar, making the foods healthier.

“Our idea is to make our crops more flavorful and healthy for consumers so that our consumers eat healthier and eat more of it,” Colquhoun said.

Colquhoun, an assistant professor in floriculture biotechnology and genetics, said the study is unique because it uses a very sophisticated type of psychophysics. Psychophysics looks at the relationship between certain physical stimuli, in this case strawberry variety, and the sensations they affect or cause.

For the study,  166 consumers between 18 and 71 years old  were recruited and asked to taste between three and five different varieties of strawberries. After chewing and swallowing a whole strawberry, panelists were asked to rate it based on overall taste, texture  and perceived intensity of sweetness and sourness.download (2)

Linda Bartoshuk, director of human research at UF’s Center for Smell and Taste, was in charge of the consumer taste panel. Bartoshuk compared consumer opinions using a method called cross-modality matching. This method combines the pleasure and sensory scales, making it possible to compare opinions fairly.

“It doesn’t matter what your scale is or what my scale is,” Colquhoun said. “We can compare those two things because they can be mixed and matched and weighted.”

By comparing the psychophysics data from consumer panels with biochemical data, Colquhoun said they identified 30 volatile compounds associated with flavors consumers enjoy. Within that, the study showed a group of six volatiles associated with perceived sweetness intensity, without the contribution of sugar.

“You’re actually sensing this volatile, and there is some sort of signal that is telling your brain what you taste is actually sweet, even though you’re not registering sugar,” Colquhoun said. “So what that indicates is that we may be able to reduce the level of sugar, increase the level of these volatiles, and the strawberry should be perceived as approximately the same sweetness.”

Eventually, those six volatiles may be used to lower sugar content in products like strawberry jam and yogurt, but for now, Colquhoun said this information is passed along to the UF strawberry breeder so that he can grow more flavorful strawberries. He added that more varieties with richer flavor and better health benefits should be hitting the markets within the next two years.

Paul Lyrene, professor emeritus of horticultural sciences, said he thinks the new information will only have minimal effects on improving the strawberry in the short term.

“I think all the information is good and worthwhile and sometimes helpful, but I do not believe that the studies are going to lead to any great breakthroughs in flavors of strawberries because the problem is really not at the molecular level, its at some other level,” Lyrene said.

The reason we currently have such poor-flavored fruit is not because of the chemistry, Lyrene said, but because flavor is given low priority in the marketing system.

“I, as a plant breeder, know exactly how to make my fruit taste better without really knowing any of the molecular biology of what happens,” he said. “I have, for example, varieties of blueberries that everybody says are better than what is being grown, but the growers will not plant them because they yield only half as much.”

Lyrene said other issues come from the fact that a crop has to have a lot of different features to be successful.

“It has to be resistant to various diseases. It has to yield well.  It has to be attractive in appearance for the consumer, and it has to be compatible with the modern packing and shipping methods,” Lyrene said.

The team’s research, which began with tomatoes, and is now expanding to include blueberries, peaches, citrus and culinary herbs.

“UF is a unique place because we have a huge team of very, very highly skilled breeders,” Colquhoun said. “What we can do is just go right down the line and help our breeders with our basic science and applied consumer science.”

Fossil fortune tellers: UF researcher uses fossil record to predict crustacean decline

5 Feb
Victoria Messina is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Florida. Though she typically enjoys writing about fashion and events happening around the UF campus, she decided to try something new by writing a science-based article for Layman’s Terms Media. “I decided to take the plunge into this science world that’s so foreign to me just to change things up a bit. It was really interesting and fun to talk to my sources and hear how passionate they are about this interesting and crucial subject.”

Victoria Messina is a sophomore journalism student at the University of Florida. Though she typically enjoys writing about fashion and events happening around the UF campus, she decided to try something new by writing a science-based article for Layman’s Terms Media. “I decided to take the plunge into this science world that’s so foreign to me just to change things up a bit. It was really interesting and fun to talk to my sources and hear how passionate they are about this interesting and crucial subject.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

 By Victoria Messina

By studying fossils from the Mesozoic Era,  a period 251-66 million years ago when reptiles shared the land with dinosaurs, researchers at the University of Florida now have a better understanding of the relationship between coral reefs and crustacean diversity.

