Not all of the marine biologists at UC Davis are in Bodega Bay. Some of us walk among you in land-locked Davis! We are scattered in various departments around campus and investigate a variety of questions from behavior, to genomics, to population dynamics of marine organisms.
In the spring of 2012, a mixed group of Ecology Graduate Group members and Center for Population Biology affiliates, graduate students and postdocs, Bodega residents and Davis residents got together to discuss factors that connect and maintain populations of coastal fishes and invertebrates. The meetings originally arose as a need to have a marine-focused discussion group, and soon took form as a graduate level discussion group (ECL 290) sponsored by Bodega’s Dr. Steven Morgan and our own local professor, Dr. Loo Botsford.
Following the conclusion of the formal discussion group, many members continued to meet with an eye toward creating some kind of a product from our collective conversations. Recently, a group of us, lead by Center for Population Biology Postdoctoral Fellow, Scott Burgess, published a manuscript advocating appropriate measurements of marine population connectivity. Here’s why.
I’m lucky enough to do my field work on the beach, and like many ecologists, I spend about half of my time counting. In my case, it’s counting shore crabs. Not a bad way to escape the hot Davis summers. I’m interested whether larval crabs are coming back to their natal beaches in high numbers and what consequences that might have for evolutionary processes in the intertidal.
One usually hopes, however, the implications of their research are broad. A common assertion among marine biologists like me who study dispersal and population dynamics is that an understanding of these processes aids in the appropriate development and distribution of the many marine protected areas now being implemented around the world.
Though many of us who study the seas *are* interested in conservation of the populations we study, we are often guilty of narrow-focused data collection, only answering the question at hand in our particular system of interest. Our assertion in the review article is that a simple column added to the data sheet or even a simple change of a numerator would provide relevant data to MPAs.
In both terrestrial and marine realms, populations can be maintained through different modes as represented simply in the figure below:
Fig. 2 from Burgess et al. 2013, Ecological Applications
For organisms with a dispersing larval stage (many marine plants and animals), most real populations are maintained through a combination of locally produced young and immigrants from other sites (see figure above). Genetic assignment tests uncover these connections, allowing investigators to assign young to their site of origin. These data can be assembled into a “connectivity” matrix. In combination with population sizes and reproductive outputs, a model of population resilience begins to form.
In a review of recent literature that reported to have implications for marine reserve design or fisheries management, our team found that many studies fell just short of reporting the data needed to characterize the population dynamics of the system at hand. Many of the studies recorded most of the necessary data; the problem resided in the reporting and interpretation. In other cases the data would have been obtained with minimal additional effort.
Our hope was to remind the marine community that a little extra counting can often allow one to say something about conservation. Check out the article for more details:
Scott C. Burgess, Kerry J. Nickols, Chris D. Griesemer, Lewis A. K. Barnett, Allison G. Dedrick, Erin V. Satterthwaite, Lauren Yamane, Steven G. Morgan, J. Wilson White, and Louis W. Botsford In press. Beyond connectivity: how empirical methods can quantify population persistence to improve marine protected area design. Ecological Applications. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-0710.1
The entire process, from a common need for dialog, to formation of a graduate and postdoc level seminar, to a published product was of great benefit to the group. Students developed connection with faculty at other universities; the lot of us brushed up on literature relevant to our work, and the conclusions we reached will affect our own research programs.
If you are a Davis student interested in landscape ecology, population genetics, marine population dynamics and modeling, or anything connected to what I have mentioned above, please send me an email! There’s a community of researchers with common interests who would be more than happy to chat!
If you are outside the UC Davis community, feel free to do the same or contact Scott Burgess, the corresponding author of our Ecological Applications publication.