Fun Science FRIEDay – Underwater World of Pollination

Pollination. I think most people understand why this is important (or maybe I should say, I hope). To put it simply, the process of pollination facilitates reproduction in plants by transferring pollen from one plant to another. In the terrestrial world, this can be mediated by physical forcing (e.g., wind) or by animals (e.g., insects) – and its why people are freaking out about the loss of bees due to pesticides (because they are a primary pollinator), but I digress. Until relatively recently, pollination by animals was not thought to occur in the ocean. Unlike on land, where most flowering plants rely on creatures to carry pollen, plant reproduction in an aquatic world was surmised to rely exclusively on currents and tides. However, a team of researchers led by marine biologist Brigitta van Tussenbroek revoked the long standing paradigm that pollen in the sea is transported only by water, discovering and documenting the process of zoobenthophilous pollination (a term they coined).

Gamarid amphipod feeding on pollen or mucilage of a male flower of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum at night. (Photo credit: Tussenbroek et al. 2012)

Gamarid amphipod feeding on pollen of a male
flower of the seagrass Thalassia testudinum at night. (Photo credit: Tussenbroek et al. 2012)

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The 3D-Printed Giant Deep-sea Isopod You Always Wanted.

Giant Isopod. Photo by author.

Giant Isopod. Photo by author.

I love giant deep-sea isopods (Bathynomous giganteus if you’re fancy).

I’ve written quite a few articles about giant isopods. Giant isopods were prominently featured in our epic ocean monograph, Sizing Ocean Giants. I’ve even been fortunate enough to observe novel giant isopod behavior in the deep sea. If Southern Fried Science had a mascot, it would have to be the giant isopod.

When I started Scanning the Sea, I knew that a giant isopod would have to be part of the collection. There was just one problem: 3D scanning marine critters is an imprecise art, and you need to start with a very clean specimen. Most of the giant isopods I had access to had been floating in formalin for decades, or came up in pieces, or were preserved in a twisty, roly-poly ball. They weren’t good candidates for scanning. Read More

The international gill plate trade: a highway to hell for devil rays?

sebphoto2Seb Pardo is a biologist currently doing a PhD at Simon Fraser University in Canada. He is broadly interested in the biology, ecology, and conservation of sharks and rays. At present, his research is focused on borrowing tools from evolutionary biology to predict the biology and extinction risk of poorly studied sharks and rays. By using these data-poor methods, he hopes to make the most out of currently available data to inform policy decisions relevant for the sustainable management of sharks and rays. His twitter handle is @sebpardo

Chilean Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) swimming in the Azores. © Daniel Van Duinkerken — http://danielvandphoto.com — Instagram: daniel.van.d

Chilean Devil Rays (Mobula tarapacana) swimming in the Azores.
© Daniel Van Duinkerken — http://danielvandphoto.com — Instagram: daniel.van.d

Rays rarely get the same amount of attention as sharks do. Perhaps the most notable exception are the manta rays (genus Manta), which are charismatic, filter-feeding rays that inhabit warm waters throughout the world’s oceans. Their closest relatives, the devil rays (genus Mobula), are not nearly as “famous” — even though they are the only other members of the family Mobulidae. There are nine species of devil rays found throughout the world’s tropical and temperate oceans, and while they are smaller than mantas (only reach over 3 metres in width), devil and manta rays are so similar that they are sometimes confused with each other. Because devil rays garner less public interest, the are very few studies on their basic biology and ecology, hindering our ability to assess their status.

Devil and manta rays face similar threats. Both are often caught as bycatch in industrial and artisanal fishing operations, which may result in considerable mortality even after being released. On top of this, there has been an increase in the international demand for their gill plates, which are used a health tonic in Chinese medicine. This has increased targeted fishing and bycatch retention in many places around the world. However, because of the lack of information on devil rays, it is very difficult assess whether this level of catch and trade is sustainable. This is the key question we set out to answer.

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Help crowdfund shark research: time traveling through shark skin

DillonE_portraitErin Dillon is a PhD student at UC Santa Barbara studying how shark communities on coral reefs have changed over time. She graduated from Stanford University in 2014 with a B.S. in Biology and Honors in Marine Biology. Erin spent the following two years working with Dr. Aaron O’Dea as a fellow at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, where she started exploring dermal denticles preserved in sediments as a paleoecological tool to reconstruct shark communities. She aims to develop this technique further as part of her dissertation to establish quantitative shark baselines and investigate spatial and temporal variation in shark assemblages on reefs. To do so, she has now set her sights on Curaçao, which is located in the southern Caribbean. There, she will work on validating the tool, explore differences in denticle assemblages between reef habitats, and provide estimates of relative shark abundance in data-limited parts of the island. Sharks are notoriously difficult to census, and it can be difficult to protect something that we rarely see. Therefore, the information provided by denticle assemblages extracted from reef sediments has critical implications for shark conservation, both in the Caribbean and worldwide. Erin is raising funds until September 22nd as part of Experiment’s Coral Reef Grant Challenge to unravel a pre-historical baseline of Caribbean sharks.

