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Are sea creatures tougher in the tropics?

April 21, 2014

Are sea creatures tougher in the tropics?

De Rivera and Torchin hope to examine how the diversity of local predators, which changes across latitudes, affects the spread of invasive species

Catherine de Rivera hadnít collected marine invertebrates in the tropics for 15 years. If there was any rust, however, it didnít show as she helped hoist critter-covered plates from the water beneath a ship-fueling dock on near the Pacific side of the Panama Canal and process them at STRIís Naos Marine Laboratory.

De Rivera, a marine ecologist at Portland State University, visited STRI to run a teacher-training program funded by the National Science Foundation. The course focused on inquiry-based science and used STRIís long-term studies on sessile marine organisms as a platform. The study, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) and the laboratory of STRI staff scientist Mark Torchin, examines community composition of these organisms and how predators and invasive species influence assemblages.

De Rivera and Torchin hope to examine how the diversity of local predators, which changes across latitudes, affects the spread of invasive species. To that end, de Rivera plans on using her recent brush-up on methodology in Panama to replicate experiments in Oregon.

ďPredators could be interfering with each other and so reducing net predation to non-natives or could be providing more complete resistance,Ē said de Rivera, wearing a hardhat and reflective safety vest on the Taboguilla Island Terminal, an unusually industrial setting for tropical biology. ďItís not a sure thing.Ē

The collaborators plan to run similar experiments across different latitudes from Ecuador to Alaska. They hope to include sites near to and well removed from ports and shipping lanes to pick apart how proximity high volumes of shipping vessels, which are key to spreading invasive species, influences community composition.

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