Tag Archives: marine biology

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.

What’s for dinner? Island fish, brah: Study shows Hawaiian restaurant menus hold clues to reef health

27 Jan

hawaii_menu_02Most of us look at menus simply to make a quick decision about what we are going to consume in the near future and at what price.

We then give it back to our server and the menu is most likely forgotten.

But, some people may ask to take home a menu to remember their stay at a special place, such as the islands of the  Aloha state.

Scientists from Duke University, Stanford University and Colby College in Maine are using menus from Hawaiian seafood restaurants to look at changes in Pacific Ocean fisheries.   The menus were collected mostly from tourists who kept them as keepsakes.

During the mid-20th century, the researchers explained there was a period of almost five decades where official records documenting fish populations in the state were missing.  Now researchers must be innovative in how they analyze that time period.

“Market surveys and government statistics are the traditional sources for tracking fisheries,”  said Kyle S. Van Houtan, adjunct assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and leader of the Marine Turtle Assessment Program at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. “But when those records don’t exist, we have to be more creative. Here we found restaurant menus were a workable proxy that chronicled the rise and fall of fisheries.”

The study, which looked at 376 menus from 154 different restaurants, showed somewhat predictable results.

Prior to 1940, fish that dwell near shore were a common delicacy. But, by 1959 when Hawaii was named an official US state, fishes such as reef fish, jack fish and bottom fish only made up about 10 percent of the menus. Instead, the reef dwellers were replaced with large pelagic fish such as tuna.

The large ocean dwellers made up 95 percent of the menus, almost eliminating the presence of near shore fish by 1970.

“The decline in reef fish in just a few decades was somewhat of a surprise to us. We knew at the outset the menus would have a unique historical perspective, but we did not expect the results to be so striking,” said study co-author Jack Kittinger, an early career fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

It could be the public’s taste buds simply changed, but Kittinger believes there is a logical reason for the change of the entree preference. He said the lack of the  shore dwelling fish on the menus went hand in hand with socioeconomic data showing decline in their populations in the wild.

 Loren McClenachan, assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College in Maine and co-author of the study, said looking at the menus offered a different perspective on history.

“Historical ecology typically focuses on supply-side information,” McClenachan said. “Restaurant menus are an available but often overlooked source of information on the demand side; they document seafood consumption, availability and even value over time.”

Sea turtles are Gulf travelers, scientists say

23 Dec
 Loggerhead “exchanges” between study sites. Tracks of satellite-tagged adult female loggerheads (Caretta caretta) 119941 and 119946 during the inter-nesting period in 2012 (A); tracks of satellite-tagged adult female loggerheads 108172 (2011) and 119940 (2012) during the inter-nesting period (B). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066921.g002

Loggerhead “exchanges” between study sites.
Tracks of satellite-tagged adult female loggerheads (Caretta caretta) 119941 and 119946 during the inter-nesting period in 2012 (A); tracks of satellite-tagged adult female loggerheads 108172 (2011) and 119940 (2012) during the inter-nesting period (B).
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066921.g002

Gulf Loggerheads were always thought to be homebodies.

After the females nested, they would make a home at their local beach. They would never travel too far from familiarity.

But, these  threatened female loggerheads are more curious than scientists once thought.

A new study suggests that the turtles nest in different places–laying eggs on the coast of Louisiana one week and traveling hundreds of miles to make another home in Florida weeks later.

The authors of the U.S. Geological Survey study say that the travel routes–which may be littered with leftover oil and increased predators–pose a greater risk to the sea turtle population. The conservation efforts may need to be modified to reflect the findings.

“The satellite data and our observations on the ground tell the same story: loggerheads in this subpopulation nest at multiple beaches, sometimes hundreds of miles apart,” lead author Kristen Hart, a USGS research ecologist, said.

Co-author and USGS biologist Meg Lamont said that simply protecting beaches that are known to be highly populated with sea turtle nests may not be enough.

“These data show it is not sufficient to just protect habitat around high density nesting beaches – such as the St. Joseph Peninsula – because many turtles that nest on the Peninsula use the entire region from the eastern Florida Panhandle to Louisiana,” said Lamont.

Hart said she and her team are continuing to map out the travel routes by tagging the turtles.

“We are working towards defining areas where sea turtles concentrate their activities at sea, effectively building a map of in-water turtle hotspots,” Hart said. “The more we know about their habitat use, the more questions are raised about their behavior and ability to adapt. We hope to build a better understanding of how frequently turtles return to these same locations, and whether or not they move to new habitats when those locations are impacted. This type of information would be extremely valuable for developing management strategies to help in population recovery.”

The study, “Movements and Habitat-Use of Loggerhead Sea Turtles in the Northern Gulf of Mexico during the Reproductive Period,” was published July 3 in the journal PLOS ONE.

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

28 Oct
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.

‘Catch a Wave’ exhibit brings the beach to Gainesville

24 Oct
My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida.  Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new.  In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida. Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

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 Nicole Parra

There are three words that describe the new  “Catch a Wave” exhibit hosted by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida: totally gnarly, bro.

The exhibit, which is the closest thing Gainesville residents have to the beach, includes vivid pictures, real-life specimens and hands-on activities. Visitors can almost feel the sand between their toes without the need for sunscreen.

‘Catch a Wave’ is a collaboration between Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, UF and the museum.

“Surfing Florida: A Photographic History” is a traveling exhibit originating from FAU’s College of Arts and Letters. UF and museum scientists contributed to the exhibit by adding a second part, “Surf Science: Waves and Wildlife,” which includes a full-scale shark model, a dolphin skeleton and a display of different Florida beach sands.