The study showed that as coral reefs increased over the course of history, so did the biodiversity of decapod crustaceans such as lobsters, shrimp and crabs. But during a historical decline of reefs 150 million years ago, the biodiversity of crustaceans plummeted due to their  reliance on reefs for shelter and food.

Adiël Klompmaker, postdoctoral fellow at the Florida Museum of Natural History at UF and lead author of the study, said this is the first comprehensive investigation of the rise of decapods in the fossil record.

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Postdoctoral researcher Adiel Klompmaker is lead author of a new study suggesting a direct correlation between the abundance of coral reefs and the diversity of many crustaceans.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Klompmaker said data showing the correlation between coral reefs and crustacean biodiversity had been previously lacking from the fossil record perspective.

His study, now available online and published  in November’s print issue of Geology, is also the first to quantitatively show that decapod diversity increased from four to over 1,300 species between the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras in a time period referred to as the “Mesozoic Decapod Revolution.”

Klompmaker said this historical study gives scientists a clue as to what’s in store for the future of crustaceans.

“If reefs continue to decline at the current rate during this century, then a few thousand species of decapods are in real danger,” Klompmaker said.

Some scientists have predicted that nearly 20 percent of the world’s reefs may collapse within 40 years. Though complete extinction of all decapods is not likely, Klompmaker said adaptation to coral reef collapse would be very difficult for crustaceans that live in reefs and depend on them for food. The overall decline in coral reefs and decapod diversity poses major impacts, such as less availability of crustaceans like shrimp and crabs that are a major food and money source for many.

A small squat lobsters from the Late Jurassic of the Czech Republic. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

A small squat lobsters from the Late Jurassic of the Czech Republic. Photo by Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

To most experts in the field, Klompmaker’s findings did not come as a surprise.

“After diving in reefs all around the Caribbean over the past 20 years, I have experienced their decline firsthand,” said Donald Behringer, assistant professor of Marine Ecological Processes and Field Ecology of Aquatic Organisms at UF.

Most research shows that the recent decline of reefs is due to both natural and human-induced causes.

Although storms and diseases have played a natural role in the deterioration, humans play a much larger role. One major human-influenced impact is ocean acidification, or the decrease in the pH of oceans due to excess carbon dioxide emissions. As the water becomes more acidic, the calcium carbonate base of the corals starts to corrode.

Andrew Zimmerman, associate professor of oceanography and geobiology at UF, said fossil fuel pollution is the root of all the human-influenced impact.

Klompmaker examines fossils of ancient crustaceans at the Florida Museum that may hold answers about the future of modern species. Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

Klompmaker examines fossils of ancient crustaceans at the Florida Museum that may hold answers about the future of modern species.
Florida Museum of Natural History photo by Jeff Gage

“There’s much concern about major loss of species due to global warming on land, but the risk of mass extinction in ocean life is far greater due to combined effects of ocean acidification and global warming,” Zimmerman said.

Slowing the pace of climate change by reducing the release of greenhouse gases is the single most important change that needs to occur, though the positive effects of this change would not be evident for a long time, Behringer said.

However, there are more immediate steps that can be taken to lessen the brunt of direct human impacts on reefs. People who go boating, diving or fishing can take steps to make sure they are treating reefs in a sustainable manner, Behringer said.

For example, overfishing and coral injuries from boat anchors are two problems that can be easily fixed with proper management. Stricter fishing limits and enforcement are needed to ensure that certain areas don’t get overfished, Behringer said.  He also said simply implementing objects like buoys to protect reefs and alter human use patterns can possibly help reduce anchor impact. Behringer is currently working on a study to figure out the best way to tackle the boat anchor problem.

Some students around the UF campus are starting to realize the economic impact of at-risk reefs.

“So many people can be negatively affected by the decline of reefs, whether it’s someone whose job revolves around reefs or just a tourist who wants to enjoy the coral reefs,” said Evan Hill, UF sophomore studying marine sciences.

A quarry with Late Jurassic rocks representing a fossil coral reef in which many crustaceans were found in the Czech Republic. Photo by: Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

A quarry with Late Jurassic rocks representing a fossil coral reef in which many crustaceans were found in the Czech Republic. Photo by: Adiël Klompmaker, University of Florida

Klompmaker’s research showing the indisputable correlation between coral reefs and decapod presence has shown how reef deterioration negatively impacts the future seafood supply and the need for direct action. After all, history repeats itself.

“Everyone needs to be aware of it because everyone’s responsible for it,” Zimmerman said.