Coastal research project at UC Santa Cruz receives major boost in funding

April 09, 2001

SANTA CRUZ, CA--For the past two years, researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have been studying and monitoring coastal ecosystems as part of a long-term collaborative research project involving four major universities in California and Oregon. Now the organization funding the project, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, has augmented its original $17.7 million grant to the four institutions with an additional $2,285,000 grant for the UC Santa Cruz portion of the project.

Called the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), the project involves researchers at UCSC, UC Santa Barbara, Oregon State University (OSU), and Stanford University. PISCO researchers are studying the communities of organisms in nearshore habitats along a 1,200-mile stretch of coastal waters from Oregon to southern California. The nearshore zone, from the shoreline out to about six miles off shore, is heavily influenced by human activities, but the natural dynamics of the ecological communities in this zone are not well understood, said Peter Raimondi and Mark Carr, UCSC's principal investigators on the PISCO project.

UCSC scientists led by Carr and Raimondi are responsible for all of PISCO's field research in northern and central California, as well as some of the research in southern California. UCSC's portion of the original five-year grant was $3.2 million, and the augmentation brings the campus to the same level of funding as the other partner institutions.

"This significant augmentation from the Packard Foundation recognizes the outstanding work spearheaded by UCSC, as well as the potential for significant advances in understanding coastal ecosystems," said Jane Lubchenco, a PISCO principal investigator at OSU.

PISCO researchers have established a coordinated ecological monitoring network using identical research protocols at 57 study sites along the California and Oregon coasts. Their work monitoring populations of a wide range of organisms at these sites has already yielded valuable information about how different populations responded to the most recent El Niño, which brought changes in ocean currents, water temperatures, and climate conditions.

The new funding is enabling UCSC researchers to expand their activities in several critical areas, including molecular genetics, nearshore oceanography, and selective tagging of marine species, Raimondi said. In their studies of coastal fish populations, for example, they are pursuing several new lines of research on species that inhabit the kelp beds and rocky reefs in the subtidal zone. One approach involves using molecular genetics to study the genetic linkages between populations at different sites. This work will make use of a new genetics facility established on the UCSC campus using funds from the PISCO grant and from the Division of Natural Sciences.

"A major thrust of PISCO is to understand the linkages between different populations of organisms along the coast and the scale of movement of individuals between those populations," Raimondi said. "In rockfish populations, for example, we suspect that larvae from one location disperse to completely different locations where they grow into adults."

Since fish larvae are carried more or less passively by ocean currents, studying the movements of water along the coast will also help shed light on patterns of larval dispersal, Raimondi said. In addition, the researchers plan to use innovative tagging techniques to follow the movements of individual fish. Using natural or introduced minerals that are incorporated into tiny bones in the ears of the fish, the researchers hope to tag large numbers of larvae and follow them to adulthood.

"We're not sure all these approaches will work, so these are high-risk, high-reward endeavors that we would not be able to undertake without the augmented funding from the Packard Foundation," Raimondi said. "Our initial allocation supported the basic fieldwork of monitoring populations in the intertidal and subtidal zones. Now we can do more detailed surveys and take a closer look at processes like the dispersal of larvae and the recruitment of new individuals into populations."

One goal of PISCO is to provide scientific findings that can be applied to the management of coastal ecosystems, which are heavily influenced by commercial fishing and other human activities, Carr noted. The new funding is enabling the PISCO group at UCSC to hire a full-time policy coordinator whose role will be to disseminate information to resource managers and policy makers. The policy coordinator will also keep abreast of management problems and help direct the research program to address key management issues.

Many commercially important species of fish are found in the subtidal zone, including the various kinds of rockfish. One management issue UCSC researchers are already investigating is the role of marine reserves in maintaining healthy populations of these fish. PISCO studies of fish populations in the subtidal zone include sites inside reserves where fishing is prohibited and in areas subject to commercial and recreational fishing.

"UCSC is uniquely poised to look at the effects of marine reserves, because there are several local reserves that are no-take zones for fishing," Carr said.
-end-
Additional information about PISCO is available at http://www.piscoweb.org.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation, based in Los Altos, California, is a private family foundation established in 1964. It provides grants in several major program areas, including science, population, conservation, arts, and children and community.

Editor's note: Reporters may contact Raimondi at (831) 459-5674 or raimondi@biology.ucsc.edu, and Carr at (831) 459-3958 or carr@biology.ucsc.edu.

This release is available electronically at the following web site: http://press.ucsc.edu.

University of California - Santa Cruz

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