Science is moving forward in unexplored parts of the oceans
Research studies carried out on the east coast of the United States and in the South Atlantic are presented during FAPESP Week California
By Diego Freire, in Davis
Agência FAPESP – Despite covering 70% of its surface, oceans are the least explored ecosystem on Earth. Efforts to advance knowledge of marine life, ocean currents and their relationships to life on dry land were shared by researchers from the University of California in Davis (UCD) and from institutions in São Paulo on November 21, 2014, the final day of FAPESP Week California.
For Rick Grosberg, director of UCD’s Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute (CMSI), the need to better understand oceans is a question of sustainability. “Exploration of marine resources is steadily increasing, turning oceans into a source many find inexhaustible for meeting a variety of human needs. We need to better understand the complexity of marine life in order to establish a sustainable relationship with it,” he told Agência FAPESP.
Grosberg talked about his research on marine invertebrates including anemones, hydrozoa, ascidians and snails, and the use of genomic approaches in studying their populations. “My work involves field and laboratory studies that employ molecular phylogenetics and population genetics in addition to a very modest amount of modeling.”
Among these studies are genetics surveys on the conservation of marine invertebrates and crustaceans in vernal pools, which are temporary bodies of water that form at certain times of the year and provide habitat for plants and animals. “In less than a century, urbanization and agricultural conversion have destroyed 90% of these habitats.”
Researchers at Grosberg’s laboratory began genetic studies to characterize the effects of habitat on a variety of endemic species – those that occur in only one ecosystem – of tadpole shrimp. According to the researcher, several of these species are now protected by the government for purposes of laboratory studies.
The goal now is to expand the project to other sympatric species – genetic variations of populations that inhabit the same geographic region, becoming different species. “We are also examining the effects climate change, overfishing, pollution and habitat fragmentation are having on the resilience of coral reefs.”
Luciano Martins Verdade, professor at the Center for Nuclear Energy in Agriculture at the University of São Paulo (CENA-USP) and member of the Area Panel Committee on the FAPESP Research Program on Biodiversity Characterization, Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable Use (BIOTA), talked about the importance of monitoring biocomplexity in all ecosystems.
“Whether it be in an aquatic environment or a terrestrial one, we need monitoring mechanisms that allow us to make decisions about human interventions to correct problems generated by our pressures – for example, overfishing or use of agrochemical products that pollute the environment but are necessary for agricultural activities,” he said.
Verdade noted in his lecture the need for the productive process to take biodiversity conservation into account.
“Today more than ever, the landscape in which fishing or agriculture are being carried out is the same as that occupied by biological diversity. The goal is a landscape that is truly multifunctional, that has the mission of producing domesticated species as well as a mission of conserving biological diversity,” he said.
Marine currents, another factor directly related to life in and out of the oceans, were discussed in the lecture given by Edmo José Dias Campos, professor at the Oceanographic Institute of USP.
Campos presented the research activities carried out under the scope of the thematic project, Impact of the Southern Atlantic on the global overturning circulation and climate, carried out with funding from FAPESP, as part of the international project South Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (SAMOC).
“We are working to understand the behavior of the deep ocean regions in an area where no previous observations have ever been done,” Campos noted.
According to the researcher, the most recent observations were surprising due to the intensity of the currents from the South Atlantic.
“We already have a set of currents measured at a depth of 4,000 meters that are showing much larger than anticipated variations of amplitude. We have also determined that the east-west component of this current displays wide variability, as if there were a type of meandering or lateral oscillation, with very high amplitudes. We need to revisit the data for further analysis, but everything indicates that this is a unique phenomenon.”
Knowledge regarding the behavior of the currents could help in understanding climate change. “If we are able to maintain this system of observation over time, we will be able to say whether the changes are for longer periods and consider their relationship to climate,” Campos said.
The studies are being carried out aboard the oceanographic research vessel Alpha-Crucis, purchased by FAPESP as part of the project Increase of the research capabilities in oceanography and related sciences in São Paulo State, Brazil.
In addition to the program in Davis, November 20-21, FAPESP Week California had activities at the University of California in Berkeley (UCB), November 17-18.