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Steneck: Understanding Species Interactions Key to Fisheries Management

University of Maine marine scientist Bob Steneck participated in a Florida State University-led study that recommends a paradigm shift for fisheries science and management.

The study spearheaded by FSU biology professor Joe Travis advocates that fisheries experts and managers consider how overfishing and environmental changes disrupt species interactions and alter ecosystems, including pushing some ecosystems past their tipping points.

“In order to succeed, fisheries management must focus on species interactions,” says Steneck, a professor based at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

Historically, Steneck says, fisheries science has focused on population dynamics, sustainable yields and influences of biological and oceanographic processes on fisheries.

“By incorporating a more ecological approach, we argue that managers can better understand the dynamics of a fishery, and which species interactions, if affected, can push the ecosystems that house a fishery past its tipping point,” he says.

The loss of one major species from an ecosystem can have severe and unintended consequences because of the connections between that species and others in the system. These changes often occur rapidly and unexpectedly and are difficult to reverse, say the researchers.

“You don’t realize how interdependent species are until it all unravels,” says study co-author Felicia Coleman, director of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

One case study looks at the collapse of sardine and anchovy stocks — partially as a result of overfishing — in the 1970s in the Northern Benguela ecosystem off Namibia. Subsequently, the far less calorie-rich bearded goby and jellyfish flourished. African penguins and gannets that had preyed on energy-rich sardines and anchovies, have suffered, say the researchers. African penguins and gannets have declined by 77 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

In addition, Cape hake and deep-water hake production plummeted from 725,000 metric tons in 1972 to 110,000 metric tons in 1990, say the researchers, and the population of Cape fur seals has dramatically fluctuated.

In Europe, Steneck points to the Atlantic cod stock’s seeming inability to rebound from overfishing. Currently, the cod’s former prey, a small fish called sprat, has become hyperabundant to the point that it preys on larval cod.

Closer to home, the decimation of cod and other large predatory species also resulted in a proliferation of sea urchins. In the late 1980s, a sea urchin fishery subsequently developed and boomed, but by the mid- to late-1990s, overfishing had decimated that industry.

With sea urchin stocks depleted, the macroalgae eaten by sea urchins increased substantially. This, in turn, created an ideal habitat for crabs, which are major predators of sea urchins.

In the same ecosystem, Steneck says declines in soft-shell clams are due to an explosion of non-native green crabs. “All of these examples result from strong ecological interactions that are not captured in most fisheries management models,” he says.

While it’s easy to write off one such case study, Travis says taken all together, the paper is a compelling case that “tipping points are real, we’ve crossed them in many ecosystems, and we’ll cross more of them unless we can get this problem under control.”

Steneck agrees. “Our paper provides case studies from all over the world illustrating how a chain of events taken with an appreciation for species interactions can contribute to complex problems in fisheries management,” he says.

The study, titled “Integrating the invisible fabric of nature into fisheries management,” was published in the Dec. 23, 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Travis and Coleman say they hope the research accelerates changes in how fisheries scientists approach ecosystem problems and how fisheries managers integrate system issues into their efforts.

The researchers recommend that more effort be devoted to understanding links between species that set up tipping points in ecosystems and they advised managers be cognizant of data that indicates when a system could be approaching its tipping point.

“It’s a lot easier to back up to avoid a tipping point before you get to it than it is to find a way to return once you’ve crossed it,” Travis says.

Fishing experts generally understand how overfishing affects other species and the ecosystem as a whole but it “needs to be a bigger part of the conversation and turned into action,” Coleman says.

Seven other scientists from the University of Connecticut, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Santa Cruz, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Centre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et Tropicale in France participated in the study.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

UMaine, Department of Education Launch Autism Resource, Research Institute

The University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development has partnered with the Maine Department of Education to create a statewide system of supports for Mainers who serve children with autism and their families. The Maine Autism Institute for Education and Research (MAIER) will open Jan. 1, 2014 on the UMaine campus. Deborah Rooks-Ellis, an assistant professor of special education at UMaine, will be the institute’s full-time director. She will oversee the institute’s efforts to increase statewide capacity to improve outcomes for children with autism. The full DOE news release on the collaboration is available online.

UMaine Researcher Strives for Effective Innovative STEM Initiatives

A University of Maine researcher is participating in five projects aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments.

Michelle Smith, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, is the principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF); UMaine’s portion is $1,012,269.

The projects, three of which are collaborative with other universities, involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K-12 teachers. “All of these stakeholders … will contribute to national initiatives to improve science education,” says Smith, a member of the Maine Center for Research in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education (Maine RiSE Center).