Sharks are important players on coral reefs. However, understanding the temporal and spatial dynamics of shark communities and how they are affected by human activities is challenging. Surveys and fisheries catch statistics reveal that shark populations worldwide have suffered significant declines over the past several decades due to overfishing and habitat degradation. But how many sharks should there be in a healthy coral reef ecosystem? The answer to this question is locked in the past. To address this issue, we turn to the recent fossil record to uncover clues about the sharks that used to roam the reefs of lore and paint a picture of how their communities have changed over time.

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Applications now open for the Elasmobranch Society’s diversity in marine science initiative

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world's oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society is the world’s oldest and largest professional association of shark and ray scientists

The American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s oldest and largest professional society focusing on the scientific study and management of sharks and their relatives, is now welcoming applications for the 2nd year of our Young Professional Recruitment Fund diversity initiative. Awardees will be given one year of Society membership, in addition to specialized professional development training, mentorship, and networking opportunities specific to their needs as scientists and professionals from developing nations or historically underrepresented minority groups.

Applications, which can be found here, are due by 5 P.M. U.S. eastern standard time on Tuesday, November 15th. All winners will be notified by Friday, December 16th.

To be eligible for a Young Professional Recruitment Fund award, applicants must fill out the application and demonstrate that they:

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Shark Daycare

A great white shark nursery in the North Atlantic that was discovered in 1985 south of Cape Cod in the waters off Montauk, New York  has received renewed attention due to the increased activity of white sharks off cape cod in recent years. The nursery was first documented in 1985 by Casey and Pratt who deduced the presence of a nursery based on the number of juvenile sightings and landings in the area. This work was followed up recently  by OCEARCH (an organization dedicated to generating scientific data related to tracking/telemetry and biological studies of keystone marine species such as great white sharks), which tagged and tracked nine infant great whites to the nursery, located a few miles off Montauk.

Great White Shark. Image courtesy animals.NationalGeographic.com

Great White Shark. Image courtesy animals.NationalGeographic.com

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_shark.jpg

Photo of a great white shark in Mexico by Terry Goss, WikiMedia Commons. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:White_shark.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Look at your sharks: how close observation leads to new scientific discoveries

Josh Moyer Head ShotJoshua Moyer is an ichthyologist specializing in the evolution, biodiversity, and morphology of sharks and their relatives, collectively known as elasmobranchs. He is a member of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH) and the American Elasmobranch Society (AES). He has co-authored multiple scientific articles about shark teeth and their roles in understanding elasmobranch evolution. Joshua earned his Masters of Science in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University and teaches evolutionary biology at Ithaca College. Joshua also routinely lectures in courses on marine biology, vertebrate biology, and elasmobranchs. He has co-taught courses in shark biology in the field, laboratory, classroom, and most recently the online edX.org course “Sharks! Global Biodiversity, Biology, and Conservation.”

Whenever I tell someone that I study sharks I can see their imagination shift into high gear. Their eyebrows go up, their mouths make an intrigued smile, and I’m usually asked whether I’ve gone swimming with sharks or if I’ve ever been bitten by one. Yes, I’ve been in the water with sharks. No, a shark has never bitten me (although I did drop the jaw of a Mako shark on my arm once – that left an interesting scar). I’ve also gone on shark tagging trips and many spent days as an undergraduate documenting the social behaviors of sharks in aquaria. Those are what I call my “dinner party stories.” They’re the anecdotes people expect to hear from a shark biologist. I’m frequently happy to oblige. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that oceanic adventures are not essential to being a shark biologist, and they’re no substitute for curiosity and educated observation. In other words, you may see a shark, but you need to know how to really look at it – how to study it.

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What can be done to protect the incredibly long-lived Greenland shark?

Sonja Fordham President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham
President, Shark Advocates International

Sonja Fordham founded Shark Advocates International as a project of The Ocean Foundation in 2010 based on her two decades of shark conservation experience at  Ocean Conservancy.  She is Deputy Chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Conservation Committee Chair for the American Elasmobranch Society, has co-authored numerous publications on shark fisheries management, and serves on most of the U.S. federal and state government advisory panels relevant to sharks and rays.  Her awards include the U.S. Department of Commerce Environmental Hero Award, the Peter Benchley Shark Conservation Award, and the IUCN Harry Messel Award for Conservation Leadership.

1A new study confirming the mysterious deepsea Greenland Shark as the world’s longest lived vertebrate has made huge news in the last few days – from Science News and BBC to People magazine and the Wall Street Journal. While some scientists are questioning whether these sharks live quite as long as estimated (392 years ± 120), most agree they could well live for a century or two and – as a result —  are particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Experts also warn that risks to Greenland sharks may be increasing as melting sea ice changes Arctic ecosystems and makes fishing in the region more feasible. Study authors are among those urging a precautionary approach to the species’ conservation. In other words, an incomplete picture of status and threats should not be used as an excuse for inaction. So what might be threatening Greenland sharks today, and which upcoming policy opportunities might warrant consideration, given worldwide interest in these jaw-dropping findings?  To come up with some ideas, I first took a look back.

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Fun Science FRIEDay – Open-Acess Science for the Masses

The oceans belong to all of us. With this simple statement in mind, the Oceanography for Everyone (OfE) project was launched with the goal of making ocean science more accessible. One of the biggest hurdles in conducting ocean science is instrumentation costs, and 4 years ago the OfE team began trying to make one of the most basic ocean science tools, the CTD (a water quality sensor that measures Conductivity-Temperature-Depth), cheaper… much, much cheaper!

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