Catherine Ward Carey, public program coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said the museum wanted to add to FAU’s exhibit by including an educational component.

“It was primarily a photographic exhibit, and then we’ve augmented it with natural history including surfing, snails, information on sea turtles and all sorts of cool things that are in the water with us,” Carey said.

Laura Caicedo, a marketing intern at the museum,  said the wave maker–an activity that helps teach visitors the science behind a wave–is her favorite part of the exhibit.

“It’s [the exhibit] a lot different than what we’ve had before,” Caicedo said.

Visitors can also find out their odds of getting a shark bite by visiting the museum’s famed International Shark Attack File, the longest running database on shark attacks.

John Wilson, a 19-year-old industrial engineering sophomore, said he decided to visit the exhibit because he has been surfing since he was 9 years old.

“The coolest things, I thought, were all the trophies and the pictures of the 1983 nationals and the dolphin skeleton,” Wilson said. “They were both very interesting and informative.”

Wilson said that the exhibit did a good job of showing  beaches from the surfer’s point of view while explaining the science behind a Floridian’s favorite place. He said he will be going back later this week.

Carey said the main purpose of this exhibit is to give Floridians a better understanding of their environment, particularly the beaches.

“With anything we do, we hope for a better appreciation and awareness of the natural world around us,” Carey said. “We do tend to focus our day-to-day living without noticing what’s at the beach,” Carey said.

The exhibit will run until January 20th, 2014. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for Florida residents and seniors, $3 for children ages 3-17 and free to UF students with a valid Gator 1 card and museum members.

What’s for dinner? Island fish, brah: Study shows Hawaiian restaurant menus hold clues to reef health

7 Aug

hawaii_menu_02Most of us look at menus simply to make a quick decision about what we are going to consume in the near future and at what price.

We then give it back to our server and the menu is most likely forgotten.

But, some people may ask to take home a menu to remember their stay at a special place, such as the islands of the  Aloha state.

Scientists from Duke University, Stanford University and Colby College in Maine are using menus from Hawaiian seafood restaurants to look at changes in Pacific Ocean fisheries.   The menus were collected mostly from tourists who kept them as keepsakes.

During the mid-20th century, the researchers explained there was a period of almost five decades where official records documenting fish populations in the state were missing.  Now researchers must be innovative in how they analyze that time period.

“Market surveys and government statistics are the traditional sources for tracking fisheries,”  said Kyle S. Van Houtan, adjunct assistant professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and leader of the Marine Turtle Assessment Program at NOAA’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. “But when those records don’t exist, we have to be more creative. Here we found restaurant menus were a workable proxy that chronicled the rise and fall of fisheries.”

The study, which looked at 376 menus from 154 different restaurants, showed somewhat predictable results.

Prior to 1940, fish that dwell near shore were a common delicacy. But, by 1959 when Hawaii was named an official US state, fishes such as reef fish, jack fish and bottom fish only made up about 10 percent of the menus. Instead, the reef dwellers were replaced with large pelagic fish such as tuna.

The large ocean dwellers made up 95 percent of the menus, almost eliminating the presence of near shore fish by 1970.

“The decline in reef fish in just a few decades was somewhat of a surprise to us. We knew at the outset the menus would have a unique historical perspective, but we did not expect the results to be so striking,” said study co-author Jack Kittinger, an early career fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Ocean Solutions.

It could be the public’s taste buds simply changed, but Kittinger believes there is a logical reason for the change of the entree preference. He said the lack of the  shore dwelling fish on the menus went hand in hand with socioeconomic data showing decline in their populations in the wild.

 Loren McClenachan, assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College in Maine and co-author of the study, said looking at the menus offered a different perspective on history.

“Historical ecology typically focuses on supply-side information,” McClenachan said. “Restaurant menus are an available but often overlooked source of information on the demand side; they document seafood consumption, availability and even value over time.”

Wearing goggles to surf: Kook status or Florida Red Tide?

1 Aug

Red_tide

Summer Science explained: 

Summer Science explained is a new blog series on Layman’s Terms Media. Each week, phenomena that are unique to summer time will be broken down and explained. I am currently taking suggestions for topics, so if there is something you’ve always wondered about feel free to contact me and pitch an idea!

—————————————————————————————————–

I took a deep breath in. Smelling the saltwater has always been my ritual before starting the process of unloading my surfboard.

But, this time I did not feel refreshed or enlightened by the beach breeze. My eyes started to water.

I walked closer to get a better look at the water to see what might be the culprit of what seemed to be an instant allergic reaction.

What I saw before me was not the crystal turquoise of the Emerald coast. The water was murky, brown and my instincts were telling me it was best to stay out.  But the glassy waves were too tempting and a rarity for Florida.

I decided to catch a couple waves on my longboard before working my night shift at the restaurant. I stopped at the coastline, put on my leash and took a more hesitant leap in than normal.

Dunking my head under, I forgot to close my eyes and the burning sensation was unbearable.

No surfing today.

That was a few years ago in Pensacola along the Gulf of Mexico. There was no chemical leak from the nearby power plant and BP oil had not yet tainted the waters.

What I experienced that day was a naturally occurring algal bloom.

Although algal blooms are normal, scientists classify this particular one as a harmful algal bloom, better known along the Gulf coast as Florida Red Tide.

Red Tide refers to the reddish-brown color caused by the abundance of algae and the word tide is sort of misleading since the bloom has nothing to do with tidal movements.

The harmful algal bloom that we experience in Florida is caused by the microscopic marine dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, a photosynthetic organism (algae) that propels through the water with its two whip-like flagella. Continue reading