In August, Smith was returning from a reunion with family members when she learned about the possible funding. “We stopped for lunch and I looked down at my phone and realized my inbox was full of messages from the NSF requesting that I provide them with more information on four different grants within 48 hours,” she says. “I told my family they had to eat ‘right now’ because we had to get home.”

Susan McKay, UMaine professor of physics and director of the Maine RiSE Center, as well as Smith and several other colleagues, will receive $299,998 to transform K-12 STEM education by restructuring teaching methods courses to align with national standards. They’ll also work to attract and retain STEM majors in college as educators and form partnerships with area school districts.

Researchers say the project could make a difference in Maine, where more than 50 percent of students in more than half the school districts are eligible for free or reduced lunch and the resource-based economy could benefit from more technology jobs.

Smith and colleagues MacKenzie Stetzer, Susan McKay and Jeff St. John will receive $249,851 to establish a UMaine program to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses. UMaine faculty and area K-12 teachers will observe and document instruction in university STEM courses. Their data will be used to develop workshops targeting faculty members’ needs and implement innovative teaching practices.

Smith will receive $219,966 of a $528,459 collaborative project to develop assessments called Bio-MAPS (Biology-Measuring Achievement and Progression in Science) that gauge whether undergraduate college biology students understand core concepts. The University of Washington and University of Colorado-Boulder are partners in the endeavor “to articulate common learning goals and monitor longitudinal student learning in biology.”

The assessments will identify areas in biology in which students struggle. They’ll also help two-year community colleges evaluate how effectively they’re preparing students to transfer to four-year institutions. Assessment data will inform faculty about where changes need to be made in the biology curriculum.

Smith will also receive $187,968 to expand a national network for open-ended assessments called Automated Assessment of Constructed Response (AACR) in which computer software programs analyze answers of students in large-enrollment science courses. The assessments provide more insight into student thinking on common conceptual difficulties than multiple-choice questions.

Michigan State, the University of Colorado-Boulder, the University of Georgia, and Stony Brook University, are also participating in the $5 million project, in which researchers will create a community Web portal to improve alliances among STEM education researchers and promote nationwide implementation of innovative instruction materials.

Smith will receive $54,486 of a $718,000 collaborative award with four other universities to build a national network of Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) that provide professional development opportunities so more faculty can use constructed response assessments to reform teaching in biology. UMaine faculty members Seanna Annis, Farahad Dastoor and Brian Olsen will work with Smith to develop the UMaine FLC.

The project seeks to provide insight into factors that facilitate or hamper faculty using modified teaching materials and practices. It also lays the foundation for a national network of FLCs and subject-based virtual communities with access to real-time automated analysis of AACR assessment items, faculty-developed teaching resources and support.

Smith, who says she chose a faculty position at UMaine in order to work with fantastic researchers and supportive peers, appreciates that her colleagues helped her think about research questions and mentored her during the grant-writing process.

She’s also grateful for the contributions of K-12 teachers. “The pilot data the K-12 teachers collected about university-level STEM instruction was featured in the grant to broaden use of evidence-based teaching and learner-centered practices in STEM courses,” Smith says. “That grant earned the highest scores of any I submitted. My colleagues and I are incredibly lucky to work with such a talented group of teachers who are also excellent researchers.”

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

 

Maine Development Foundation, UMaine Issue Report on Personal Income in Maine

On Oct. 17, the Maine Development Foundation and the University of Maine’s School of Economics and Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center released the second quarterly report analyzing critical economic indicators in Maine. The latest report looks at Maine’s relatively low per capita personal income. The first report, released in August, addressed Maine’s comparatively low level of worker productivity. Ann Acheson, a research associate at the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, wrote the new report that analyzes the relative contribution of the three sources of personal income — earned income, investment income and transfer payment income — in Maine and in comparison to the national average. The Maine Development Foundation news release and the full report are online.

 

‘Sustainable Maine’ Series to Air on MPBN

MPBN will air season three of the Maine EPSCoR produced “Sustainable Maine” series, highlighting the research of Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), based at UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center. SSI is helping communities solve interconnected economic problems while advancing sustainability science. Information about the MPBN documentary series is online.

The broadcast schedule is:

Return of a River – Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 1 p.m.)

Tipple Bottom Line – Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 6, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)

Culvert Operations – Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1 p.m.)

Desperate Alewives – Wednesday, October 9, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 13, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)

Preserving Paradise – Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Saturday, October 19, 2013 at 10 AM and Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1p.m.)

Saving Our Lakes – Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)

Basket Trees – Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 9 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 1 p.m.)

Pools, Policy & People – Wednesday, October 23, 2013 at 9:30 p.m.
(Repeating on Sunday, October 27, 2013 at 1:30 p.m.)


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