Research  Special Edition 2011

UCSB Scientist to Blog From Antarctica As He Studies TransAntarctic Mountains


Thanks to John Cottle, people who enjoy reading about science online are about to get a feel for what research is like in Antarctica, as it's happening. Cottle, an assistant professor of earth science at UC Santa Barbara, spends several months each year in the mountains of Asia and Antarctica.

On November 17, he and his research team of UCSB graduate students will leave for a two-month expedition in the TransAntarctic Mountains. Only this time, Cottle and the other researchers will be providing information about their scientific explorations via a blog he's created just for this trip.

Cottle, who also does extensive research in the Himalayas, sees the blog as a chance to provide insight into what he's doing as a scientist, as well as how he's doing it. "When I talk to friends in Santa Barbara about my Himalayan research, people are interested in it, but I don't think they can relate to what I'm doing," Cottle said. "When I talk to them about Antarctica, there's an inherent curiosity about what happens when you go down there. What is it like? I really wanted to use this as a mechanism to increase people's understanding of what we do when we go down there."

The blog (http://www.antarctica360.net/) is already online.

NCEAS Study Examines Impact of Climate Change on Animal, Plant Populations in Oceans and on Land

A new study carried out at UC Santa Barbara's National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and published this week in the journal Science examines how fast animal and plant populations would need to move to keep up with recent climate change in the ocean and on land.

climate The answer: at similar rates. Greenhouse gases have warmed the land by approximately one degree Celsius since 1960. That rate is roughly three times faster than the rate of ocean warming. These temperatures have forced wild populations to adapt –– or to be on the move, continually relocating.

"Our study looks at how climate change is affecting the oceans, focusing on the velocity of change that shifts where species exist, how well they can persist, and whether or not species will be able to keep up with that change," said Halpern, who is also director of UC Santa Barbara's Center for Marine Assessment and Planning. "Our results provide a road map of sorts on where species need to move to adapt, and how fast."

Although the oceans have experienced less warming, plants and animals need to move as quickly as they do on land to keep up with their preferred environments because the temperature gradients are much less steep, the scientists found. However, the researchers were surprised to find that similar movement rates are needed to outrun climate change on land (2.7 kilometers per year) and in the oceans (2.2 kilometers per year).

UCSB Psychology Professors Study Gene-Culture Interaction

Two psychologists at UC Santa Barbara have provided a new twist on the old adage that people are products of both nature and nurture, in introducing a framework for understanding how these influences interact. The researchers are studying how genotypes (nature) can express themselves differently as a function of culture (nurture). Their findings appear in the current issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Using the oxytocin receptor polymorphism (OXTR), which is linked to socioemotional sensitivity, Heejung Kim and David Sherman, associate professors in UC Santa Barbara's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, have demonstrated in research funded by the National Science Foundation that individuals can have the same gene, but manifest it differently, depending on their respective cultural experiences. The study involved Korean and American participants, which allowed the researchers to compare the expression of OXTR in people raised in a more collectivistic East Asian society, with that of people who grew up in the more individualistic American society.

In their research, Kim and Sherman identified culture as the form of environment. "We wanted to see if people's genes lead them to be more –– or less –– environmentally sensitive by examining people in different cultural environments," Kim explained. "If they are more sensitive to their environments, then they should behave in a more culturally consistent way. If I'm an emotionally sensitive person, when I look around my environment and the cultural norms say ‘this' is the appropriate way to be, I'm more likely to be that way." Likewise, the person who does not have the gene for that trait would be less likely to adhere to cultural norms.

‘Fishy Lawnmowers' Help Save Pacific Corals

Can fish save coral reefs from dying? UC Santa Barbara researchers have found one case where fish have helped coral reefs to recover from cyclones and predators. Coral reefs worldwide are increasingly disturbed by environmental events that are causing their decline, yet some coral reefs recover. UC Santa Barbara researchers have discovered that the health of coral reefs in the South Pacific island of Moorea, in French Polynesia, may be due to protection by parrotfish and surgeonfish that eat algae, along with the protection of reefs that shelter juvenile fish.

reefs The findings are published in a recent issue of the journal PLoS ONE. The UC Santa Barbara research team is part of the Moorea Coral Reef Long-Term Ecological Research (MCR LTER) project, funded by the National Science Foundation.

In many cases, especially in the case of severely damaged reefs in the Caribbean, coral reefs that suffer large losses of live coral often become overgrown with algae and never return to a state where the reefs are again largely covered by live coral. In contrast, the reefs surrounding Moorea experienced large losses of live coral in the past –– most recently in the early 1980's –– and have returned each time to a system dominated by healthy, live corals.

The research team was surprised by its findings. The biomass of herbivores on the reef –– fish and other animals that eat plants like algae –– increased dramatically following the loss of live coral.

The researchers also found that not all of the coral reefs around Moorea were affected equally by an outbreak of predatory crown-of-thorns sea stars or by cyclones. The crown-of-thorns sea stars did eat virtually all of the live coral on the barrier reef –– the reef that separates the shallow lagoons from the deeper ocean. However, neither the sea stars nor the cyclones had much impact on the corals growing on the fringing reef –– the reef that grows against the island.

Compiled from UCSB Public Affairs Office

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