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Clarkson University Researcher Advocates Multi-disciplinary Approach to Ocean Studies

Clarkson University Assistant Professor of Biology Andrew David will travel to Cardiff, Wales, at the end of July to discuss a relatively new method to marine conservation that can benefit ocean research around the world.

Andrew DavidDavid, director of Clarkson's first year biology program, also has a manuscript under review and is writing a National Science Foundation grant related to his integrated approach of measuring connectivity in the marine realm. Developing more accurate ways of determining connectivity patterns of ocean life, is crucial for understanding whether populations are healthy, isolated, or endangered.

“Often, conservationists look at a coastal area and want to, say, let’s preserve salmon,” he explains. “To do so, they need to see how connected the salmon populations along the coast are. If some are isolated, then that part of the coast is often considered as an area of concern. The problem is that today, people continually move animals around so the traditional approach to measuring connectivity – genetics – may not be giving accurate measurements.”

As an example of how sea life is inadvertently moved, consider the shipping that's common in most coastal areas. Fish and tiny sea creatures are sucked up by intake pipes, or they may attach to the hulls of ships. The result is that human activity is bringing some species populations closer together, obscuring ‘natural’ genetic patterns.

David and collaborators from Plymouth Marine Laboratories in England are proposing that high resolution circulation models be integrated into genetic studies, for measuring how far sea animals move. That provides a control, he says, by removing humans from the equation. This method has been the subject of marine ecology papers dating as far back as 2003 but here we propose it as a ‘gold standard’ for measuring connectivity in marine conservation studies.

“Old habits die hard and often times it can be difficult for some biologists to initiate collaborations with mathematicians,” he admits. However, it’s a win-win, we biologists get a new tool and the modelers can validate their models based on real-world data, and therein lies the future of marine science and conservation.

“Specialized researchers are getting out of their academic silos. The way of thinking of marine ecology is changing now and considering the biodiversity challenges we face in the 21st century, it has to,” David emphasizes.

His upcoming talk at the International Polychaete Conference in Wales will allow him to gather feedback, interest, and support for his approach which will be the subject of the proposed grant. He's also looking forward to meeting with his former Ph.D. adviser and many of his colleagues.

Clarkson University educates the leaders of the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as an owner, CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. With its main campus located in Potsdam, New York, and additional graduate program and research facilities in the Capital Region and Beacon, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university with signature areas of academic excellence and research directed toward the world's pressing issues. Through more than 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, education, sciences and the health professions, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo and connect discovery and innovation with enterprise.

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